Arizona Cardinals (3-0, 2-1 ATS) at Los Angeles Rams (3-0, 2-1), 4:05 p.m.
Implied Team Totals: Cards 25.25 , Rams 29.75
Spread/Total Movements: 6 to 4.5, 53.5 to 55
Cardinals Injuries to Watch: LG Justin Pugh (back, GTD), RT Kelvin Beachum (ribs, questionable), OT Justin Murray (back, GTD)
Rams Injuries to Watch: RB Darrell Henderson (ribs, probable), OLB Leonard Floyd (ankle, probable)
Brolley’s Cardinals Stats and Trends
Arizona is 4-1 toward unders in its last five games.
The Cardinals and the Buccaneers are averaging a league-best 34.3 points per game after scoring 31+ points for the third straight game to open the season. Arizona is also leading the league in yards per game in regulation with 432.3 — the Raiders are averaging 471.0 yards per game with two overtime appearances.
Kyler Murray posted 19.5 FP last week without a touchdown pass after scoring 34+ FP in each of his first two games. He scored a rushing touchdown but he conceded two goal-line scores to James Conner last week. Kyler still completed 82.4% of his passes and he topped 9.0 YPA for the third straight game with 316 yards on 34 attempts (9.3). The Rams suffocated him in his lone full game in Week 13, posting 173/3 passing (4.4 YPA) while adding just 5/15 rushing.
DeAndre Hopkins managed just 3/21 receiving on six targets while playing 91% of the snaps through a rib injury against the Jaguars. Nuk’s three touchdowns in the first two weeks are keeping his owners from panicking since he’s now tied with A.J. Green with an 18% target share after he owned a 26% share last season. He posted 8/52/1 receiving against Jalen Ramsey and company in his lone game with Murray at quarterback the entire time.
A.J. Green isn’t dead just yet with 13+ FP in two straight games. With Hopkins nursing his rib injury in Week 3, Green stepped up and delivered 5/112 receiving on six targets with a healthy 77% of the snaps against a lowly Jaguars’ secondary. It was Green’s first 100-yard game since Week 7 of 2018, and he’s now seen an acceptable six targets in each of his first three games. The Rams are giving up the 15th-most FPG (39.7) to WRs through the first three weeks of the season.
Christian Kirk got a bump with Hopkins ailing last week, posting 7/104 receiving on s season-high eight targets. He’s still a distant third in WR routes with 79 this season with Green sitting at 99, while Rondale Moore sits way back at 52. Chris Godwin posted 6/74 receiving in this matchup last week, and Kirk managed just a two-yard catch on three targets in his lone matchup with the Rams last season.
The Cardinals are using Rondale Moore as a part-time player in the #4 WR role, which makes him susceptible to flopping as he did in a golden matchup against the Jaguars in Week 3. Moore saw just two targets that he turned into 2/1 receiving and he added a three-yard carry while playing just 34% of the snaps. Moore had 11/182/1 receiving for 26.2 FP in his first two games. His performance was even more disappointing since Hopkins clearly wasn’t quite right playing through his rib injury.
Goal-line back James Conner finally showed up to the party with two scores last week and Chase Edmonds lost out on another scoring opportunity with Kyler running one in. Edmonds has shown a high floor with 12+ FP, 4+ catches, and 75+ scrimmage yards in each of his first three games but he’s yet to reach 15+ FP without a touchdown. Buccaneers’ RBs combined for 12/77/1 receiving against the Rams last week.
Brolley’s Rams Stats and Trends
Sean McVay is a perfect 8-0 outright and 7-0-1 ATS against the Cardinals in his career.
Los Angeles is 4-1 ATS in its last five home games.
The Rams have played over the total in five straight games.
The Rams beat the Cardinals 38-28 as 2.5-point road favorites in a game totaled at 49.5 points in Week 13 last season — key players rested in this matchup in the season finale.
The Rams are averaging 31.7 points per game after hanging 34 points on the Buccaneers thanks to Matthew Stafford’s 373 yards and four touchdowns. Stafford has multiple TD passes in each of his first three games and he’s now averaging 10.0 YPA, which is second to only Russell Wilson at 10.4 YPA. The Cardinals have yet to allow 250+ passing yards to an opponent this season, but Kirk Cousins did touch them up for 244/3 passing on 32 attempts (7.7 YPA).
Cooper Kupp is leading the league in receptions (25), receiving yards (367), and receiving touchdowns (5) through the first three weeks. He’s posted 10+ targets, 7+ catches, 95+ yards, and 23+ FP in every game this season. Kupp has posted 15+ FP in his three games in this matchup dating back to 2019, including an 8/73 receiving performance in his only game last season.
Robert Woods has been the forgotten man for Stafford. He has a pair of three-catch games in which he’s finished with fewer than 35 yards, but he’s still second on the team with a 21% target share. Woods posted 10/85 receiving on 11 targets in his meaningful game against the Cardinals last season.
McVay finally unleashed DeSean Jackson in Week 3 against the Buccaneers. He went for 3/120/1 receiving on five targets on a season-high 32% snap share. Van Jefferson has been running ahead of Jackson in three-WR sets — he still held a 28-to-16 advantage in routes — and he posted 4/42 receiving on six targets in Week 3. It feels like McVay is going to unleash D-Jax more in important games and this week would certainly qualify with the NFC West lead on the line.
Tyler Higbee bounced back from his Week 2 dud by catching all five of his targets for 40 yards and a touchdown. Higbee ran a route on a season-low 72% of Stafford’s dropbacks with Johnny Mundt playing a season-high 48% of the snaps, but Higbee has still run a route on 80% of the dropbacks. The Cardinals have yet to give up 20+ receiving yards to an individual TE in the early going.
Darrell Henderson didn’t come close to playing last week after missing practice all week, but he did participate in practice to start the week. He topped 80+ scrimmage yards with a touchdown in each of his first two games. Sony Michel took over the workload last week after a quiet first two weeks with his new team. He grinded out 20/67 rushing (3.4 YPC) against a nasty Buccaneers’ run defense and he added 3/12 receiving. The Cardinals are giving up 5.0 YPC to RBs and the fifth-most rushing yards per game (114.3) to the position.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Week 1-3 – Pace (seconds in between plays): 29.9 (24th)
Week 1-3 – Plays per game: 66.7 (17th)
Week 1-3 – Pass: 58.0% (21st) | Run: 42.0% (12th)
Week 1-3 – Pace: 27.5 (13th)
Week 1-3 – Plays per game: 59.3 (28th)
Week 1-3 – Pass: 57.6% (22nd) | Run: 42.4% (11th)
This is the highest totaled game on the slate by a nose hair (54.5) over Eagles-Chiefs (54) and we’ve seen a huge reverse line movement with the Rams getting hammered down from -6.5 all of the way to -4. Overall, this game is smack dab in the middle of the pack in the pace/play model but I think a lot of that has to do with a small sample size early in the season. The Rams dominated the Bears in Week 1, played in a sluggish game in Week 2, and then got up 31-14 in the third quarter last week over the Buccaneers and didn’t really have to push much in the second-half. We really haven’t seen L.A. play all-out for a full game, and yet, Matthew Stafford has thrown for multiple scores in every outing and is averaging 314 yards per game. Looking at their high-level pass / run splits is also a result of the games they’ve played in – HC Sean McVay has been able to take his foot off of the gas and run the ball a ton in the second-half in all three of their contests. However, in neutral situations (game within a score in 1st-3rd quarter), L.A. has gone 68.3% pass-heavy which is the third-highest rate above expectation. Make no mistake: When the game is close, the Rams are throwing.
On the other hand, the Cardinals have been pushed in the last two weeks after squeezing past the Vikings 34-33 in Week 2 and almost flopping against the Jaguars in Week 3 (that game was 19-17 Jags late in the third quarter). So, despite playing in two close back-to-back games, it’s a bit of a surprise to see the Cardinals playing so slow after ranking No. 1 in pace in both 2019 and 2020. Maybe Kliff Kingsbury is trying to protect his weak secondary by slowing down on offense and not forcing his defense on the field more? That’s my theory at least. We’ll see if Arizona slowing down on offense is an actual trend this week because they are going to be pressed to keep up with this white-hot L.A. offense.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
A previously quasi-elite CB who has struggled during the early going is the Rams’ Darious Williams. And maybe he’s struggling with the Rams’ diversity of alignment — it’s very touch-and-go with the alignment of Los Angeles’ CBs. It certainly seems Jalen Ramsey is free to choose his stations each week. Williams joins Ramsey as the only two of the Rams’ four-CB rotation that works on the inside. And, for reasons I’ll go into detail later, Williams’ inside usage is likely to increase dramatically this week. Under that scenario, Williams will work across from Christian Kirk. Given this and the Rams’ typical coverage shells, advantage Kirk.
However, should my assumption prove incorrect that Ramsey will play more on the outside this week (to contend with DeAndre Hopkins), that would present a monumental concern for Kirk. Only time will tell.
this is one of the weeks where I believe Ramsey will have enough motivation to kick back outside.
Jalen Ramsey shadowed DeAndre Hopkins on 75% of his routes (21 of 28), limiting Hopkins to just 2 receptions for 28 yards on 7 targets as the nearest defender.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 4, 2021
Ramsey has shadowed Hopkins on 75%+ of his routes in 7 of 9 career matchups (7+ targets in every game).#ARIvsLAR pic.twitter.com/iHKyj3I3eN
Then we have words straight from the horse's mouth labeling the rivalry as a thing:
"He's my favorite corner to play against. He's the only corner in the NFL that actually follows me everywhere I go. ... A lot of guys claim to be No. 1 DBs, but not a lot of guys can do that."— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) September 12, 2019
—DeAndre Hopkins on Jalen Ramsey (via @MarkBermanFox26)pic.twitter.com/c7jH3BUrkp
One unfortunate factor working against a Ramsey shadow is Nuk currently dealing with bruised ribs that limited him to a 3/21/0 line last week. But this is one matchup Hopkins is likely to go all out to get healthy in order to hit the ground running.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
I’m sure DeAndre Hopkins’ bruised ribs have something to do with it, but uh… AJ Green is tied for the Cardinals team lead with 18 targets. In fact, QB Kyler Murray has been distributing targets amazingly evenly. 18 each for Green and Hopkins, 17 for Christian Kirk, and 15 for Rondale Moore. My hunch about this game is that he’s going to have to throw it a ton to keep pace with the Rams, so in addition to Murray being an obvious play, all of his receivers are in the mix for work. Just
But be warned as it comes to the rookie Moore, who had 1 stinking receiving yard last week after being one of the most popular waiver pickups of the week. Moore is still just a part-time player. Through three weeks, he’s run a route on just 45.6% of the Cardinals passing plays – which makes him a distant No. 4 on the depth chart behind Christian (69.3%) and Green (86.8%). (And, obviously, Hopkins.) Moore ran just 14 routes in Week 3 vs. the Jaguars. He’s more of a bench stash than a start-worthy player, though I do believe this is a week the Cardinals will have to be throwing it a ton. Hopkins is a WR1 (though Jalen Ramsey does give me the willies), while Green and Kirk are viable WR3s.
Given the expected game environment, I think this is a great spot for RB Chase Edmonds. Edmonds is fifth among RBs in target share (16.7%) behind D’Andre Swift (18.5%), Christian McCaffrey (20.5%), Najee Harris (20.9%), and Alvin Kamara (21.9%).
Even though Edmonds’ role is more valuable than that of James Conner, he still lacks TD upside. Indeed, Edmonds is the overall RB17 in PPR leagues, the highest-ranking RB who hasn’t scored a touchdown. But Edmonds might need to score a longer TD if he’s going to really blow up — the Cardinals have run 10 plays inside of the five-yard line and Conner has been on the field for 7 of them. Given the Rams give up 12.8 FPG to RBs as receivers (11th-most) and I expect the Cardinals to be playing from behind in this one, I view Edmonds as a high-end RB2 and Conner as a TD-dependent FLEX. Edmonds could be especially useful if the Cardinals’ offensive-line injuries (potentially missing multiple starters) force Murray to check down more against this pass rush. If you’re playing Conner, hope someone gets tackled close to the goal line.
Right now, Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp are on a ridiculous pace. Kupp is the WR1 at 30.4 FPG. He’s the only WR to see a 30% target share in every game so far, and he gets a pretty favorable matchup with CB Byron Murphy this week — Murphy is the Cardinals’ primary slot defender, and while he has 2 INTs, his 126 yards surrendered inside are second-most in the NFL (SIS), behind only Washington’s Kendall Fuller.
Kupp and Stafford are obvious plays, but I have a funny feeling about Robert Woods this week. Woods has fallen by the wayside because Kupp is just so red-hot this year, but Woods still has a 20% target share on the year, and runs over half his routes from the slot (Kupp runs about 80% of them from inside). The Cardinals are allowing the 11th-most FPG to opposing WRs, and the Vikings especially torched them in Week 2 — 17/195/3 combined for Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and KJ Osborn. I’m firing up Woods as an upside WR2, and if you’re playing a third Rams receiver, it has to be Van Jefferson, who has actually run more routes (72) than Woods (71). DeSean Jackson had a big game in Week 3 against the Bucs, but is averaging just 7 routes run per game. He needs to take advantage of a big play to pay off.
For the first time this season in Week 3, Ram TE Tyler Higbee played fewer than 100% of the offensive snaps, clocking in at 75%, as LA chose to use legendary blocking TE Johnny Mundt against the Bucs’ elite pass rush at a 48% clip. And the Cardinals are actually generating pressure on a higher percentage of dropbacks (39.3%) than are the Bucs (37.3%). Of course, the reduced snap share didn’t prevent Higbee from turning in his best fantasy day of the season — 5/40/1 — and it actually opens him up to running more routes. He’s a TE1 option.
My gut feeling is the Rams win this game by multiple scores, which would make the run game viable, but frankly, I expect a rotation here with Darrell Henderson coming off a rib injury and Sony Michel doing a solid job against the Bucs’ nasty run defense last week. With Henderson out last week, Michel took over the backfield and dominated both snaps (75%) and touches (23) in his spot start. (Michel ran 23 routes while Jake Funk ran 12.) I think Henderson is the better and more versatile player, and he was the Rams’ back almost exclusively before getting hurt, but I have no idea how Sean McVay will handle this with Hendo less than 100% and Michel looking solid last week. If Henderson is active, both he and Michel are guesswork FLEX options. If Hendo doesn’t play — which would be a surprise — Michel is a high-end RB2.