December 3, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Rams vs. Cardinals matchups: No Jared Goff, no problem?

Breaking down how the Arizona Cardinals (8-7) and Rams (9-6) match up on the field heading into Sunday’s game at SoFi Stadium at 1:25 p.m. PT. (TV: CBS)

When Rams have the ball: For the first time in a meaningful game under coach Sean McVay, Jared Goff will not be the starting quarterback. With Goff recovering from right thumb surgery, backup John Wolford will make his NFL debut. Wolford, at 6 feet 1 inch, is not as tall as the 6-4 Goff but has a quick release and is more mobile. Unfortunately for Wolford, he won’t be able to target leading receiver Cooper Kupp, who was put on the reserve/COVID-19 list last week. Rookie Van Jefferson will step into Kupp’s spot and start alongside Robert Woods and Josh Reynolds. Look for McVay to also make tight ends Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett and possibly Johnny Mundt a larger part of the offense. Rookie back Cam Akers, the Rams’ leading rusher, is expected to remain sidelined because of an ankle injury. Darrell Henderson suffered a season-ending ankle injury in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks last week, so veteran Malcolm Brown will start at running back. Rookie Xavier Jones, an undrafted free agent, will be his backup. The Cardinals are fourth in sacks. Linebacker Haason Reddick has 12½. Cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Budda Baker lead the secondary, although Baker is questionable because of a neck issue.

When Cardinals have the ball: Quarterback Kyler Murray is nursing a leg injury but will play. Murray, voted to the Pro Bowl, has passed for 26 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions. He also has rushed for 816 yards and 11 touchdowns. In a 38-30 loss to the Rams on Dec. 6, Murray passed for 173 yards and three touchdowns, with an interception, and rushed for only 15 yards. Pro Bowl receiver DeAndre Hopkins has 111 receptions, six for touchdowns. In December, he had eight catches for 52 yards and a touchdown against the Rams. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald did not play in that game because he was on the reserve/COVID-19 list. He is questionable for Sunday because of a groin injury. Running back Kenyan Drake has rushed for a team-best 919 yards and 10 touchdowns. Rams tackle Aaron Donald has 13½ sacks and edge rusher Leonard Floyd nine for a unit that will be without veteran tackle Michael Brockers, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list this week. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey will match up against Hopkins. Cornerback Troy Hill returned an interception for a touchdown against the Cardinals during a streak in which the Rams defense scored in three consecutive games. The Rams have not forced a turnover in the last two games.

When they kick: Matt Gay has made 11 of 13 field-goal attempts for the Rams. He accounted for all the points in the 20-9 loss to Seattle. Johnny Hekker has averaged 45.7 yards per punt. Mike Nugent has made seven of seven field-goal attempts for the Cardinals. Andy Lee averages 44.2 yards per punt.

Gary Klein’s prediction: With Goff, Akers, Kupp and Brockers out for the Rams, the Cardinals are perfectly positioned to ruin the Rams’ playoff chances while bolstering their own. But Wolford is not expected to wilt under pressure. McVay should improve his record against the Cardinals to 8-0.

RAMS 34, CARDINALS 27