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Kyren Williams returns as Rams & Cardinals battle in the desert | Game Preview

To those of you traveling during this Thanksgiving weekend, we wish you safe passage and hope it's been an enjoyable holiday.

For the Los Angeles Rams, if they had to hit the road for the holidays, there's no place they'd rather be than Glendale, AZ. Because no building in the NFL has been more hospitable to them than State Farm Stadium.

The Rams are undefeated in Arizona since Sean McVay was hired in 2017. They've won 8 in a row in the desert.

Overall, they're 12-2 versus the Cardinals under McVay, including a Week 6 triumph earlier this year. The Rams +188 point differential versus the Cardinals is the third-highest by any team versus any opponent in that period, according to NFL Research.

And this is no time to take their foot off the gas.

Sunday, the Rams have a chance to claim back-to-back wins for the first time this season, sweep the Cardinals, and improve to 4-1 in the NFC West. If they do, then this playoff push will have some serious momentum.

Beat the Birds

What a difference a week makes. Or more specifically, what a difference a single swing of a leg from 55 yards can make.

A missed field goal by Seattle kicker Jason Myers last week at SoFi Stadium rejuvenated the Rams hopes (as did Denver's upset of Minnesota on Sunday Night Football).

As cliché as it reads, this is a perfect testament to staying the course, trusting the process, hanging in the fight, etc. Certainly, the Rams have lost some games this season they should have won. It's nice to have one come around and land in the win column despite trailing for the better part of four quarters.

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Most of the games with ramifications for Los Angeles took place Thursday.

Strange as it was to pull for the 49ers, the Seahawks (6-5) taking a fifth loss brings them well within striking distance – with trips to Dallas and San Francisco next.

However, Jared Goff and the Lions really dented the Rams odds by surrendering a road win to Green Bay (5-6). The Packers unfortunately have a head-to-head tiebreaker over Los Angeles, and their remaining schedule has 4-2 or even 5-1 written all over it. That could be an issue.

The Monday Night Football contest between Chicago (3-8) and Minnesota (6-5) becomes magnified now. The Vikings were upset in Denver in Week 11, and they catch a late bye next. If the Packers are ascendant, the Rams might need the Vikings to sink.

Kyren Rewind

It will be great to have Kyren Williams return to the backfield this week, especially considering the last time we saw him, he was trampling the Cardinals.

Back in Week 6, Williams and the Rams rallied from down 9-3, scoring 23 unanswered points. Most notably, their opening drive of the second half set the tone – eight straight run calls on their way to a season-high 179 yards rushing for the game.

Unfortunately, right when it looked like the Rams had locked in to an offensive identify, their second-year running back suffered an ankle injury that shelved him for the past five weeks.

"You go back to his last game and it was arguably his best game," offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said this week as Williams comes off injured reserve. "He got the stats off it, but it was textbook in terms of how to set up blocks within the run game. Not only was he breaking tackles and stuff and say he was blocked for four and he was getting six, well, it was blocked for six and he was finding a way to get 16, 18 and all that."

Balancing the scales in the matchup, Cardinals running back James Conner has been terrific this season, but missed the trip to Inglewood in October. He'll be back in the lineup in Week 12, ranked fourth at his position according to Pro Football Focus.

Kirsten Watson, D'Marco Farr, and Stu Jackson had more on the running backs on this week's Between the Horns.

Safety Valve

Compared to that first meeting, the Cardinals also could have a decided advantage in the shift at safety.

Arguably their best player, Pro Bowler Budda Baker did not dress at SoFi Stadium in October but will this Sunday. Few are better in run support, so Baker could help Arizona shore up their run-stuffing deficiencies from Round One with Williams and L.A.

Veteran linebacker Kyzir White will miss the rest of the Cardinals season with a torn bicep suffered last week in Houston, however.

Meantime, the Rams emerging star in the secondary, Quentin Lake, has a hamstring injury. One week after playing every single snap on defense for the first time in his career, the former UCLA Bruin was unable to practice in anticipation of the trip to Arizona.

Hurry Murray

We spoke with Rams corner Ahkello Witherspoon about the challenge of facing Kyler Murray, who he's intercepted earlier in his career.

"You want to cover for three or four seconds, ideally," the 28-year-old California native told us about the challenge of dealing with such a dynamic, play-extending quarterback. "I think there was a 10-second play last week that I saw him have a highlight on. So it's just staying sticky in coverage, and just understanding that his aggression also brings opportunity."

After a serious hamstring injury ended his time in Pittsburgh, Witherspoon was uncertain if he'd get another NFL opportunity in 2023. Rather than moving on to medical school, as he plans to do, a return-to-health for Witherspoon has put him on track for a career season.

For more on Witherspoon's unique path to professional football, including why Los Angeles was the perfect fit for his unique approach to the game, check out this week's Rams Revealed.

Strength in Numbers

More isn't always better, as my Thanksgiving servings proved again this week.

But against the Seahawks, 19 Rams played defensive snaps and it paid dividends, with contributions from all corners of the depth chart.

Bobby Brown III's return was impactful. John Johnson III turned back the clock with a season-high snap count. Keir Thomas and Ochaun Mathis provided some depth on the edge. Jonah Williams continues to thrive.

Now the offense needs to follow suit. Austin Trammell and Demarcus Robinson were ready when their numbers were called. A healthy Williams and Royce Freeman form a nice one-two punch in the backfield. I get that scoring is down across the league, but the Rams haven't scored 30 points since the opener in Seattle.

And let's type it into existence: a non-offensive score is way overdue, and would be a welcome jolt to kickstart the point production. Here's a list of the teams that have yet to score a safety or touchdown on defense or special teams: San Francisco, Tennessee, and the Los Angeles Rams.

Dominate the Division

Whatever happens the rest of the way, the Rams swept the Seahawks in 2023. That's it. That's the tweet.

Wouldn't it be nice to say the same of the Cardinals?

To date, the Rams are 3-1 against the NFC West. Unfortunately, they're 1-5 versus all other teams, but there's still ample opportunity for a course correction, there!

Sunday is an opportunity to guarantee a winning record against the division, knowing they'll go all in against the Niners in Week 18 in Santa Clara. In what was supposed to be a down year, that's an accomplishment to hang their hat on – and it could serve as the foundation to achieving even bigger goals.

Take a look through photos of Los Angeles Rams linebacker Ernest Jones, running back Kyren Williams, outside linebacker Byron Young and more Rams players getting ready for Sunday's Week 12 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals.

The Cards You're Dealt

A couple times along the way, I've mentioned in this space that it's in the Rams best interest to root for Houston this season. That's because they owe Arizona a first-round pick in this spring's draft. At 6-4, the Texans just beat the Cardinals and are in the AFC playoff framework.

After Week 11, the Cardinals now are projected to have the second-overall pick in the NFL Draft, according to ESPN Analytics. They also have a 19.3 percent chance of getting the first pick currently held by Carolina. No need to gift them another "lottery pick," Texans.

But don't be lulled into a false sense of security against Arizona.

Despite having a fourth-place schedule as a result of finishing last in the NFC West in 2022, ESPN assigns the Cardinals the hardest overall strength of schedule this season! There's more to this opponent than 2-9.

In the words of linebacker Josh Woods, "If you think we are a bad team, you don't watch football."

Credit Where Credit is Due

Last week, we called on the Rams kicking game to level up – both in the context of overall improvement and specifically to combat the strength of Seattle's special teams.

Credit to Chase Blackburn's unit, as they collectively did exactly that.

Rookie punter Ethan Evans was honored as NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts. He and the punt team edged the Seahawks in gross and net punting, and there were nothing but touchbacks on kickoff. Place kicker Lucas Havrisik got his first game-winning field goal and was spotless on the day. Trammell had a 15-yard punt return. Let's hope the Rams can build off that performance.

Ahead of Sunday's Week 12 matchup, take a look through photos of historical matchups between the Rams and Arizona Cardinals.

A Word of Thanks

Lastly, a short list of the Rams-related things I'm thankful for late in 2023:

That the core of Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, and Matthew Stafford recommitted to modeling the way for this franchise.

That Sean McVay decided not to step away.

That Les Snead and his college scouting staff assembled what stands to be the most impactful rookie class since the Rams returned to Los Angeles.

That Puka Nacua ran 4.57 in the forty.

That the pro personnel department had the foresight to sign veteran depth at corner (Witherspoon), safety (Johnson), and receiver (Robinson) over the summer, then made the most valuable trade of the preseason in acquiring guard Kevin Dotson.

That the Indianapolis Colts didn't hire defensive coordinator Raheem Morris away last winter, though he certainly deserves to be a head coach in the NFL again soon.

That the league hasn't flexed Thursday Night Football in December versus New Orleans. And given the Rams improved fortunes and the fact the Saints lead the NFC South, my first Christmas wish is that Week 16 kickoff won't change! A Rams win on Sunday should solidify it.

For all the players who've stopped by Rams Revealed in 2023 – I think this has been our best season yet, getting to know the people behind the pads and helmets.

For the poor soul who has to edit this column every week.

And for all of you who read, watch, listen, and support the team and those of us who tag along for the ride. Have a safe and enjoyable rest of your Thanksgiving weekend.

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