It has come down to the wire for the Arizona Cardinals as they need a win to clinch their first playoff berth since the 2015 season. Arizona was a popular dark horse pick but those teams usually struggle to find consistency and rarely make an appearance come January. For the Cardinals, they can buck the trend and clinch a spot in the playoffs with a win over the Los Angeles Rams. Today we take a look at what needs to happen for Arizona’s dream “win and in” scenario to come to fruition.
Late in last week’s loss to the 49ers, quarterback Kyler Murray took a solid hit from defensive end Alex Barrett. The defensive end quickly came upfield and seemed to hit Murray just under the right shoulder. Murray took a few minutes to get up. Interestingly enough, head coach Kliff Kingsbury later revealed that Murray had suffered a lower-leg injury on the play. Murray attended practice on Wednesday which should be a solid indication that he will be available for Sunday’s season finale.
Kingsbury said it is a lower leg injury for Kyler Murray.
— Darren Urban (@Cardschatter) December 28, 2020
A semi-healthy Murray remains the best chance for an Arizona victory. It is a question as to how the injury will affect Murray’s effectiveness with his legs. Murray’s ability to scramble and keep plays alive with his legs is what sets the young quarterback apart from many in the league. He leads the team in yards per rush with a 6.2 yards/attempt average. Murray’s elusiveness will be needed as the Rams bring an athletic and disruptive pass rush. If Murray’s ability to avoid the rush is diminished in any meaningful way, the Arizona offense will struggle.
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Chaos on Defense
The Los Angeles Rams will be without two of their biggest pieces on offense on Sunday. Quarterback Jared Goff underwent surgery on Monday for a broken right thumb. Goff suffered the injury in the Rams’ loss to Seattle last week. Los Angeles will also be without wide receiver, Cooper Kupp. The talented pass-catcher was placed on the COVID-19 Reserve List following a positive test. That is one less weapon to contend with for Vance Joseph and his defensive unit.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 30, 2020
Following a dismal performance by the run defense, Joseph will need to see an improvement in the season’s biggest game. Los Angeles employs a similar offensive philosophy as the 49ers and has an equally talented ground attack. The key will be slowing down the ground game and forcing the Rams into passing situations. Replacing Goff is John Wolford. It will be Wolford’s first NFL start and has yet to throw a pass in a regular-season game. If the Cardinals can force third-and-long situations, expect another big performance from Haason Reddick and the rest of the Arizona pass rush.
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Stick the Landing
Heading into the matchup with the 49ers, Arizona knew that they needed to win out to clinch a spot in the playoffs. Following the loss on Saturday, the Cardinals knew they’d need help to climb back into the final position. The Rams came up clutch for the Cardinals with their loss to the Seahawks and now the job is clear for Arizona. Win on Sunday and this young team qualifies for the playoffs. Los Angeles has been the big brother to the Cardinals since the arrival of Sean McVay. However, this may be the best shot for Arizona with the Rams missing Goff and Kupp. Arizona will need to play a clean game and avoid giving chances to a desperate Rams team. Win and you’re in.
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Cardinals and covers the San Francisco 49ers for Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada