The Los Angeles Rams hit the road to take on the Arizona Cardinals in a matchup that has lost a lot of the luster it had before the season began. This is the second meeting between the two NFC West foes but the first on American soil. Los Angeles shut out Arizona 33-0 back in Week 7 in a game played in London. The Cardinals managed just 193 total yards (only 25 rushing) and also lost Carson Palmer to a broken arm.
Since that contest, Arizona has seen Drew Stanton and now Blaine Gabbert at quarterback and neither has been that good. The Cardinals are 2-2 over their last four and are coming off a surprising 27-24 win at home over Jacksonville. This is the middle game of three straight at home for a team that is still clinging to small playoff hopes. Gabbert threw for 236 yards last week but also had a crucial turnover that nearly cost Arizona the game. Adrian Peterson has not provided much in the way of production since joining the team and outside of Larry Fitzgerald, the rest of the offense has been a gigantic unknown. The defense has more than done its part thanks to the play of guys like Chandler Jones (tied for NFL lead with 12.0 sacks) and Patrick Peterson, one of the top five cornerbacks in the league.
Los Angeles has continued its strong play by winning three of four since that Week 7 trip to London. The offense continues to be spectacular outside of a seven-point showing in the loss to Minnesota two weeks ago. You notice a difference on that side of the ball when Todd Gurley is doing his thing. The last three weeks though the Rams have run for no more than 104 yards, something that needs to be improved upon. The defense has been fantastic this season and continues to clamp down on the opposition's passing game. They have allowed more than 300 passing yards just once (Week 3 at San Francisco) and probably won't do so on Sunday.
Los Angeles at Arizona
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec 3 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Los Angeles -7
Three Things to Watch
Putting on my handicapper hat there are some things to consider when looking at this matchup. Arizona is in the middle of a three-game homestand and should have some momentum after a three-point win over Jacksonville as a six-point underdog. The Cardinals should be motivated to win this one after they were embarrassed in the first matchup last month. Bruce Arians is not a bad football coach and he knows how to push his team's buttons in order to get maximum success. On the Rams’ side, this is a neat little sandwich game in between home contests against the Saints and Eagles. The game against Philadelphia is a huge measuring stick matchup that may be remixed in the playoffs so you know they'll be looking forward to that one. After the Eagles are road tilts at Seattle and Tennessee so this very winnable game could get lost in the shuffle. There's still a small part of me that doesn't completely believe in what the Rams are doing. They've feasted on a lot of weaker teams outside of beating the Saints last week. Good teams win games like this rather easily.
2. Run, run and run it some more
In the first game, Todd Gurley finished with 106 rushing yards and a touchdown while Adrian Peterson had just 21 yards on 11 carries. Arizona can't afford to abandon the run even with teams loading up the box to stop it. Defenses know that Blaine Gabbert is not going to beat them so why let Peterson? He's had a steady workload recently with 92 carries over the last four weeks. The problem is that there isn't a lot of success with all of those touches. The offensive line isn't opening a lot of holes and will struggle to do so against one of the best front fours in the NFL. Gurley's been struggling himself, but he’s a much more involved in the passing attack. He has 42 catches through 11 games or one fewer than he had in 2016. Sean McVay has found new ways to involve Gurley and give him opportunities in the open field. The Cardinals have limited teams on the ground recently, as just one team has more than 91 rushing yards over the last four games. Whichever team gets the running game going will probably win.
3. Veteran wide receivers
A bust in Canton is being made for Larry Fitzgerald and now it's just a matter of when his Hall of Fame career ends. He was held to just three catches in the loss to the Rams back in October and that's just not enough. Fitzgerald has been targeted 41 times since then although he's only caught 27 of those. He has played the Rams 27 times in his career and is averaging more than 70 receiving yards per game with a total of 17 touchdowns. He should be able to get back on track in this one. Sammy Watkins’ career has been marred by injuries, but he has found the end zone in three of his last four games. He’s not getting a lot of targets (18 over the last four games), however. Patrick Peterson will make things more difficult for Watkins and Jared Goff this week, especially considering the injury to Robert Woods, Los Angeles’ leading receiver. More attention paid to Watkins mean someone like Cooper Kupp will have to step up, although Arizona’s secondary is deep, athletic and a tough matchup.
This is such a potential banana peel game for the Rams. They've had a lot of success this season, but I think an upset is in the making here. Arizona's playing with house money and some momentum after the win over the Jags. Blaine Gabbert isn't great, but I think he makes enough plays in a defensive struggle that sees a lot of field goals. Jared Goff struggles to get on track and Los Angeles heads home a loss.
Prediction: Cardinals 20, Rams 13
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.