Just like any successful Hollywood franchise, the best things come in threes. Will the final installment in this trilogy between the Los Angeles Rams and the Arizona Cardinals come to fruition as the blockbuster it’s been promoted to be? Or like the franchises that have stretched on far too long (*cough* Star Wars *cough*), will it simply fall short of expectations?
LA is hoping for the former as they host Arizona on Monday night during Wild Card weekend. Both teams split the season series, with the Rams winning the most recent matchup 30-23 in Glendale. Los Angeles was shorthanded due to COVID going into that game, but won thanks to the powerful right arm of Matthew Stafford. Kyler Murray racked up 444 all-purpose yards that night but came away with no touchdowns.
Anticipation is understandably through the roof this weekend which is why I decided to speak to Seth Cox of Revenge of the Birds to gage his feelings on the Cardinals before their biggest game since making the NFC Championship during the 2015 season.
Q - After losing 38-30 to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, the Cardinals became the first team in NFL history to start 7-0 and finish with six regular season starts. Arizona lost four of their last five to stumble into the playoffs. What all contributed to their poor finish to the regular season and how might they fix some of those issues if possible before the playoffs?
A - Injuries, ineffectiveness and inconsistency.
They lost J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins for all or most of those games. They missed Rodney Hudson, James Conner, Chase Edmonds and Rondale Moore at different times on offense and then lost Robert Alford and Marco Wilson on defense.
Guys who were expected to step up were either bad, or inconsistent with their play and that makes a difference.
All of a sudden plays that were made in the 7-0 start were missed and then you are playing from a deficit.
When you miss stars it’s hard to win consistently, but they’ve got good games from a number of players in that span. What they need now is to put all of that together into one good game.
Q - The Cardinals didn’t take great advantage of the Patrick Price or Rodgers Rate, considering that they’ve lost five consecutive games at State Farm Stadium, beginning with their first loss to the Packers in October. Why have the Redbirds struggled so much at home for at least the second half of the season and what could be a reason for them playing better on the road?
A - Sometimes it’s in your head and I think that is part of it. The Cardinals started out with wins over Tennessee and LA on the road. They lost to Green Bay then laid an egg against the Carolina Panthers and then the whispers start. What’s wrong with the Cardinals at home? Why are they not playing well? Then I think a team with young players press.
On the road, they play much more open, much more free and quite frankly seem to have more fun. I don’t think it really matters because you always want to play at home as much as possible , but maybe it will be a blessing they ended up as a wild card team.
Q - The Cardinals and Rams split the season series, with LA winning the most recent matchup 30-23. In that matchup, the Rams were shorthanded, notably being without Jalen Ramsey and Tyler Higbee. What went so differently in that game compared to the first matchup and how might they repeat their success from week 4 (when the Cards won 37-20)?
A - Again, I think injuries were a big deal, then of course there was the realization that they just didn’t play very well.
The Cardinals in game two didn’t create big plays and were unable to stop big plays from the Rams. If the Cardinals are going to beat the Rams like they did in game one, they have to limit Matthew Stafford and the Rams big play offense. You are not going to shutout the Rams, but if you make them take time to drive down the field and limit the big plays you have a shot.
Instead, the Rams were able to hit a couple big plays and the Cardinals couldn’t respond in kind. Despite not playing well, they were close at the end, which is why the team feels like they have a shot on Monday.
Q - Prior to suffering the knee injury that kept him out for three weeks, Kyler Murray was an MVP favorite. Arizona went 2-1 in his absence, but has struggled on offense since he returned to the lineup. What are some of the reasons for the sudden drop-off in the play of Murray and the offense and how much does that concern you going into Monday night?
A - Murray was hurt, then Chase Edmonds and Rodney Hudson were hurt, then James Conner was hurt. It was like you get one guy back and lose another.
Murray’s struggles are really just the same as the Cardinals. He has been plagued by inconsistent help and then he tries to do too much and you see bad plays happen.
When Murray and the Cardinals are hitting plays, staying out of negative or long third downs, when they are using his legs to create more opportunities, that’s when the team is at their best. When they press and need big plays, you see guys unable to execute, including Murray at times.
Q - Given the stumbles the Cardinals went through to end the season, Kliff Kingsbury’s resume has been under scrutiny, most notable was his teams’ late season collapses at Texas Tech and with Arizona in 2020. No matter what happens on Monday, how much faith do you have in Coach Kingsbury to deliver the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy?
A - Is he the guy to win a Lombardi? No idea, what I do know is his vision and plan for the Cardinals has been on time and schedule and that is important for a team that has little history of success. Kingsbury was charged with improving the offense, with grooming a young quarterback and creating a winning atmosphere. He’s done all three.
Can he overcome some of his issues? That is to be seen, but for a franchise that has had so little success as the Cardinals, it is interesting to see a large contingent ready to move on from a coach who just had the second most regular season wins for the franchise since the move to Arizona.