It’s do or done in December for the Rams, who in all likelihood, must win out to play into January.
And perhaps Arizona is exactly where they must go to get on track, given that Sean McVay is 4-0 against the Cardinals, and under his leadership, the Rams have outscored their NFC West foe by a combined total of 130-25 with two shutouts (Week 7, 2017 and Week 2, 2018).
But despite their losing record, these Cardinals are a far cry from the Carson Palmer and Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen-led groups from seasons past.
If the two remaining contests against Arizona were the ones you were banking on for wins down the stretch, it’s probably time to reconsider.
Cardinals On The Calendar
When the schedule was released in April, I remember the relief in some quarters of the Rams facility, knowing that there would be plenty of game film on Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray by the time the calendar flipped to December.
Well, here we are. And while the element of surprise may be minimized, I’m not sure there’s any comfort in watching what the Cardinals have built on offense.
They’ve gravitated to 11-personnel as the season has worn on, moving away from the four-receiver groupings that perhaps they weren’t yet equipped to leverage to their advantage. As a result, Arizona comes off its bye having scored 25-plus points in six of its last seven games, including at San Francisco most recently, a contest in which they held a 16-0 lead.
Conversely, the Rams are spinning their wheels on offense and have been held under 20 points in each of the three games since their bye; they haven't suffered through a four-game slog since 2016.
Snap a Drought in the Desert
So after a November to forget, here’s hoping it’s a December to remember for Jared Goff.
“I do think sometimes these years can be very good for you, because they’re really good learning experiences,” Rams general manager Les Snead said this week. “You realize as a QB, not every year is going to be a Pro Bowl season. That’s just the way it is.”
You’ve likely seen some variation of this stat this week: Goff has gone three straight games without a passing touchdown, the longest span of his career.
Hopefully, each time that was mentioned, you were also seeing highlights of Cooper Kupp fumbling over the pylon and Josh Reynold’s haul getting called back due to a penalty in the win over Chicago. Context matters.
Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to saying, “There’s the first touchdown pass since London for Goff,” and putting that story line to rest.
The Rams receivers have felt the squeeze, as well.
By a wide margin, Robert Woods has more receptions (51) without a touchdown catch than any player in the NFL this season.
And at seven consecutive games, Brandin Cooks is enduring the longest stretch of games without a receiving touchdown in his career.
This is a susceptible pass defense the Rams are set to face in Week 13, as Arizona has allowed 29 passing scores this season, most in the NFL and their most through 11 games in franchise history.
A Tale of Two Quarterbacks… And Their Turnovers
As we’ve pointed out at various junctures this season, the Rams are defying the odds by playing above-.500 football in spite of their negative turnover margin.
Teams this insecure with the football don’t often compete for postseason spots.
Not that it’s all on Goff, but he’s coming off his fourth multi-interception game of 2019 and has been responsible for 17 total turnovers.
Conversely, Arizona remains competitive because they’ve valued possessions as much as any team in the NFL this season.
Earlier in his debut campaign, Kyler Murray set an NFL rookie record with 211 consecutive passes without an interception. For all he scrambles, he’s yet to lose a fumble. In fact, across the NFL, only Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees have fewer turnovers (5), and they've both played fewer games.
Teammates From Texas
Rams rookie Bobby Evans will make another start at right tackle in place of Rob Havenstein (out, knee) this week. And no one outside the Cardinals complex has a better perspective on the top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Evans won three state titles with Murray in high school. Then, he blocked for the Heisman-winner at Oklahoma.
On this week’s Rams Revealed podcast, Evans had this to say about his reunion with Murray.
“Oh, it’s going to be crazy man. We’ve come a long way. Both of us. Seeing him do his thing, I’m really proud of the guy.”
I also asked Bobby if he is glad Kyler chose the NFL over MLB, where he was selected ninth overall in the 2018 amateur draft.
“I am. Just to prove to people that he could do it.”
For all the good he’s done in his rookie campaign, Murray absolutely will take a sack. Extending plays and hanging on until the bitter end, the 22-year-old has been dragged down 35 times this season. Only Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston has been sacked more.
On Thanksgiving weekend, Aaron Donald, Dante Fowler, Clay Matthews and others better be ready for seconds.
On a better team, linebacker Chandler Jones would be a viable candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Since being acquired in a trade with New England in 2016, Jones has six more sacks than any other player in the NFL (Donald ranks second with 47.5).
What’s of greatest concern this week is the force with which he arrives at the quarterback. He and Tampa Bay’s Shaq Barrett not only share the NFL lead with 12.5 sacks in 2019, but they’re also the only players with five "strip-sacks."
Rams fans are keenly aware of how much trouble Goff has had in this department. L.A.’s quarterback has to be on red alert against the Red Sea.
In T-Sizzle’s Sights
One other tidbit I found intriguing about Arizona’s pass rush: 37-year-old Terrell Suggs will have Goff in his crosshairs.
The seven-time Pro Bowler has dropped 76 different quarterbacks during his 17 seasons.
But he’s yet to bring down Jared Goff.
If he gets a sack on Sunday, Suggs would tie Reggie White and Julius Peppers for the most quarterbacks sacked in an NFL career.
Rarely Running Backs
I remember watching intently as Todd Gurley went through his pregame routine in Glendale last season, testing a knee that had been injured in the prior week’s loss to Philadelphia.
An MVP candidate for the better part of 2017 and 2018, Gurley wasn’t able to go that afternoon, and this week serves as a painful reminder that he hasn’t returned to his All-Pro form since.
Gurley is coming off just nine touches against the Ravens, his sixth game this season with 15 or fewer.
Across the field Sunday is another running back just a few seasons removed from All-Pro honors. David Johnson only played eight snaps at San Francisco before Arizona’s bye week, and that was with Chase Edmunds inactive. It was the first time since Johnson's rookie season he played in a game and didn't get a carry, as the Cardinals chose to roll with Kenyan Drake, who was acquired mid-season for a paltry conditional sixth-round pick.
Johnson’s reps could be even more restricted now that Edmunds is back from a hamstring injury.
As for Gurley, we’d all love to see him put the past 12 months in the past, break out in Week 13, and give the Rams reason to believe that an undefeated December is possible.