The Cardinals travel to Los Angeles hoping to start the season 4-0 for just the eighth time in franchise history. Sunday marks the first time the Cardinals and Rams face one another with undefeated records since becoming NFC West rivals two decades ago. In what will likely be a season-long battle, the winner will have the advantage for the top spot in the toughest division in football.
As the Cardinals enter SoFi Stadium looking to beat the Rams for the first time in five years, here are five Cards to watch in this week's spotlight:
Hopkins once said Jalen Ramsey is his favorite cornerback to match up against, and Ramsey echoed a similar sentiment about the wide receiver. The All-Pro battles dating back to 2016 have been among the NFL's most entertaining. Sunday will mark the 10th time Hopkins has faced Ramsey in six seasons. According to Pro Football Focus, Hopkins has an 88.7 receiver grade on 72 targets, for 37 catches, 444 yards, and two touchdowns all-time against Ramsey. Sunday, we'll see who wins this round.
Milestone watch: With a single reception on Sunday, Hopkins will extend his streak to 130 consecutive games with a catch, giving him at least one in every game of his career.
Hudson did not allow a single QB pressure or sack in 39 pass reps versus the Jaguars, according to Pro Football Focus. But it will be more complicated for Hudson and the Cardinals' offensive line to replicate similar success against a Rams defense led by Aaron Donald. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year has the most sacks in the NFL since 2016. The Cardinals' ability to protect QB Kyler Murray will play a vital role in the Cardinals' chances of walking out of SoFi Stadium victorious.
Murphy is coming off capturing NFC Player of the Week honors for his two-interception performance in Jacksonville, joining Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs as the only players with at least five passes defended and two interceptions in 2021. Murphy will likely line against Cooper Kupp, who leads the NFL with 367 receiving yards and who won NFC Offensive Player of the Month. If the third-year cornerback displays another strong showing, his case for being among the best young cornerbacks in the league will only grow stronger.
The Cardinals' secondary will have its hands full with a versatile Rams receiving core. Five players are already over 100 yards for the season and averaging 10 yards per catch. Simmons will be responsible for limiting Rams tight end Tyler Higbee. It won't be an easy task since the Cardinals have had difficulty slowing him down. In the past four contests against the Cardinals, Higbee has made 22 catches for 256 yards and three TDs. Right now, Simmons has an 82.5 coverage grade, according to Pro Football Focus.
While Murray has been cooking up MVP caliber numbers in 2021, the Rams are the most formidable opponent he's faced thus far. Since becoming the Cardinals' starting QB in 2019, Murray remains winless against the Rams in four attempts. The signal-caller has a passer rating of 75.8 with 748 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions against the Rams in his career. Since Murray is playing the best football of his career coupled with a diverse receiving core it will be interesting to see if Murray can finally get over the hump.
Milestones watch: With a rushing TD, Murray will become the first QB in the Super Bowl era to rush for a TD in each of the first four games this season. He will also become the first player in franchise history, at any position, to accomplish the feat. With a passing and rushing TD, Murray will have 13 career games with both a passing and rushing TD. Only Cam Newton and Josh Allen would have more such outings in their first three seasons in NFL history. With three passing TDs, Murray will join Charley Johnson, Jim Hardy, and Carson Palmer as the only QBs with 10 or more passing TDs through the first four games of a season.
The Cardinals' five players to watch Sunday against the Rams: Center Rodney Hudson, linebacker Isaiah Simmons, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, cornerback Byron Murphy Jr., and quarterback Kyler Murray.