Kyler Murray didn't have a passing touchdown last week against the Patriots, the first game this season he hasn't thrown for at least one TD and the first time since … last year's blowout loss to the Rams at State Farm Stadium.
That's as good a place as any to start about this Sunday's important division game, crucial beyond just snapping the 6-0 chokehold Sean McVay has thus far put on the Cardinals.
The offense, save for the sleepwalking game in Carolina earlier this year, has had its worst two games of the season in back-to-back weeks. Finding its way to where it was a few weeks ago – either by Murray running more, or using his fakes to give advantage to the running backs, or getting the ball to DeAndre Hopkins more often or whatever the case may be – it crucial for this game.
Last year, Murray had a poor game in the home meeting with the Rams, and while he was better in Los Angeles, he was also dealing with a hamstring injury that essentially took the running part of his game completely. The Rams also have some confidence when it comes to defending him.
"We've got two of them, we've got him and Russell Wilson in our division, so we kind of know how to handle it," All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald said.
The Rams have a much better defense this season than many expected, guys performing that aren't named Donald or Jalen Ramsey. They are better on that side of the ball than either the Seahawks or Patriots, allowing just 19.5 points a game. Not the easiest of weeks to get out these offensive doldrums, but it may be the game when it's the most important to do so.
-- No, I don't think this is must-win. Not with the teams the Cardinals have just below them for the final playoff spot. Now, if the Cards were to lose Sunday, does that make all the rest of their games – including the finale in L.A. against these same Rams – must-win? The margin for error would likely be gone, yes.
But what this game does do is provide a gigantic swing in the standings. Lose, and the Cards are two games behind the Rams and don't have the tiebreaker, so essentially three games behind. Win, and the Cards tie (and because of the head-to-head win, vault over) the Rams in the standings. So yeah, kind of a big deal.
-- Kliff Kingsbury said he and buddy Sean McVay text often during the season.
"Both of us have a lot going on but we definitely stay in touch," Kingsbury said. "Not like trash talk or anything like that but every now and then pick each other's brains on something that may have come up."
-- I know everyone seems to be waiting to hear about Larry Fitzgerald's return from the COVID list, but at least here on Friday, I'd be surprised if he played on Sunday no matter what happens.
-- The magic of a midseason trade. Linebacker Markus Golden was playing for the Giants earlier this season when they lost, 17-9, to the Rams. Barring injury, Golden will end up playing against the Rams three times this season, since the Cards also close the regular season in Los Angeles.
-- In lieu of the annual toy drive held at a game – since the game is closed to the pubic – the Cardinals and Desert Financial Credit Union will host a contactless drive-thru toy drive Saturday (Dec. 5) from 8-11 a.m. at both State Farm Stadium (West Preferred Lot) and at the Tempe Sports Complex (8403 S. Hardy Dr., next door to the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center.) Participants can sign up for a chance at autographed Cardinals memorabilia.
-- Lot of good charities with this year's My Cause My Cleats, and it should prove to be colorful out there with all this dynamic footwear.
-- Devon Kennard's playing time has dried up the last couple of games – 11 snaps against the Patriots, 19 against the Seahawks – but defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said it isn't because of any lingering aftermath of Kennard's COVID issues and said Kennard has been "great" about handling whatever role he is given.
"He's always ready to go," Joseph said. "Every week the game plan is different. With that position room, we are trying to play to guys' strengths, and the last couple of weeks it's been a different kind of game plan. Hopefully it goes up this week, but every week the game plan changes and we try to put guys in spots to have success."
-- Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has already tied his career-high with three interceptions. Given the circumstances and the salary, another solid late-camp free-agent find for Steve Keim.
-- D-Hop was interestingly uninterested in talking much about Ramsey before this game. I won't pretend to know the backstory if there is any, but there will be an intense spotlight on that matchup in this game. The Cards need Nuk to win his share.
See you Sunday.