2017-Present - McVay's run

Week 17 Preview: Rams need win over Cardinals for playoff berth

Photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports photographer.

The Los Angeles Rams (9-6) failed to secure a playoff run after a 20-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks (11-4). It was the first time this season that the Rams lost two games in a row. Now, they need a win over the Arizona Cardinals (8-7) in their season finale to punch their ticket to the post-season. A poor offensive attack and mishaps contributed to the loss yet again for the Rams. Now, a thumb injury suffered by Rams quarterback Jared Goff complicates things and backup John Wolford will start in his place.

The Cardinals are coming off a 20-12 loss to the San Francisco 49ers (6-9), but their playoff chances are still on the table. Arizona can make it to the Wild Card runoff if the Chicago Bears lose to the Green Bay Packers. They can also get in with a win over the Rams. The Rams can also make it into the Wild Card with a Bears loss, even if the Cardinals win, though it would be the eighth seed instead of the sixth.

Arizona plans to have quarterback Kyler Murray as their starter, although he did suffer a leg injury against the Niners. In that matchup, Murray threw 31 of 50 passes for 247 yards and one interception. Although, he was sacked three times. He also led with 75 rushing yards with a long of 30 on eight carries. Murray is elusive and quick like many other mobile quarterbacks in the league. The last time the Rams met the Cardinals, they won 38-28 in Week 13. Murray was sacked twice in that matchup. Look for the Rams defensive front to chase Murray in the backfield and challenge their offensive line.

Rams star defensive tackle Aaron Donald leads the defense with 13.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. Defensive end Michael Brockers has 51 tackles and five sacks, though his status for playing is in jeopardy due to being placed on the COVID-19 list. Nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day just earned his first sack of the season against the Seahawks.  EDGE Leonard Floyd had two sacks against Seattle and has 9.5 for the season.

Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake had 18 carries for 45 yards and the only team touchdown against San Francisco. Drake still leads the offense with 919 rushing yards. He also has 10 touchdowns for the season. Both the Rams D-line and linebackers will need to hit the gaps hard to stop Drake and Chase Edmonds.

The Arizona receiving corps boasts star DeAndre Hopkins, veteran Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk and tight end Dan Arnold. Arnold scored two touchdowns against the Rams in their last meeting, but one was on blown coverage in the first drive of the game. Hopkins leads their receivers with 111 catches for 1,372 yards and has six touchdowns for the season. Kirk led against the 49ers with seven catches for 76 yards. KeeSean Johnson had two catches for 50 yards, though one of those was a 45-yard reception.

The Rams defensive back corps is one of the best in the league. Look for star cornerback Jalen Ramsey to lock onto Hopkins and Troy Hill to stick with Kirk. Darious Williams, John Johnson and Jordan Fuller will watch over top and defend passes. Johnson still leads the Rams defense with 101 tackles. Watch for big plays to be made by the defense against the Cardinals.

The Rams offense is another story. The inconsistency and embarrassing execution by Goff have been mind-boggling to say the least. To add salt to the wound, the Rams will be without their leading passer, leading receiver and leading rusher against the Cardinals.

Wolford lining up under center will be a huge unknown since he has never taken an NFL snap in the regular season.  The former Arizona Hotshot and AAFL passing touchdown leader had a nice showing in the 2019 preseason. He proved to be tough and mobile. That is one thing the Rams will need against Arizona.

Goff will finish his season with 370 of 552 passes for 3,952 yards and 20 touchdowns. He underperformed his yardage from the previous two seasons, but he has the most rushing touchdowns of his career in a season with four.

The Rams will also be without leading receiver Cooper Kupp due to a positive Covid-19 test result. Kupp will finish out his season with 92 catches for 974 yards and three touchdowns. He far underperformed his scoring from last season and did not quite break the 1,000 yards mark like last year.

Receivers Robert Woods, Josh Reynolds and Van Jefferson will step up to fill any void left by Kupp. Tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett will also be usable weapons for Wolford.

Rams leading rusher Darrell Henderson is also out with a high ankle sprain suffered when he was tackled by Seattle safety Jamal Adams. Henderson will finish the season with 138 carries for 624 yards and five touchdowns.

Running back Cam Akers is also questionable to play on Sunday. Akers has 124 carries for 591 yards and two touchdowns. Veteran Malcom Brown will be good to play. Brown has 98 carries for 399 yards and five touchdowns.  He also leads all running backs with 22 catches for 164 yards.

Some good news is the offensive line is healthy and left tackle Andrew Whitworth is back to practicing with the team. He is not cleared off the injured reserve, yet, but Joseph Noteboom is still playing in his stead. Left guard David Edwards was limited in practice due to an ankle injury but is expected to play. Rookie Tremayne Anchrum filled in for Edwards toward the end of the Seahawks game. He is a ready backup.

The Cardinals defensive attack will be tough. Safety Budda Baker and linebacker Jordan Hicks each have 113 tackles, leading the defense. Linebacker Haason Reddick leads with 12.5 sacks, 14 tackles for a loss and 16 quarterback hits.  Wolford will need to utilize his pocket protection wisely and have the situational awareness to roll out in the right direction. He should have no problem finding his targets, but will need to make good decisions, something Goff had trouble with throughout the season.

The Rams special teams have been another issue. Returner Nsimba Webster fumbled a punt but recovered it. In the last matchup with Arizona, he also fumbled a punt return that the Cards recovered. Webster is a strong runner and broke a few tackles in the last few games on returns, but he has been problematic with ball security, especially as of late. Kupp replaced him toward the end of the game. Now that Kupp is out, the Rams will need a reliable backup.

Kicker Matt Gay added the only points for the Rams and made all three of his field goals with a long of 51. Gay has shown good consistency in his last few games making all his extra points and 11 of 13 field goals. Punter Johnny Hekker is averaging 47.5 yards per punt and is still a stalwart piece of the special teams squad.

The Rams have rallied behind Wolford to lead the offense to a victory. He will be tested in how he handles his first NFL start but he has the drive to do well. With several starters out and others filling those roles, the Rams may have a rough start. They still have a Super Bowl-caliber defense to back them up and set the tone of the game.

Kickoff is at 1:25 p.m. PT on CBS.

Sources:  therams.comespn.compro-football-reference.comcardswire.usatoday.comtheramswire.usatoday.com  touchdownwire.usatoday.com

You can follow Erik Ho on Twitter @EHoinSDLVLA. Be sure to follow Rams Talk on Twitter @TalkRams.

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