Desperation can sometimes bring the best out of a team and that’s exactly what Sean McVay hopes to be the case for the Los Angeles Rams in Week 17 against the Arizona Cardinals. By losing their last two games, the Rams either need to win—or get some help from the Green Bay Packers—to ensure that they punch a ticket to the playoffs.
On top of wanting a win to avoid needing Green Bay to do their dirty work, Los Angeles is going to be shorthanded. Most notably, Jared Goff and Cooper Kupp will be inactive on offense, with Michael Brockers being ruled out on the defensive side of the ball.
With that in mind, John Wolford will assume Goff’s role as starting quarterback, bringing something to the offense that hasn’t been seen in McVay’s offense before—which is mobility. Though, it remains to be seen if McVay hands the keys to Wolford entirely or if he puts training wheels on the Wake Forest product.
Besides Wolford, Los Angeles is going to need contributions from everyone if they want to take care of business at SoFi Stadium. Taking that into account, let’s take a look at a few marquee matchups that could come into play during Sunday’s decisive clash between the Rams and the Cardinals.
Rob Havenstein vs. Haason Reddick
Regardless of whether it was Goff or Wolford under center on Sunday, making sure that No. 43 on the Cardinals is accounted for on every play is vital for the success of the offense. Haason Reddick—the aforementioned No. 43 in Arizona’s defense—has been red hot in the past three weeks.
In the past three weeks, Reddick has accumulated 7.5 sacks, 12 total pressures, and six forced fumbles. That includes a five-sack, three forced-fumble performance against the New York Giants in Week 14.
While the Cardinals utilize Reddick in different spots in their defense, he’ll likely be lined up across Rob Havenstein for the majority of the game. Havenstein has been much-improved this season for the Rams, allowing three sacks on 1,044 offensive snaps heading into Week 17.
For Wolford to have a clear-cut chance to succeed on Sunday, Havenstein—and the entire offensive line of the Rams—will need to keep Reddick out of the backfield. At the least, Wolford is a teeny bit more mobile than the statue-like quarterback in Goff.
Rams’ front seven vs. Kyler Murray
Similar to when the Rams squared off with the Cardinals in Week 13, they’ll need to prevent Kyler Murray from running rampant on their defense. The first time these teams met, Brandon Staley’s defense did a remarkable job keeping Murray in check on the ground, limiting the elusive quarterback to a season-low 15 yards on five rushing attempts.
Murray suffered a leg injury at the end of Arizona’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 16, but he has already given himself the green light to play in Week 17. Given his injury, the Cardinals may decide to run Murray less often than usual.
Still, the front seven of the Rams have to be prepared to make sure that Murray doesn’t do damage with his legs. With Brockers absent from the interior of the defensive line on Sunday, A’Shawn Robinson and Sebastian Joseph-Day will be relied upon more to aid Aaron Donald on the defensive front.
Besides the interior defenders, the likes of Leonard Floyd, Morgan Fox, and Justin Hollins will need to contain Murray in the pocket. If the Rams can keep Murray under wraps on the ground as they did back in Week 13, then they should be in a prime position to win on Sunday.
Jalen Ramsey vs. DeAndre Hopkins
Another matchup that prompted fans to watch the last meeting between the Rams and Cardinals was Jalen Ramsey vs. DeAndre Hopkins. Ramsey and Hopkins first became familiar with one another when they used to face each other in the AFC South.
Now, both of them are marquee players on NFC West teams following Hopkins’ trade to Arizona ahead of the 2020 season. Hopkins has caught 111 passes for 1,372 yards and six touchdowns in his first season with the Cardinals.
However, back in Week 13, it was Ramsey who won his battle with Hopkins, holding the All-Pro wideout to six catches for 36 yards on 11 targets. Ramsey has proven that he’s the best cornerback in the NFL this season, holding some of the best wide receivers to low outputs week-in and week-out.
Seeing that Murray could be relied upon to throw more often with an injured leg and with Arizona vying for a spot in the playoffs, Ramsey will be tasked with covering Hopkins on Sunday. Whoever prevails in the must-see matchup between Ramsey and Hopkins could decide the outcome of the contest.