Rams to ride maturing defense vs. Cardinals

Field Level Media

November 25, 2023 at 6:07 pm.

One week after the Los Angeles Rams’ defense bullied its way to a victory, it will square off on the road against a motivated quarterback in the Arizona Cardinals’ Kyler Murray on Sunday at Glendale, Ariz.

The Rams’ up-and-down ride of a year is back on the rise after a 17-16 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, which ended a three-game losing streak.

Opening their season with low expectations from everybody but themselves amid a challenging early schedule, the Rams won three of their first six games, hit their losing skid then defeated the Seahawks for the second time in 2023.

While the Rams’ offense led a surprise victory at Seattle to open the season, the Aaron Donald-led defense highlighted the win at Los Angeles over the weekend.

It was Donald who knocked the Seahawks’ Geno Smith from the game on a quarterback pressure late in the third quarter Sunday. Smith missed two full series and then was foiled in his bid to lead a final game-winning drive.

The Seahawks were held to 87 net yards in the second half when they scored three points.

“They have done a really good job and I think you’re seeing a lot of guys get better,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said of the defense. “They’re accumulating experience. … I think everybody has probably been surprised except for the people in this building.”

While the Los Angeles defense has been the star of late, Matthew Stafford did return at quarterback against the Seahawks after missing a game with a thumb injury. He led a 10-point comeback without wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who left early with an ankle injury.

However, Kupp was a full practice participant Friday and will play against Arizona. Safety Quentin Lake (hamstring) was ruled out and receiver Ben Skowronek (hip) is questionable.

After he missed four games, the Rams also will see running back Kyren Williams (ankle) return. Williams, who leads the Rams with 456 yards and six touchdowns on the ground, was injured in Los Angeles’ 26-9 victory over Arizona on Oct. 15.

“You go back to his last game and arguably it was his best game statistically,” Rams offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said of Williams’ 158 yards and one touchdown against Arizona. “… He brings an element of explosiveness.”

Murray returned from knee surgery to lead the Cardinals to a 25-23 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 10, but his late rally stalled out on Sunday in a 21-16 road defeat to the Houston Texans.

Murray had 214 yards passing and 51 rushing against the Texans, but the 27 yards he couldn’t cover was the difference. The Cardinals were stopped deep in Texans territory in the final minute, turning the ball over on downs just inside the Houston 30.

Murray put the defeat on his shoulders.

“I feel like I had enough chances to win the game,” Murray said immediately after the loss. “(I) let the team down.”

A few days has done little to relieve the disappointment.

“You come back in and watch it and it’s reaggravation that you get,” Murray said Wednesday. “You’re frustrated with, ‘How did this happen? How did we end up in that situation?’ You go over the mistakes and where we can get better.”

Defense is where the Cardinals also can improve. They enter Sunday in the bottom third of the NFL with 349.5 yards allowed per game and 25.8 points allowed. While Arizona held Houston under that point total Sunday, it allowed 419 total yards.

That defense will be without cornerback Antonio Hamilton (groin) and defensive tackle Kevin Strong (knee) on Sunday. Wide receiver Michael Wilson (shoulder) also was ruled out.

Seven players are questionable for Arizona: wide receivers Marquise Brown (heel) and Zach Pascal (hamstring), running back Emari Demercado (toe), safeties Jalen Thompson (back) and Joey Blount (knee), defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter (shoulder) and linebacker Jesse Luketa (ankle).

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