Five things to watch for in the Cardinals-Rams game Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium:
All aboard the Blaine train
We're now heading into the third start of Blaine Gabbert as Cardinals quarterback and, barring something unforeseen, a stretch run full of Gabbert starts. This two-game gauntlet figured to show a lot about where Gabbert is as a QB. He handled the Jaguars, the league's top defense, well. Now he gets the Rams, a team that shut out the Cardinals earlier this season and have been known to rough up a Cardinals' QB or two. A good performance by Gabbert will only increase momentum as the Cardinals try to figure out their QB situation for 2018.
Whoever is running, you gotta run
There is uncertainty of exactly who will be getting the carries for the Cardinals Sunday. Adrian Peterson is dealing with a neck issue, Kerwynn Williams has bad ribs, and it may come down to game day. But if the previous meeting against the Rams was any indication – or the last two weeks, in terms of coming away with a win or a loss – the Cardinals have to find a way to run the ball. The Rams are only 27th in rush defense, although the Cardinals ran for only 25 yards in the previous blowout loss to Los Angeles. Gabbert would probably be able to run himself for some, but the running back – whoever it is – has to have some production.
Don't get Johnson'd by Gurley
Remember the glory days of Week 1, when David Johnson was going to be the guy to dominate on the ground and through the air offensively. Yeah, that was undercut with the wrist injury, and Johnson is left to focus on community events while he sits out the season. But the Rams have their own version, thanks to the revamped offense and a jump in play of running back Todd Gurley. Gurley already has 865 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, an increase from last season but not unexpected given his pedigree. It is Gurley's receiving – 38 catches for 479 yards and three TDs – that has made him extra-tough. He's not the pass-catcher Johnson is, but he's good, and regardless of all the bells and whistles of the Rams' offense, is the player that must draw the focus of the Cardinals.
The Cardinals have had rookie safety Budda Baker as one of the top-graded at his position by Pro Football Focus in both of his two starts. Safety Tyrann Mathieu is coming off his best game of the year. And Patrick Peterson is Patrick Peterson. With Chandler Jones menacing quarterbacks on the pass rush, the group is in good shape – and will need to be against this offense and a Rams' receiving corps that has done well. Robert Woods is injured, but Peterson should lock up with Sammy Watkins, and the Cards need to find a way to get to rookie slot man Cooper Kupp as well.
That week in London was a cool experience. The game in London was terrible. The Cardinals lost, 33-0, and they lost quarterback Carson Palmer to a broken arm. In Patrick Peterson's words, "We didn't show up." It's hard to imagine for a game against a division rival, but the Cardinals can't change it now. What they can do is equal the season series, which would give the Cardinals their first two-game winning streak of the season and put a dent in the Rams' NFC West lead. The Rams are for real. But the Cardinals should never be 33 points worse.