PHOENIX – After three weeks of the NFL season, only five undefeated teams remain. The Cardinals are among the unblemished following their 31-19 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, which moved them to 3-0 for the first time since 2015.
The Los Angeles Rams are also 3-0 to start the season, and the two teams are tied atop the NFC West.
But maybe the most important numbers to remember as the two teams prepare to meet Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles is eight. That’s how many wins Rams coach Sean McVay, now in his fifth season, has against Arizona.
McVay hasn’t lost to the Cardinals in his coaching career, and that includes a 4-0 mark against Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury. Going back to the 2015 season, Arizona is just 2-10 against the Rams overall.
Sunday’s matchup is the first of two for the Cardinals and Rams this season and will serve as a litmus test for Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray, who hope to remain at the top of the tough NFC West.
The most recent defeat to the Rams was especially costly. It came in the final week of the 2020 season and a victory would have qualified the Cardinals for the postseason. Instead, Arizona never got going and lost 18-7 to finish 8-8 and outside the playoffs.
In that game, Murray was injured on the opening drive and sat out most of the game. But even when Murray has played, the Rams defense has contained his playmaking ability since he entered the league as the top overall pick of the NFL Draft in 2019.
In four games against the Rams, Murray has only averaged 187 yards per game, and he has thrown five touchdowns and four interceptions. He has also been sacked 11 times and has lost three fumbles in those four games.
With three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner Aaron Donald leading the L.A. pass rush, things are not likely to get any easier for the Murray and the Arizona offense on Sunday.
“Donald is as good of a football player as I’ve ever seen in my life,” Kingsbury told reporters Monday. “We have got to find a way to try and slow him down.”
Donald recorded 1.5 sacks in the first 2019 matchup, and brought Murray down once in the first matchup of 2020 as well.
The Rams are coming off of an impressive victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, defeating the defending Super Bowl Champions and former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians 34-24. With quarterback Matthew Stafford leading the way, McVay is looking to lead a Rams team with a revamped offense to its second Super Bowl appearance in just four years.
In order to win next Sunday and break the eight-game losing streak against the Rams, the Cardinals can not afford to get off to a slow start. In each of the last two games, they have struggled early and overcome two-score deficits against Minnesota and Jacksonville.
In their win in Jacksonville on Sunday, the offense struggled for much of the first half, and the Cardinals went into halftime trailing after allowing a Matt Prater field goal attempt from 68 yards to be returned 109 yards for a touchdown.
Ultimately, the Cardinals overcame the “kick six” and rallied in the second half to hand the Jaguars their 18th straight loss. However, coming from behind against a much more talented Rams team is a much more difficult task.
“We know we’ve got to take a big step. We can’t have the same type of costly mistakes we had today,” Kingsbury told reporters after the win.
In years past, the game in Jacksonville would be the kind that would get away from the Cardinals. This time, however, they were able to dig themselves out of a hole and come back for the win, even after trailing 19-10 late in the third quarter.
“I think it’s a sense of accountability,” guard D.J. Humphries said after the game on Sunday. “The leaders know who they are, and they know what they mean to the team and what they’ve got to do. And everybody’s accepted that role and knowing who they have to be and how they have to be.”
Murray was also pleased with the team’s ability to bounce back from a rough first half.
“That’s how mature (this team is),” he said after the game. “The growth is there. Everybody understands it. But I’m just proud of the guys, the way we fought today. It was ugly, but we got it.”
Now, with Jacksonville in the rear view mirror, Murray’s focus turns toward Los Angeles and the biggest challenge of the season so far.
“It’s over now, and we’ve got to play a good Rams team next week. We look forward to that,” Murray said.