There was concern – understandable – about the Cardinals cornerbacks in training camp, and about what the depth would look like. It only got (seemingly) worse when Malcolm Butler abruptly decided to retire.
The Cardinals though believed that Byron Murphy was ready to emerge as a CB1. (Correct.) They believed rookie Marco Wilson was ready to take on a starting role (Also correct, and likely a factor in Butler's decision.) But every team needs at least three starting caliber corners. And quietly, Robert Alford has turned in a season the Cards probably didn't have a right to expect yet expected all the same.
Alford isn't flashy. But he has complied a solid 73.2 Pro Football Focus grade (76.0 in coverage) and he's third in the NFL in allowing only five yards per target this season. He's been good, even if no one seems to mention it.
All this from a guy who not only just turned 33, but didn't play a down in 2019 and 2020 because of injuries.
"For two years he was our best corner in the spring and the summer," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "He doesn't get beat much. He's a veteran corner that has been in big games before, been on good defenses, and one thing he can do, he can cover his man. He can tackle, he's tough and he's competitive.
"He's a guy we don't talk about that much but he's also a reason that secondary is so competitive. As the left corner in nickel, he gets a lot of '9' balls, and no one talks about the ball being caught down the left sideline. That's Alford. You're right about him that he's a guy who has played really good football for us that no one is talking about. But I'm not surprised, because he's done it before."
Alford all along believed he was capable of playing just like this. The Cards have benefitted big time because he was right.
-- The swing Monday's result provides between a win and a loss feels a lot more than a single W or L. The Cards will still be in solid shape for the postseason. That isn't going to change. The worst thing that happens is they end up with the same record as the Packers and the Bucs.
But let's face it, knowing you lose the tiebreaker to the Packers gives much motivation to keep that hard-earned one-game lead. And closer to (the NFC West) home, this game could change everything. The Rams win, and they are within a game of the Cardinals for the division lead. The Cards win, and their magic number is one to clinch the division. With four games left after this, it's as close as you can get to ending the Rams' divisional hopes without officially ending them.
-- After the Bears game, Kyler Murray noted he was disappointed he couldn't throw more, basically because he was itching to throw more after all those weeks off and he wanted the reps. Now that he's back to normal and, it seems, so too is DeAndre Hopkins, I'm looking forward to seeing this passing game at full strength in a long, long time.
-- I didn't get the sense Kliff Kingsbury was overly optimistic about running back Chase Edmonds being activated for the Rams game. We will see. Because the game falls on a Monday, and no transactions can be done on a Sunday, we won't know until Monday at 2 p.m-ish who – if any – are activated from IR. The Cardinals have four players in their IR practice windows and eligible to return at any time: Edmonds, long snapper Aaron Brewer, defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence and safety Charles Washington.
The first time these teams played, the Cardinals held Cooper Kupp – the top receiver in the league in receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns – to five catches (on 13 targets) for 63 yards. If they can manage to do that again, it'll go a long way toward a potential win.
-- With all the hubub about Chase Claypool's dumb first-down signal Thursday night, this tweet seemed to sum it up nicely:
-- The Cardinals are 4-1 in their last five "Monday Night Football" appearances going into this one. In the first 22 "MNF" games, they were 6-16.
-- The Rams, of course, have added pass rusher Von Miller (and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.) since the last time the teams played. Miller has yet to get a sack since getting to the Rams.
"They traded for me for sacks and pressure and just to be a solid edge defender and make game- changing plays and help out (Aaron Donald)," Miller told L.A. reporters this week. "This is the game where I should be able to do that."
-- Murray, meanwhile, cracked a smile when asked about going against Donald and that pass rush. He started saying, "That's what you sign up for," but he cut himself off midsentence.
"Well, I didn't sign up for it, but when you get drafted to the Arizona Cardinals the first thing you think about is 'Damn, you already know who you got to go against,' " Murray said. "It is what it is. You play in these games, you play in this division, you find out who's real and who's not real quick. It's an honor to be able to play against those guys. He's going to go down as one of the best, Von Miller is going to go down as one of the best.
"If you're the ultimate competitor this is what you dream of. This platform, this job, it's everything I ever dreamed of. I don't shy away from it."
-- I can't help it. I saw this tweet a few weeks back and with the Rams on deck, I can't get it out of my head.
-- The Cardinals, with a win, would sweep the Rams and 49ers in the same season for the first time since 2008.
-- Last word comes from Kingsbury, who was asked about superstitions he might have.
"The beard, yeah, if we're winning, the beard is not being shaved," Kingsbury said. "As long as that streak keeps going, you'll see me with a little more facial hair. Whatever it takes to win. I have no pride when it comes to that."
He was asked if he would go "full ZZ Top" if it came it that.
"Yeah. Whatever it takes. Keep it rockin'."
See you Monday.