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The Cardinals pursuit of the team’s first postseason berth since 2015 will have to wait another week.
In what will surely not help them garner more national respect, Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals laid yet another home egg in their 30-23 Monday Night Football loss to the LA Rams. To make matters worse, many of Arizona’s key stars consistently failed to make the critical play in an effort to change the trajectory of the outcome.
“We played really hard just not clean enough in any phase,” said head coach Kliff Kingsbury following the team’s third straight home loss.
For the first time since his return from injury, Murray looked up and down throwing the football, forcing a pair of errant interceptions on the evening. After his four touchdown performance against the Chicago Bears last week, Murray was shutout in that department against the suddenly viable 9-4 Rams. He did, however, put up 444 total yards against the division rival in an effort to keep the Cardinals competitive through four quarters.
Yet the Cardinal offense as whole only managed two James Conner touchdowns on the evening despite out-gaining LA 447-356 in total yards.
“We didn’t play a clean game,” said receiver A.J. Green who finished the evening with a team high seven catches for 102 yards. “I’ve got my whole life to celebrate my accomplishments. We’ve just got to get back to work.”
Star defensive tackle Aaron Donald certainly made the Cardinals work Monday night, as the Pro Bowler was a consistent problem for the Arizona offensive line. Kyler Murray was rarely given ample time to throw thanks to the continued presence of #99. Donald would finish the game with three QB sacks and is likely to take home NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts.
“He was everywhere tonight,” said Cardinal RB James Conner.
The Arizona defense, which entered the game leading the NFC in both points and total yards, put together one of their worst performances of the season. Ram receivers were consistently seen running free against a Cardinal secondary that prides itself on pass breakups and takeaways. Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham and Van Jefferson all hauled in touchdown catches while also making their presence felt deep. The trio each caught at least one reception of 40 yards or more, namely at the expense of Byron Murphy and Robert Alford.
Meanwhile, pass rushers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden were essentially held in check by a Ram offensive line that was missing three key starters. Rams’ quarterback Matthew Stafford was routinely given all day to throw, which led to the former Lion dominating through the air en route to completing 23 of 30 passess for 287 and three touchdowns. Most importantly, unlike the Cardinals, Stafford and his LA Ram peers failed to turn the ball over.
The nationally televised loss was Arizona’s second in prime time (Packers) this season. The Cardinals remain a historically great team on the road (7-0) while incredibly average in front of their home town Arizona fans. Taking that into consideration, maybe it’s not the craziest thought to be actively rooting for road playoff games come January?
“As of now I’d probably want to lose every week,” said Kingsbury in a tongue in cheek response when asked about the importance of winning out to get home-field advantage in the playoffs.
The Cardinals have two more opportunities to turn it around at State Farm Stadium before (presumably) hosting their first playoff game since January 11, 2016. That is, of course, assuming that they can fend off LA in the remaining four games. As of now, the Cardinals find themselves as the NFC’s number three seed behind the Green Bay Packers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The team must rebound quickly as they head to Detroit on Sunday to take on the 1-11-1 Lions.
- On the injury front, Kingsbury stated that although both were banged up, James Conner and DeAndre Hopkins should be “ok”. While Conner later confirmed that he “should be fine”, there was speculation that Hopkins suffered a head injury late in the fourth quarter.
- Hopkins himself had an unusually off night, with the All-Pro receiver managing just 54 yards on five catches despite 12 total targets. Hopkins also had a crucial red zone fourth down drop that appeared to hit the former Texan directly in the stomach.
- After so many quality outings, the Cardinal secondary firmly took their lumps against Matthew Stafford and the loaded receiving core of LA. Whether it was the lack of quality pressure upfront, or the strong play of Stafford, Monday night was a stark contrast from the interception-happy secondary that was on display against Andy Dalton and the Bears.
- Despite the loss, James Conner’s play continued to reaffirm why the Cardinals should be aggressive in their pursuit in keeping around the 26-year-old running back. In a game in which the Cardinals were consistently outphysicaled, Conner represented a bright spot when making plays as both a runner and pass catcher. With his two scores on Monday, Conner became the first Cardinals player in the Super Bowl era to score a rushing or receiving TD in 7-straight games.
- For those clamoring for the Cardinals to bench right guard Max Garcia, remember that most linemen struggle when tasked with blocking the almighty Aaron Donald. Garcia had been one of Arizona’s better interior players in recent weeks, which is why his poor performance was such a surprise. Remember too that Josh Jones wasn’t exactly lighting it up prior to his eventual benching.
- Speaking of offensive line play, fellow guard Justin Pugh was active but did not play Monday against the Rams. Kingsbury confirmed that while Pugh was close, he wasn’t quite ready against LA.
- After a blazing start to the season, it does appear as if rookie receiver Rondale Moore has hit a wall. The explosive plays down field aren’t as prevalent as they were in the early months, with his yards-per-catch plummeting in recent weeks. Against the Rams, Moore finished with three receptions for just five yards.
- For the second consecutive game, star defensive linemen J.J. Watt was seen going through a lengthly workout prior to kickoff. There is an internal belief within the Cardinal organization that Watt may be able to return prior to the end of the regular season. The future Hall-of-Famer was thought to be out for the season following shoulder surgery in early November.
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