Five things to watch for Sunday when the Cardinals play the Rams at the Los Angeles Coliseum:
Maybe not stopping, but at least slowing Todd Gurley
The Cardinals come off a game in which they couldn't stop not-quite-at-the-top-of-his-skills Adrian Peterson running the football, and now must face a running back in Todd Gurley that many consider the best in the game. There is no choice in the matter – unless the Cards find a way to button up their run defense, they will have little chance going forward. Last season, Gurley gained 106 yards on a 4.8-per carry average against a pretty good Cardinals' defense in London, and then the Cards held him to less than four yards a carry when the teams played in Arizona. (This doesn't account for Gurley's abilities in the receiving game, but one thing at a time.) The Rams have a lot of offensive weapons. Slowing Gurley doesn't guarantee anything. But it's a must-have to be in the game.
Avoiding the so unlucky number 13
Not counting the end-of-half kneeldown – which shouldn't be counted – the Cardinals ran a grand total of 13 offensive plays in the first half last week. It was a painful way for the new offense to debut, and helped lead to the 21-0 halftime deficit. The Raiders found a way to play ball control in a successful first half against the Rams, and while the Rams found a way to neutralize that in the second half, it probably makes sense for the Cards to duplicate the effort. GM Steve Keim said Friday morning he felt like David Johnson was running the ball well last week. Whatever the plan, the Cards have to find a way to convert third downs – an issue going back to preseason games – and stay on the field.
The David Johnson experience
The guess here is that Johnson will have more than 14 touches this week. Some of that will be on the running back – he was targeted nine times in the passing game, with only five catches, and Johnson criticized himself for not being better in that aspect. But it's been clear from jump that the offense was going to lean on Johnson, and when that is made difficult, like last week when the Cards fell so far behind, it's going to jack up the gameplan and the results.
Can't be chasing a deficit
The Rams' defense, especially the line, can be intimidating. They were already great with Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers, and the addition of Ndomukong Suh just makes it more formidable. But the problems dealing with Rams exponentially get worse if the other team is chasing a lot of points. It's one thing to be in a seven- or 10-point game. If it stretches to 14 or even to 21, like the Cardinals had last week, big problems are sure to follow. The Cardinals have to find a way to stay close. The Raiders could only do it for a half.
The biggest takeaways from Sunday must be just that
Turnovers are the great equalizer. No one was expecting the Cardinals to be able to continue their insane takeaway pace of the preseason into the regular season. Already, the Cards found out the randomness of fumbles – every fumble went their way in the preseason, but Washington was able to keep two of its three fumbles last week. But turnovers are needed, perhaps as much as much as the defense's need to stop the run. (OK, stopping the run ranks higher right now.) Can the Cards get a couple of takeaways and turn them into cheap scoring drives? That would be ideal.