GLENDALE, Ariz. — When coach Bruce Arians pulled out the film of the Arizona Cardinals’ 33-0 loss to the Los Angeles Rams back in Week 7, he probably wished he just would have left it in London, where the teams played at Twickenham Stadium.
“It should be an embarrassment when you watch the film, the way we played,” Arians said in preparation for Sunday’s rematch between the Cardinals (5-6) and the Rams (8-3) at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Cardinals, who have been swept in the season series by the Rams only once in the past 13 years, look quite a bit different than they did six weeks ago.
Not only are they on their third different starting quarterback in Blaine Gabbert since losing starter Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton to injuries, but the oldest team in the league is suddenly leaning on several new, younger faces across the board.
Rookie Budda Baker has become a starter at strong safety in place of injured Tyvon Branch. Rookie tight end Ricky Seals-Jones has become a go-to target since earning regular playing time in place of injured Ifeanyi Momah. Second-year running back D.J. Foster has slid into the third-down back role in place of veteran Andre Ellington, who was released.
Rookie wide receivers Chad Williams and Carlton Agudosi have also been asked to take on expanded roles.
“A lot of new faces, a lot more guys on IR,” Arians said. “The win (last Sunday over the Jacksonville Jaguars), I think, helped obviously. But I can’t count how many, four or five, guys that were in that (London) game that are now on IR.”
The Rams, meanwhile, have managed to keep rolling along in their quest for their first division title since 2003, when they finished 12-4.
Unlike the Cardinals, who are 2-2 since getting blanked by the Rams, Los Angeles has remained surprisingly healthy and has enjoyed one of the very rare benefits any NFL team can hope for in a season — none of their starting five offensive linemen have yet to miss a game.
That’s almost unheard of nowadays.
“It really is, and we feel very fortunate about that,” Rams first-year coach Sean McVay said. “You look at the continuity that they’ve been able to develop upfront. We’ve got some great veteran leaders, and I think Aaron Kromer is a great coach. He’s a great teacher.
“They all understand what we’re trying to get done and what we want to get accomplished. Sometimes it’s luck. Sometimes it’s where they take good care of themselves.”
Second-year quarterback Jared Goff has flourished in a brand-new system after looking completely lost at times when he eventually became a starter last season as a rookie. He ranks sixth in the league in passing yards (2,964) and his touchdown-to-interception ratio (18 to 5) is among the best in the league.
In his last four games alone, Goff is averaging 311 yards and has thrown nine touchdowns against one interception.
“He’s got him in a system that he fits,” Arians said, referring to McVay and Goff. “They do a lot of ‘check with me’ at the line of scrimmage. They don’t huddle. A lot of that is coming from the sidelines to match him up in the best play.”
Goff and the Rams’ offense, which ranks second in the league in scoring at 29.9 points per game, delivered once again last week during a 26-20 victory over the streaking Saints. It was the Rams’ third win in four weeks and helped them reach eight wins for the first time since 2006.
“We’ve changed a bunch of stuff, but I think ultimately what we have now is a lot of confidence,” Goff said. “Our team is playing with a lot of confidence and we don’t care who lines up against us. We’re going to go out and play our game and execute to the best of our ability.
“We believe in the defense, the defense believes in us. We all believe in the special teams and we all believe in each other.”
The Cardinals, who have yet to win back-to-back games this season, have gotten five touchdown passes the past two weeks from Gabbert. Though he also has had four turnovers in the same span — all of them in the fourth quarter — he has played rather well for a former third-stringer who had spent most of this season running the Cardinals’ scout team.
Set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, Gabbert has a chance to become the Cardinals’ full-time starter in 2018 and possibly beyond if he continues to play well and Palmer decides to retire. Arians said Gabbert has “a ton” of upside at age 28.
“I just try and get better each and every week,” Gabbert said. “Being so new into this system, new to this team, it’s still a learning process.”
The Cardinals weren’t sure how their rushing attack would look this week considering a neck injury suffered by Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 79 yards on 20 carries in the win over Jacksonville. Peterson needs four rushing yards to pass Pro Football Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk (12,279) for 11th place on the NFL’s career rushing yardage list and 37 yards to pass Hall of Famer Jim Brown (12,312) for 10th place.
Asked what his running game might look like on Sunday with Peterson and also Kerwynn Williams (cracked ribs) nicked up, Arians said, “I have no clue. … I’m not sure who will be available yet.”
The Rams once again will be without wide receiver Robert Woods because of a shoulder injury. Woods caught eight passes in back-to-back games before getting hurt.
“He’ll be out again this week, unfortunately,” McVay said. “That’s going to require some of those younger guys to step up and have a little bit more opportunities.”