While the Rams try to get to a 3-1 record the Cardinals will be looking to avenge their embarrassing week three loss in Buffalo. The Cardinals have been one of the best teams in the NFC in recent years and figure to be the toughest test for the Rams so far as they go on the road. Here are five matchups to watch that the Rams will need to win.
RB David Johnson vs. Rams LBs
It's not a very fun time to be a defender when Johnson has the ball in his hands. Johnson leads all NFL RBs in forced missed tackles so far with 13. The Rams LBs will have to cover sideline to sideline quickly when the Cardinals use Johnson in the passing game, which could be often. Rams LBs Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron have both caused big turnovers in the past two weeks. Johnson is averaging roughly 15 carries and 3 receptions on the season and already has three touchdowns to match. He figures to be the focal point of the AZ offense and Ogletree, Barron and others are pivotal to containing him.
WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. CB Lamarcus Joyner
Fitzgerald has been a Rams killer throughout his career. In 2016 he already has 20 catches for 218 yards and 3 TDs. At this stage of his career Fitzgerald primarily plays in the slot but he still dominates. Joyner is coming off two of the best games his short career has to offer. The height differential could be a major issue if the Rams don't bring down safety help as Fitzgerald stands 6'3 to Joyner's 5'8. The Rams held Fitzgerald scoreless in 2015 but he still had 15 catches for 154 yards between both games. If Joyner and the Rams DBs can keep Fitzgerald out of the end zone again, consider that a matchup won.
DT Aaron Donald vs. OG Earl Watford/ C A.Q. Shipley
Donald has yet to record a sack but is among the league leaders in pressures. This should be the week he finally gets a sack or two or three. The Cardinals offensive line has struggled and were beat up by Buffalo's interior lineman last week. On the year the Cards have allowed 9 sacks thus far and had one negated last week due to a facemask penalty. They are vulnerable and now find themselves getting ready to face the best DT in all of football. The Rams should have a clear advantage with Donald. If he's creating constant pressure in the face of QB Carson Palmer, the defense will have the chance to create turnovers off potential mistakes.
OTs Greg Robinson/Havenstein vs. DEs Chandler Jones/Markus Golden
Chandler Jones and his counterpart Markus Golden each have three sacks on the season. Robinson should figure to see more of Jones this game. Jones is an exceptional pass rusher, which is why Arizona traded for him, but is susceptible to the run. This is where Robinson can potentially shine creating holes for Todd Gurley, who so desperately would like to find some. Markus Golden is no slouch and is the much more rounded DE of the two. Havenstein should handle either DE in the run game but each DE possess some speed that the Rams OTs must be wary of. If I'm the Rams, I'm running the ball to Jones side as much as possible and feeling confident that Robinson or Havenstein will consistently win the matchup.
DB Tyrann Mathieu vs. WR Tavon Austin
Austin had struggled to get off to a good start, like the rest of the Rams offense, but made his presence felt early and often against Tampa Bay before scoring the eventual game winning TD. Now Austin will find himself matched up against perhaps the most versatile DB in the NFL. Mathieu will line up all over the defense, he will always be flying around the ball as more of a Rover safety. We could see Austin get more sweeps this week to get him in space and make defenders miss. Austin had two TD receptions in Arizona last year while lined up on the opposite side of the field from Mathieu.