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What to watch for when the Los Angeles Rams visit Arizona Cardinals Sunday

Howard Balzer Avatar
September 24, 2022

Trying to stop, or at least contain, Cooper Kupp

For the second consecutive week, the Cardinals will be tasked with defending one of the best receivers in the NFL.

In Week 2, it was the Raiders’ Davante Adams, who was limited to 12 yards on two receptions and none in the second half.

This week, it’s Kupp, who had a mind-boggling 145 catches for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. In the Rams’ four post-season games, he was targeted 42 times and had 33 receptions for 478 yards (14.5 average) with six touchdowns.

Kupp already has 24 receptions with three touchdowns in two games this season, although he’s averaging only 9.8 yards.

In the three games played between these teams last season, Kupp was 5-64 on 13 targets in a 37-20 Cardinals win; 13-123 with a touchdown on 15 targets in the Rams’ 30-23 Monday night win; and 5-61 with a touchdown on seven targets in the 34-11 playoff loss.

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph lauded the job cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. did on Adams last Sunday.

“His progress has been awesome,” Joseph said. “Even from last year to this year. Last year, he had a helluva first half of the season, got a little nicked up toward the middle and came back the last month and a half and played good again for us. I’m not surprised that he can cover a No. 1 receiver in this league. He’s a guy with talent. He’s confident. He wanted that challenge all week. He played his butt off.”

Murphy said he will enter this game with the same mentality as in Week 2 or any week.

“Go in confident,” he said. “He’s a different-type receiver. He knows how to get open, how to read defenses. I want to shadow the best receiver every single week. That’s just me. To go out and compete against the best every single Sunday.”

Safety Budda Baker said, “He takes pride in wanting to go against the best guy each and every week. His rookie year, Patrick Peterson was here so he definitely was able to learn from him and now that he’s a few years in, he’s trying to be that guy. He wants that matchup each and every week, week in and week out and the sky’s limit for that guy and I’m excited to see what he’s going to be doing this week as well.”

Asked about trying to slow Kupp down, Joseph first said, “Every plan’s different. It’s so tough. My biggest challenge each week is personnel. Who we’re playing, who I’m playing with. We’ve got so many injuries on the back end, so my largest concern each week is who I’m playing with vs. who and every week it’s going to change because of matchups. It’s a matchup league. I am trying to solve our issues each week with personnel first and with scheme second.

“Last week it worked for us. This week it may not work because they have so many formations, they move him so much even in the backfield and so many tight formations, it’s tough to match a guy when he’s moving so much. That’s a tough task.”

What makes Kupp so tough?

“A lot of things,” Joseph said. “You watch the guy this year; he’s a special player. His body control, his ball skills, his route running, blocking, his run-after-the catch. He’s strong, he’s big, he’s smart. He’s not lacking anything. The quarterback; he’s in sync with him. It’s tough to get him stopped, but you have to try to contain him with certain calls in certain DNDs (down and distances). Maybe even double the guy from time to time, but he’s a special player and to watch him the last two weeks it’s scary.

“If you’re playing man, he beats you with leverage and he stops on a dime and the ball’s thrown on time. If you’re playing zone, you have no chance because he stops in the proper zone. I think mixing it up and sometimes get closer to him, challenge him some. But rushing the quarterback and blinding him a little bit will help you. But again, every week is going to be a challenge.”

Finally, reflecting on playing the Chiefs, Raiders and Rams right out of the gate, Joseph said, “These first three games have been … a lot of lack of sleep.”

The moving green dot

Did anyone believe we’d focus so much on a green dot? It’s what is on the back of a defensive player’s helmet that indicates who will relay the calls from the coordinator.

Last year, rookie linebacker Zaven Collins was anointed with the responsibility on the day of the draft. When incumbent Jordan Hicks was told he wouldn’t be able to compete for the starting Mike job, he asked to be traded and skipped offseason workouts.

That didn’t happen, so there was Hicks professionally reporting for training camp and retained the job. Collins simply wasn’t ready to be an every-down linebacker. Hicks was released early this offseason, leaving a void.

At one point, safety Jalen Thompson thought the job would be his. Instead, Isaiah Simmons opened the season with the green dot. He had a rough season opener and played only 15 snaps against Las Vegas. So, there was Collins with the green dot against the Raiders.

“It was good,” Collins said this week. “You go in and you do 70 plays yelling at everyone the whole time, you definitely lose your voice and start sucking wind, but it was good.”

Collins said he focuses on trying to see what Joseph sees, “what he’s thinking when he calls this. Trying to get in his head that way. Figure out what his thoughts are behind certain calls. Why is he calling this? That’s more of what I’m into now. And understanding the whys behind it rather than just hearing it and playing.”

As for being thrust into it for Week 2, Collins said that wasn’t the case. “We were all carrying it throughout training camp,” he said. “I’d been doing it all through training camp and did it last year (in practice).”

Joseph said, “He handled it fine. During training camp, we had four guys with green dots. So they can all hear me talk to them. That wasn’t a first-time deal for Zaven.”

As for how far Collins has come since the April, 2021, draft, Joseph said, “I’ve been proud of that kid. He’s grown so much. Last year he was spinning. But this year, he’s calmed down, he’s asking the right questions, he’s leading meetings after meetings. He is right where he should be as a second-year Mike player.

“He’s gonna grow and grow and grow. Very intelligent. He works at it. The sky’s the limit for this kid. He should be a good player for us for a long time.”

Beyond relaying the calls, Collins said he continues to work on “cutting out the small mistakes. I get pissed off whenever I mess up plays. It’s Year 2 for me and trying to make it as slow as possible as opposed to just flying around. And if you don’t understand something, ask questions. But know as much as possible.”

The numbers game

*The Cardinals enter Sunday tied for first in the NFL in fewest turnovers with only one. The Rams, meanwhile, are tied for the league lead for the most with seven. Five of those have been interceptions by quarterback Matthew Stafford, who tied for the NFL lead with 17 last season.

Rams head coach Sean McVay said this week, “You want to have those at a minimum, but I also want to make sure that it’s a fine line between not allowing him to compete at a high level. Where we want to be smart but aggressive.”

Stafford had no interceptions in the Rams’ two victories over the Cardinals last season and one in the loss.

*Since McVay became the Rams’ head coach in 2017, the teams have played 11 times, including the playoff game and the Rams have won 10. They have scored at least 30 points in nine of those games and in all five of their wins in State Farm Stadium.

The combined score in those Cardinals’ home losses is 162-100. The last home win for the Cardinals over the Rams was in 2014.

In addition to the seven overall consecutive home losses to the Rams, dating back to last season the Cardinals have lost six consecutive home games.

*After missing the season opener, defensive end J.J. Watt played 42 snaps (63%) against the Raiders and had two tackles with one for loss, one sack, quarterback hit and pass defensed. It was his first regular-season game since suffering a shoulder injury against Houston in Week 7 last season.

The Cardinals are 8-0 in regular-season games he has played and in his last three regular-season games, Watt has 2.0 sacks, eight tackles with two for loss, four quarterback hits, two passes defensed and one forced fumble.

“I think it’s the ability to apply pressure, which obviously J.J. Watt did a great job of that,” general manager Steve Keim said Friday on Arizona Sports 98.7. J.J. was really good that entire game. I think it’s pretty imperative that we keep him out there.”

*The Cardinals elevated wide receiver Andre Baccellia and cornerback Jace Whittaker from the practice squad to the active roster Saturday. This is the final of three elevations for Whittaker in which he doesn’t have to clear waivers before returning to the practice squad.

*With the Cardinals and Dolphins each overcoming 20-point halftime deficits last Sunday, it marked the first time in NFL history that multiple teams overcame a 20-point halftime deficit to win on the same day and it was the first time that two teams overcame a deficit of at least 20 points at any point to win in the same week since Week 4 of the 2011 season.

The quotebook

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury on where his team is after two games: “We haven’t played a lot of football with this group together. That second half, we saw it come together a little, but we still have a bunch of  guys on that short-term IR that were waiting to get back. Have one of the best receivers in the NFL waiting to come back. So we knew we just have to hold on and get better over the first month, get some reinforcements, but that (win over the Raiders) was a good way to build some momentum hopefully going into a division game.”

Guard Justin Pugh on injuries diminishing: “Let’s hope we got bit with the bug early and we can be healthy the rest of the way.”

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com

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