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Rams-Cardinals: 5 biggest storylines to follow

Is Kliff Kingsbury going to be the first coach fired if the Cardinals fall apart?

Los Angeles Rams v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams lost to the Arizona Cardinals 37-20 in their first meeting of 2021, having no answers for Kyler Murray, but then started the revenge tour. The Rams beat the Cardinals 30-23 in the regular season’s second meeting, then easily unflamed their torch with a 34-11 drubbing in the playoffs.

The two meet again this Sunday in Week 3’s afternoon slate. Here are five storylines to look out for when they do.

Matthew Stafford vs Kyler Murray

These are the new preeminent quarterbacks in the NFC West and the only two who are guaranteed to still be starting for their teams in 2023. After the Seahawks traded Russell Wilson and the 49ers switched from Jimmy Garoppolo to Trey Lance—then back to Garoppolo after Lance’s injury—a once-stacked division at quarterback is down to these two.

And it was at the midway point of 2021 that Murray was leading the MVP race, while Stafford was on his way to winning his first Super Bowl. But both have kind of struggled in the first two weeks.

Stafford has thrown five interceptions and struggled to find open receivers downfield as poor pass blocking and a lack of Van Jefferson has probably impacted his ability to do so. Murray is only averaging 5.7 yards per pass attempt and doesn’t have DeAndre Hopkins right now; if not for a fourth quarter comeback against the Raiders, Murray’s stats would look much, much worse.

Barring a tie, one of these two quarterbacks will be 1-2 and the other will be 2-1. It’s a small difference, but not in the NFC West.

J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald

With six Defensive Player of the Year awards between them, Donald and Watt combine to make Sunday one of the most heralded games ever for only two defensive players. Donald has had his moments against Murray, but Watt hasn’t faced Matthew Stafford or the Rams often in his career and he’s clearly slowed down over the last six seasons.

But Watt is also the only player on Arizona’s defense with a sack. However, he’s facing a Rams offensive line undergoing some major issues.

What else does Cooper Kupp have in store for us?

Kupp has already had 13/128/1 and 11/108/2 in his first two games. Last season, Kupp had at least nine receptions and at least 90 yards in 10 contests, and in the other seven games, he had 7/108/1, 5/64/0, 7/92/0, 7/115/1, 7/96/0, 8/129/1, 6/95/1, and 7/118/1.

In the playoffs, Kupp had 5/61/1, 9/183/1, 11/142/2, and 8/92/2.

We’ve never seen anything like Cooper Kupp before and we have no idea where this is leading to.

Against the Cardinals, Kupp had his lowest total of 2021, going five catches for 64 yards on 13 targets in the first meeting. But he followed that up with 13 catches for 123 yards in the second and five catches for 61 yards in the wild card game.

The Cardinals have done a decent job against Kupp. But it seems like even when the whole stadium knows that the ball is going to him, nothing stops Kupp from making his catches and finding extra yards. He has at least 90 yards in 21 of his last 23 starts.

Kliff Kingsbury on the hot seat?

Kliff Kingsbury has always struggled to finish out seasons. Will he survive this season if the Cardinals fall out of the NFC playoff race early?

The Cardinals lost their first game 44-21 to the Chiefs, then fell behind 23-7 to the Raiders in Week 2. If the Rams find a way to blowout Arizona in Week 3, the calls for Kingsbury to be fired will only grow louder. Despite an 11-6 record last season, the Cardinals went 4-7 in their last 11 games, including playoffs.

If the Cardinals lose this week, that would be eight losses in their last 12 games.

Kingsbury won’t be fired any time soon and Arizona does have a favorable upcoming schedule: Panthers, Eagles, Seahawks, Saints, Vikings, Seahawks.

Games against Baker Mayfield, Jameis Winston, Kirk Cousins, Jalen Hurts, and Geno Smith or Drew Lock twice could do enough for the Cardinals to be at least around .500 after nine games, at which point they have their second meeting against the Rams in Week 10.

But it’s not about how Kingsbury’s how he finishes. How good of a record will Arizona have when November gets here?

Who gets the ball for the Rams?

No, the fifth storyline is not a “GREG DORTCH REVENGE GAME!” The former Rams practice squader who is now leading Arizona in receiving yards with 118 on 11 catches. It’s on L.A.’s offense: Does Cam Akers or Darrell Henderson lead the backfield?

Henderson has 23 carries for 94 yards, averaging 4.1 YPC. Akers has 18 carries for 44 yards, putting him at 2.4. And how often will we see Ben Skowronek lining up at fullback?

The Rams need to get their run game going against Arizona behind a patchwork offensive line, otherwise it could be Kyren Williams leading the backs when he returns from injury. And maybe even Les Snead going out and finding someone else who can do the job.