The three biggest things to watch for Sunday when the Cardinals play the Rams at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles:
Don't Forget To Focus On Wolford, For Goff's Sake
Jared Goff, who has diced up the Cardinals of late, won't be playing. Instead, it's John Wolford, a guy who has never thrown a pass in a regular-season NFL game behind center. Perhaps he will be comfortable enough in Sean McVay's schemes to use the rollouts and bootlegs effectively. More likely, however, having Wolford in the lineup (and top receiver Cooper Kupp out because of COVID) will mean leaning on the run – and the Cardinals had a difficult time slowing that last week by 49ers third-stringer Jeff Wilson, who had 183 yards rushing. The Rams might also be down to their third-string running back, Malcolm Brown. They can't let him get loose. And they can't get so wrapped up in what Wolford might do – or what the Cardinals might be able to do to Wolford – to forget that goal No. 1 has to be avoiding another Wilson-like performance.
From Murray To Hopkins, And A Run At A Win
The 38-28 score the first time the Cards played the Rams belied the offensive issues the Cardinals had that day – a season-low 232 yards – and while the Rams have personnel issues on offense, they are fine on defense, where they have been one of the best units in the NFL all season. The Cards are also coming of another offensively challenged game against a much more beat-up 49ers defense. Finding a way for DeAndre Hopkins to be involved early, even knowing top cornerback Jalen Ramsey will be shadowing him, seems imperative. And even if Chase Edmonds is available, he'll be dinged up, yet the Cards have to find a way to generate more on the ground – especially aside from Kyler Murray. Kenyan Drake will be a key factor.
The Playoffs Are Here – Just In Time For The Playoffs
You can break down the game any way you'd like, but the biggest storyline is really the only one that matters – the Cardinals are basically playing in a playoff game to get into the playoffs. Starting Sunday, the Cards go home for the season with any loss. Maybe there is a five-game winning streak that can emerge, but the Cardinals can't win more than one in a row in Los Angeles. After everything that has happened this season, after everything the Cardinals have done to get through this season in a pandemic relatively unscathed (virus-wise), it'd be a shame not to get the playoff berth that seemed almost inevitable at the midway point.