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Sunday before Monday Night Football: What to watch for in Rams-Cardinals

A Cardinals win on Monday would improve their divisional record to 5-0 and secure a playoff berth for the first time since 2015

Arizona Cardinals v Chicago Bears Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The Arizona Cardinals (10-2) will look to sweep the Los Angeles Rams (8-4) on Monday Night Football in a very important NFC West battle. In Week 4, the Cardinals delivered on a dominating 37-20 road victory over the heavily-favored Rams team at SoFi Stadium.

Los Angeles have dropped three of their last four games but was able to snap their three-game skid after defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars last weekend. Arizona came out fresh off their bye week with the return of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins and took care of business on the road on a rainy day 33-22 over the Chicago Bears.

A Cardinals win on Monday would not only give them a three-game lead in the NFC West standings but would also keep them on top of the NFL with the best record in football. And most importantly, a playoff berth would be clinched. A Rams win would put them within a game of tying the Cardinals however Arizona would still own the tiebreaker based on their better divisional record (4-0).

The roof will be open at State Farm Stadium and there will be plenty to look forward to in this matchup.

Here are four things to watch for on Monday night:

Washington Football Team v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

1. Finding a way to shine at home with Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins back in the fold in normal weather conditions

Kyler Murray played well on a rainy day at Soldier Field in Chicago last weekend as he accounted for four total touchdowns in the win in his first game back from a three-game absence. He connected with DeAndre Hopkins on a 20-yard touchdown on the Cardinals first offensive series. The Cardinals have been excellent on the road this season, winning by double digits in all seven games so far. At home, they are 3-2 with two of those victories won by a touchdown or less.

Cardinals will want to find their groove at home and there is no better time to do it than against a divisional opponent in the Rams, who have lost their last three road games against playoff contention teams. Murray and Hopkins are back. James Conner continues to shine out of the backfield. With no rain in the forecast, we could see a good number of targets for Hopkins even in a difficult matchup between a top receiver and a top cornerback (Jalen Ramsey).

Los Angeles Rams Play Arizona Cardinals at SoFi Stadium Photo by Terry Pierson/The Press-Enterprise via Getty Images

2. Stopping the Cooper Kupp show at home with Byron Murphy

There is no question that Matthew Stafford’s connection with Cooper Kupp is one of the best quarterback-wide receiver duos in the NFL just like Kyler Murray-to-DeAndre Hopkins, Patrick Mahomes-to-Tyreek Hill, Aaron Rodgers-to-Davante Adams, and Josh Allen-to-Stefon Diggs. Kupp currently leads the league in all receiving categories in receptions (100), yards (1,366) and touchdowns (11). He is the first player in NFL history with this freakish production through the first 12 games of a season.

To damper things a little bit, the Cardinals are the only team so far that did well against Kupp. They limited him to season lows in receptions (5), receiving yards (64) and touchdowns (0) in Week 4. A big factor in Arizona’s much-improved secondary and success against Kupp is the ascendance of Byron Murphy, who is tied for seventh in the NFL in interceptions (4) and allowing a passer rating of only 63.4 in coverage. This will be a very fun matchup to watch on Monday.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

3. Cardinals’ run defense vs Sony Michel and the Rams’ 23rd-ranked rushing attack

Yesterday, Los Angeles placed Darrell Henderson on the COVID-19/Reserve list that will force him to miss the Monday night NFC West clash. That means Sony Michel will takeover as the starter yet again. Last week in place of Henderson, Michel had 21 carries, 121 rushing yards, and a touchdown in the Rams’ 37-7 win over the Jaguars. With Stafford dealing with a number of injuries, expect Sean McVay to lean on the ground game again against Arizona. Cardinals’ run defense has allowed 113.7 yards per game this season which ranks 16th in the NFL through 12 games. Their 4.7 yards per carry allowed is tied for second-most in the NFL.

On Rams Revealed (their official podcast), Sony Michel said “When a team is struggling to stop the run, eventually you’re going to break their will.” Even with the Cardinals’ inconsistent and lackluster performance against the run, they have made plays on defense when needed and are currently the best team in the NFL for a reason. Cardinals’ defense ranks fourth in allowed points (18.7) and yards (318.8) per game. No wills broken here.

Arizona Cardinals v Chicago Bears Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

4. Cardinals must bring the pressure in the interior and make Stafford uncomfortable

One of the biggest issues with the Rams’ most recent three-game losing streak is their struggles protecting Stafford in the pocket. Andrew Whitworth turns 40 today and remains one of the better left tackles in the NFL. Rob Havenstein continues to lock down the right side. The interior has fluctuated in performances in large part because of their struggles at center and inability to read/pickup blitz in the middle. Rams’ center Brian Allen struggled mightily against Jeffrey Simmons in Week 10, allowing two sacks that game and took a beating against Kenny Clark. With Allen ruled out for Monday, former Cardinal Coleman Shelton will start in his place again.

With inexperience in the interior, that opens the door for Cardinals’ Jordan Phillips and Zach Allen to thrive on Monday against a vulnerable offensive line that has not done a good job protecting Stafford lately. If the Rams’ offensive tackle lock down Chandler Jones and Markus Golden on the edges, expect Vance Joseph to deploy some interior blitz packages with Isaiah Simmons, Jordan Hicks, and Zaven Collins. Hicks is coming off a two-sack game and was named NFC’s defensive player of the week last week.

Arizona Cardinals v Chicago Bears Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Overall

This game will be very crucial for the Cardinals as their chances of securing the NFC West crown will soar threw the roof if they win on Monday. Despite the Rams’ recent struggles, that defense still has lots of top talent in Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. Linebacker Ernest Jones has been a quality versatile weapon for Los Angeles with his ability to defend the run and the pass that not many are aware of. Arizona’s offense and defense are nearly at full power and are coming off a really good game. Four touchdowns on offense and four interceptions on defense. The Cardinals are hot right now and are one win away from clinching a playoff berth. The Rams are a hungry football team.

Monday Night Football. Here we come!