NFL Week 4: Rams look to continue to dominate Cardinals

The situation is different, some circumstances disturbingly similar.

Last season, the Rams traveled to State Farm Stadium for a postseason game against the Arizona Cardinals, with a lineup devastated by COVID-19, a scenario that upset star cornerback Jalen Ramsey and tight end Tyler Higbee were declared out hours before kick-off.

The Rams nonetheless rallied and won, which helped propel them on their run to a Super Bowl title.

On Sunday, the Rams return for a preseason NFC West opener, with the roster depleted by injuries and a suspension this week.

“It almost feels like COVID,” said Rams coach Sean McVay.

The Rams (1-1) spent the week making a series of moves to strengthen the offensive line and tight end, running back, cornerback and edge rushing positions.

“Lots of moving parts,” McVay said, recalling last season when the NFL moved a Rams game against the Seattle Seahawks from Sunday to Tuesday because of COVID-19 issues. “I can’t remember any other time other than when they had to postpone the game… that we’ve ever had that much going on, especially before we played our third game.

“I mean, dammit.”

McVay had overwhelming successes against the Cardinals. He is 10-1 in the regular season and playoffs, the only loss being a 37-20 loss at SoFi Stadium in Game 4 last season.

That Cardinals win seemed to herald the arrival of quarterback Kyler Murray as a star who could lead his team deep into the playoffs. Murray shot almost clean, completing 24 of 32 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 39 yards.

But the Cardinals faded on the line, losing to the Rams at home and again in a listless performance in a wild-card playoff game.

In July, Murray signed a five-year, $230.5 million extension that includes $103 million in guarantees. He then weathered a controversy over a so-called independent study clause in the contract, which reportedly required him to study film for four hours during game weeks. The clause was reportedly removed afterwards.

The Kansas City Chiefs beat the Cardinals in their first game. Last Sunday, Murray led the Cardinals back from a 20-0 deficit to a 29-23 victory in overtime with the help of a defense that knocked out the Las Vegas Raiders in the second half.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray prepares to throw the ball.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray throws during an overtime win against the Las Vegas Raiders Sept. 18.

(John Locher/Associated Press)

During a two-point conversion scramble, Murray rushed for nearly 85 yards in a game that lasted more than 20 seconds, according to the NFL’s next-gen stats.

“He doesn’t see anything, he takes off, so that was the thing,” Rams linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “If you let him run around making crazy games that comes off your boys, not only does he do that well but the team ignites games like that.”

When Murray breaks loose, Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury is amazed like everyone else.

“At this point, I’m really a fan,” Kingsbury said. “It’s beyond my control.”

Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris compared the challenge of playing Murray to facing a young Michael Vick, the former star quarterback who played most of his NFL career with the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles .

“It’s the ultimate team sport,” Morris said, “and this is a team event that’s about Kyler Murray.”

Rams defenseman Aaron Donald had success against Murray.

When the Rams were shorthanded at State Farm Stadium last season, Donald took over the game and sacked Murray three times for 35 yards loss.

“We try to find a way to dominate a game every week and you get opportunities to do that,” Donald said. “Just exploited.”

The Cardinals have their own defense attorney who is Hall of Fame-tied.

JJ Watt, like Donald, is a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Last season, Watt’s first with Arizona, the Cardinals were 7-0 before suffering a shoulder injury that sidelined him until the playoffs. The Cardinals have lost six of their last ten regular season games.

“His leadership and the guys who don’t want to let him down when they’re on the field with him is very special,” Kingsbury said. NFL Week 4: Rams look to continue to dominate Cardinals

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