By Sam McPherson
There is one game left for the 2016 Los Angeles Rams, and after losing to the hapless San Francisco 49ers last week, the Rams have to be down in the dumps. After all, the 49ers swept the Rams this year, while going 0-13 against the rest of the league. Now, last year’s NFC West Division champions come to town: The Arizona Cardinals are fresh off a road win in Seattle, and even though they won’t be defending their division title, Arizona is a proud squad that is talented and well coached.
For the 4-11 Rams, that’s not a good thing, since Los Angeles let the 49ers come back from 14 points down in the fourth quarter at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Rams may not have any pride left after that loss, the second time this season they blew a double-digit lead at home in the final minutes. With an interim coach and little to play for, it will be interesting to see if Los Angeles can mount a serious challenge in this game against a better team.
Cardinals Season Record
At 6-8-1, Arizona can’t reach .500 this season, but the Cardinals are a tough team nonetheless. Ask the Seahawks, who just lost to the Cardinals at home last weekend in a game that meant something to them in terms of home-field advantage in the playoffs. Arizona lost five games this year by a touchdown or less, not including the tie game against Seattle earlier in the season. This is a talented team that just had some bad luck in 2016.
Cardinals On Offense
It’s all about running back David Johnson now, as the second-year stud tied an NFL record last week with his 15th game of the season gaining 100 or more yards from scrimmage. Only Barry Sanders has ever done that, and Johnson has a great chance against the Rams defense to break the tie and have the record all to himself. While the L.A. defense has been good against the run, Johnson also has 77 receptions this year, so he’s the main man in the Cardinals offense.
Quarterback Carson Palmer has dropped off a lot from his great 2015 season, but he’s still a solid QB in this league at age 37. With 23 TDs and only 13 interceptions, Palmer can still throw to a bunch of receivers besides Johnson. All-time wide receiver great Larry Fitzgerald has 102 catches this season and needs just 20 receiving yards to post 1,000 yards for the eighth time in his illustrious career.
Cardinals On Defense
Arizona is third in the league when it comes to giving up yards, but the Cardinals are just 18th in points allowed. That disconnect is odd, but it plays into the “unlucky” factor the team has experienced this season. No one on the defense has over 100 tackles this season, but three players have at least 75 combined tackles each, making this a dynamic unit that doesn’t rely on just one or two guys for its big plays.
The strength of the defense is its four linebackers: Deone Bucannon and Kevin Minter are the tackling machines, while Markus Golden and Chandler Jones are the sack monsters. Toss in safety Tony Jefferson, who leads the team in tackles, and defensive tackle Calais Campbell, a two-time Pro Bowler up front, and the Arizona defense is not easy to beat despite the team’s record this year.
Cardinals Players To Watch
Johnson must be stopped on offense for the Rams to have any chance to win this game. He is clearly a machine, and to be mentioned in the same sentence as Barry Sanders is a tremendous compliment for any NFL sophomore. Johnson will get the call in this game many times, and the Rams will have to stop him or suffer greatly for it. Campbell is a force upfront for the Cardinals defense, and if he’s able to disrupt the Los Angeles offense in the backfield, it will be a long day for Jared Goff and Todd Gurley, again.
It’s hard to see the Rams recovering from the loss last week to the 49ers. It was deflating in every sense of the word, and with nothing to play for, Los Angeles will be flat this Sunday. The pride game was last week, and the Rams lost their pride, sadly. Arizona is a much better team than San Francisco, and they’ve tasted success recently to know that how you end one season really can set the tone for the next one. Look for the Cardinals to win big, 35-13.