Five things to watch for Sunday when the Cardinals play the Rams at State Farm Stadium:
Josh Rosen, after coming out
Josh Rosen wants to play. He made that clear multiple times. He does not want to be taken out of games like he was last weekend in Atlanta. His play has been up and down. He is learning the game. He is surrounded by a cast on offense that is less than ideal. So this is the setup for Sunday, for a game against the Rams – a team that took apart Sam Bradford and the Cards, 34-0, the second week of the season. So much has happened since then, including Bradford’s benching/demotion/dismissal. What will Rosen do against the Rams? What will he look like after being taken out early? His confidence is not shaken. Confidence alone won’t score touchdowns, however.
David Johnson’s 1,000-yard stare
If Johnson hoped to reach 1,000 yards rushing this season, gaining only 33 last week against a middling rush defense wasn’t the best start. Johnson needs 157 yards against the Rams and Seahawks the last two games. Normally, that’s incredibly reachable. Less than 80 yards per game is something Johnson knows he can average. But he’s only had 80 yards rushing in a game twice this season – back-to-back weeks against the Chiefs and Raiders. The Rams have a middle-of-the-road rushing defense. Of course, the Cardinals will have to stick to the run to get Johnson going – and how the game plays out could dictate much of that.
A “jab” from Todd Gurley
When it was pointed out to coach Steve Wilks that Rams running back Todd Gurley has scored nearly the same number of touchdowns as the Cardinals offense this season – 22 for the Cardinals, 21 for Gurley – Wilks noted good-naturedly that he felt the jab. The Cards’ offensive ills have been well documented. But handling Gurley has become a problem for most of the league, and for a defense that – after a couple of good games – was split for more than 200 rushing yards in Atlanta, Gurley presents a serious problem. He didn’t rush for a ton of yards (42) in the teams’ first meeting, but he did score three touchdowns. With QB Jared Goff’s issues, Gurley figures to be leaned on ever moreso than normal. The Cardinals can’t let Gurley jab them too often.
Some angry Rams
The Rams were sailing along toward NFC home-field advantage and then they were derailed. Goff struggled, the defense got leaky at the wrong times, and L.A. lost in Chicago and at home against the Eagles. Home field, depending on what the Saints do, may be lost. But with the Bears on fire, the Rams need wins to make sure they get a bye. This is not a game that means nothing to them. That makes the task of the Cardinals that much harder.
The future of Fitz
Larry Fitzgerald has not made a decision about his future. But the questions come anyway. It’s inevitable. Maybe this turns out to be his final game at State Farm Stadium. Maybe he plays another eight or so in 2019. But without any assurances, anyone watching Sunday should enjoy it as a possible farewell. That’s not jumping to conclusions, or disrespecting Fitz’s process. It’s just smart. Fitzgerald is arguably the greatest Cardinal ever, well beyond just what he has done on the field. Each reception Sunday should be savored. If he provides more in a year, then everyone is lucky. If not, remember the moment.