Prediction: Rams over Cardinals, 27-23

Undermanned L.A. squad should lean on running game to move chains
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The Los Angeles Rams (9-6) look for a season sweep over the Arizona Cardinals (8-7) on Sunday. It’s always hard to beat a team twice in a year, but the Rams will be properly motivated with a postseason berth at stake for both teams.

The Rams are 5-2 playing at home in their first year at SoFi Stadium.

Making the task more difficult is the Rams will be without starting quarterback Jared Goff (broken thumb on throwing hand), leading receiver Cooper Kupp (COVID), left tackle Andrew Whitworth (knee), inside linebacker Micah Kiser (knee), running back Darrell Henderson Jr. (ankle), defensive lineman Michael Brockers (COVID) and perhaps running back Cam Akers (ankle) and edge rusher Leonard Floyd (abdominal issue).

For a team that’s been healthy most of the season, L.A.’s depth will be tested on Sunday.

Matchup microscope
Whether it’s Malcolm Brown, Xavier Jones, Ray Calais or Akers lining up running back, the Rams should feel confident about the team’s ability to run the football against Arizona’s front seven. The Cardinals are giving up an average of 4.9 yards per carry on first down runs, No. 28 in the NFL. With the added element of a mobile quarterback like John Wolford and an ability to run two tight-end sets, expect the Rams to lean on the running game as a buffer for the Wake Forest product making his NFL first start. Arizona has struggled against running quarterbacks this season. Russell Wilson ran for a combined 126 rushing yards in Seattle’s two wins over Arizona this season. Josh Allen ran for 38 yards in Buffalo’s win over the Cardinals. And Cam Newton ran for 46 yards in New England’s win over Arizona.

One to watch
A strength of the team for most of the year, the Rams have struggled up front offensively of late, allowing six sacks over the last two games. Specifically, left tackle Joe Noteboom needs a good game against Arizona’s most productive pass rusher, Haasan Reddick, who has 12.5 sacks on the season. L.A.’s offensive line has had seven penalties called on them over the last two weeks. Expect Rams head coach Sean McVay to get Wolford on the move, using bootlegs and rollouts to put him on the edge of Arizona’s defense. I also expect to see some Run-Pass Options in L.A.’s playbook to take advantage of Wolford’s unique skill set from his college days at Wake Forest. Ultimately, the Rams need to be more consistent and penalty-free up front. 

Fun to watch

Jalen Ramsey said he looks forward to his rematch with DeAndre Hopkins on Sunday. According to Next Gen Stats, Ramsey allowed just three catches for 20 yards on eight targets when he shadowed Hopkins in the earlier matchup. Hopkins finished with eight receptions for 52 yards and a score. Ramsey also might see time on Larry Fitzgerald, who’s likely playing in his final NFL season.

Key to the game
Just as they did in the earlier matchup, L.A.’s defense has to do a good job keeping Kyler Murray in the pocket and not letting him make plays down the field. Offensively, the Rams need to keep the chains moving, take care of the football and score touchdowns when they are in the red zone. It will be an uphill climb, but even with all the players missing the Rams have the more talented team and should take care of business on Sunday.

Rams 27, Cardinals 23