Can the Rams get back on track?
The Los Angeles Rams will look to get back on the track on the road when they take on the Arizona Cardinals Sunday afternoon. Los Angeles pounded the Cards back in September at home 34-0 in a game that saw Sam Bradford under center for the road team and Todd Gurley running for three touchdowns. Jared Goff also looked really good, throwing for 354 yards in the victory. The Rams have won four of their last five in the series including 32-16 at Arizona in 2017.
Los Angeles (11-3) has to be a little shell-shocked right now coming off losses to the Bears and Eagles, which happened for two different reasons. The team only managed six points in the loss at Chicago putting up just over 200 yards of offense to go with four turnovers. The defense sprung a few leaks on the ground in that one whereas the secondary was beaten a lot by the Eagles last week. Gurley has not been as effective as of late and is now dealing with a knee injury although he should be able to play. Sean McVay has the challenge of trying to get his guys to believe in themselves again.
Arizona (3-11) has lost two straight and five of six as the Cardinals are getting ready for the offseason. Could their head coach be a potential one-and-done with the team? Josh Rosen, predictably, is having some up-and-down moments this season. The Cardinals made a change at offensive coordinator earlier in the season, which briefly helped. The defense has actually played well in spurts, holding the Packers and Lions to 17 points apiece in the two weeks before they gave up 40 to the Falcons in Atlanta last Sunday. Can the veterans on this team muster up one more solid performance in front of the home crowd?
Los Angeles at Arizona
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 23 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Rams -14
Three Things to Watch
Even though we are getting towards the end of the regular season, there are still potentially situational things to look at in each matchup. The Rams probably would have slept walked through this game if they hadn't lost their previous two. Now I think you'll get a solid effort from them. There is technically still a small shot to get the No. 1 seed in the NFC as they are just a game behind the Saints, but New Orleans owns the head-to-head tiebreaker. Los Angeles also needs to hold off the Bears for the second seed, which comes with a first-round bye. Chicago has won straight, including a victory over the Rams, and is playing well. The Cardinals have the worst record in the NFC and are tied for the worst in the NFL with the Raiders. I don't think they are tanking so I look for them to put forth a good effort at home for the final time this season.
2. What has happened to the Rams' Pro Bowlers?
Turnovers have become a major issue for the Rams, who have had two or more in four straight contests. During this current losing streak, they've coughed it up seven times against the Bears and Eagles. Jared Goff, in particular, has been emblematic of the struggles. The Pro Bowl quarterback has just one touchdown pass in his last three games compared to seven interceptions. But it goes beyond the mistakes as he has completed just 55 percent of his attempts and has posted a 51.3 QB rating during this span. It's not like Todd Gurley is blameless either as he's managed just 76 rushing yards from his last 23 carries. He's expected to suit up as he deals with knee inflammation. Gurley has been held to less than 60 yards of offense in three of the last four games. If the Rams don't go crazy in this one then the fan base will get majorly worried considering the potential the team has.
3. Defense optional
When the Rams signed Ndamukong Suh, the national pundits branded this as one of the best defenses in the NFL. Suh has been solid this season with 51 tackles and 3.5 sacks, but he's also freed some stuff up for Aaron Donald, who leads the league with 16.5 sacks. There's no question that the front four has lived up to the hype, but cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aquib Talib have been massive disappointments it seems. Talib has been injured, so he's got a little bit of an excuse, but once again a lot more was expected. The Cardinals have scored just 47 points over their last four games and don't have a good offensive line. Donald and Suh should be able to eat in this one.
On the opposite side, the Cardinals' defense is hard to figure out. They held the Lions to just 96 passing yards at home two weeks ago then proceeded to get gashed by the Falcons on the road. Arizona is allowing almost 145 rushing yards per game and 26.2 points per contest. The building blocks are there with Budda Baker and Antoine Bethea forming a solid safety pair while Patrick Peterson is still locking things down at one cornerback spot. I really like Haason Reddick, who has 63 tackles and three sacks on the year. The front line has Chandler Jones and his 12 sacks. Pass protection has been an issue recently for Los Angeles, as Goff has been sacked 11 times in the last four games.
This one should get ugly. The only worry is if the Rams take their foot off the pedal towards the end as they rest their players for a bigger prize. Arizona just doesn't have the talent and the Rams are going to be an angry bunch. Jared Goff silences the critics if only for one week with a solid bounce-back performance.
Prediction: Rams 35, Cardinals 13
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.