The Los Angeles Rams welcome the Arizona Cardinals to SoFi Stadium Sunday, in the first divisional matchup between the two teams. The Rams are 2-3 after a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, while the Arizona Cardinals dropped their last game to the Cincinnati Bengals 34-20.
Los Angeles has won 11 of the last 13 meetings with Arizona, and on paper, seem to have the better roster heading into the game. These are what I think are the four most important storylines for Cardinals vs Rams.
Can the Rams close out the game?
Los Angeles is 2-3, however in those three losses, they were tied with San Francisco and Cincinnati, while also being within three points of Philadelphia, in each of the games at half time. The Rams have been outscored 55-25 since Week 2 in the second half of games, a stark contrast from their Week 1 victory over Seattle, where they held the Seahawks to no points in the second half, while putting up 23 of their own.
If the Rams hope to get back into the win column they will need to play much stronger coming out of half time, a trait that, frankly, head coach Sean McVay and his team used to be known for. Luckily for LA, the Cardinals have struggled in this area as well, giving up leads and close scores in the second half to the Giants, Commanders and 49ers.
I think it would go a long way for LA to try and be more balanced going forward, regardless of the score. I’ve noticed the Rams tend to get overly conservative on offense and defense in the second half, even in relatively close games. They need to keep the offensive game plan at the end a little closer to the way they start, as they are outscoring opponents 64-50 in the first half this year.
Cooper Kupp needs to continue to find his flow
Last week’s loss was definitely not one to be put on Cooper Kupp, who was able to pull in eight receptions and 118 yards in his first return to the field in 2023. However, he was pretty quiet in the second half of the game, and one has to wonder if some fatigue from being out had something to do with it.
Obviously, Kupp’s 118 yard showing in his first real game time since last November is nothing to scoff at, but another full week of practice with Stafford and the offensive game plan is only going to help his endurance and comfortability as he makes his way back from the hamstring injury.
Puka Nacua also kept up his rookie success, even with Kupp back on the field, as he was able to make seven catches for 71 yards and another touchdown. With the trade of Van Jefferson Tuesday, it shows McVay’s confidence in both Kupp and Nacua as well as third receiver Tutu Atwell, who caught his own touchdown against the Eagles, along with a combination of Ben Skowronek and DeMarcus Robinson.
Who will start at left guard?
Kevin Dotson has looked great since taking over for Joe Noteboom at right guard. Even before the injuries, Noteboom was questionable at best in his pass protection and run blocking, plus Dotson is a true guard, unlike Noteboom who was a tackle in college and for most of his NFL career.
It really comes down to the numbers though as Dotson was ranked the fourth best guard in Week 5 according to PFF. Noteboom on the other hand, had an overall score of 35.8 vs the Bengals, while giving up six pressures and having a pass protection score of 0.0. The following week vs. the Colts, Noteboom scored a low 44.5, while giving up a team-high four pressures filling in at left tackle. He also had another abysmal pass blocking grade of 34.8.
Most of all though, Dotson has one trait that Noteboom struggles with consistently - availability. Noteboom has had a different injury in each of the first five weeks of the season, and had to miss time in training camp as well. No matter how good Noteboom’s potential is or was, he is so unreliable at this point that it makes any positives he offers go out the window.
I would not be shocked if Noteboom was traded or cut by the end of the season, as the team would save some minor cap space and are running out of spots to try and get him on the field.
What can the Rams do at edge rusher?
I feel like we are beating a dead horse with this, but Michael Hoecht is just not very good at outside linebacker and needs to be moved back down to the line. His coverage skills have been atrocious and he currently has an overall score of 38.2 on PFF.
Rookie Ochaun Mathis, a sixth-round pick in this year’s draft, played limited snaps vs. the Eagles in his return from IR, but in those plays he was given a score of 60.7 by PFF, which is not bad considering he’s a rookie and has been out all season.
It’s a clear improvement on what has been done by Hoecht so far and it may be time to give Mathis a chance to show what he can do at edge rusher, especially because at this point it would be pretty hard to get much worse than what has been presented on the field so far.
With the trade of Jefferson and Akers, the Rams have cleared up a little bit of cap space, so it may be time to look in free agency at a veteran like a Melvin Ingram or Carlos Dunlop. They could even make a trade before the upcoming deadline, though outside of Noteboom, who would most likely not draw much interest, I’m not sure who they would potentially move besides future picks - something Les Snead and brass have seemed uninterested in doing.