Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel brings down Rams running back Todd Gurley in the 2016 season finale.
LONDON, England – Chandler Jones is friends with Todd Gurley, and the two have traded texts about Sunday's game.
"We have to stop him," the linebacker said of the Rams' running back.
It's obvious but not so simple. Gurley has been expected to break into stardom for a while, but under new coach Sean McVay, it looks like it's finally happening. In six games, Gurley has 521 yards rushing and another 23 receptions for 245 yards. He has scored seven touchdowns total for the 4-2
"These are the things that we all felt he was capable of and we expect him to continue to play at a high level," McVay said. "Those are the expectations for a guy that we think is one of the best backs in this league."
The Cardinals have mostly handled Gurley, albeit for a weaker version of the Rams. Last season, Gurley gained just 33 yards on 19 carries in the team's first meeting (the Rams still won) and had 40 yards on 14 carries later in the season.
Defensive coordinator James Bettcher called the Rams a "touchdown-checkdown" offense, one prone to look for the big play immediately before settling for something else. Bettcher said Gurley is running with a lot more confidence than the player the Cards saw in 2016.
The Cardinals would like to get him to revert to his 2016 levels.
"The plan is to tackle him if I get a chance," safety Tyrann Mathieu said with a smile.
"It has to be a group effort. He's playing really well right now, he's confident, and he's not the running back he was last year either. He has a lot of confidence, a lot of aggression."
A SETTLED OFFENSIVE LINE
For only the second time this season, the Cardinals are going to start the same five offensive linemen for a second straight game. They have yet to finish two straight games the same offensive
"I was close but I finally turned in my retirement papers," offensive line coach Harold Goodwin joked. "It was good to have five guys out there and no one got dinged up, so we'll have the same five guys this week."
The return of left tackle D.J. Humphries was crucial, but so too was the return of left guard Alex Boone. Boone's availability allowed the Cards to move Earl Watford to right guard, sending Evan Boehm to the bench.
"(The guards) were physical," Goodwin said. "That's what t I've been hoping for. I was excited. Not a lot of mental errors by anybody. We were efficient, which is the offense we want to be."
A DEFENSE THAT DOESN'T FADE
The Cardinals built a 31-0 lead a week ago before hanging on to a 38-33 win, but the team was tempered in its concern this week.
To solve it, "don't give up explosive plays, period," Bettcher said. "Finishing plays, staying in the moment. When you get up on someone, keep playing one play at a time. Play each play like it's a zero-zero game."
It wasn't the first time this season the defense took a step back late in the game. It happened against the Cowboys and the Lions as well.
"A lot of games, we start fast, and we get to the second half, and we may play well a few series, then we have these lapses, whether it be mental errors, whether it be guys not playing deep balls well," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "We just got to do a great job of challenging each other on the sidelines to stay consistent, to stay focused throughout the entire game."
PATRICK PETERSON FINE FOR SUNDAY
Arians said cornerback Patrick Peterson (quad) "looks fine" this week and he was offically left off the final injury report. Five players are questionable for the Cards: Running back Andre Ellington (quad), linebacker Karlos Dansby (knee), defensive lineman Xavier Williams (knee), defensive lineman Olsen Pierre (knee) and defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche (calf).
For the Rams, safety Cody Davis (thigh) is doubtful and linebacker Mark Barron (thumb) is questionable.
Images from Friday's practice at the London Irish Rugby Club