The 5: Taking the temperature of the Cardinals’ remaining opponents
It’s standard football speak to say a bye week came at a good time.
Maybe the Arizona Cardinals could’ve said that about their Week 12 spent on the couch considering there hasn’t been a massive string of injuries. Certainly, Arizona coming out of the bye week could have beamed about the break allowing a first-year head coach to take a breath and ready his team for the homestretch.
Instead, the Cardinals are using the break to section off a 3-7-1 start and focus only on the future.
“We want to treat it like its own season,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said Monday. “Nothing that’s happened before this really matters. Let’s execute at a high level and play our best football these last five (games). We have three at home in a row, which is a great opportunity to get some momentum going and try to finish strong.”
Arizona did some self-scouting over the bye, but continuity is important. The focus heading into a Week 13 game against the Los Angeles Rams is about cutting down on the mistakes that became trends through the 11-game start.
In other words, the Cardinals want to keep doing what they were doing — but better.
They have a unique set of remaining opponents on the schedule. Here’s a look at where each of those teams stand and where they might be when it comes time to play the Cardinals.
Game 1: vs. Rams (6-5)
Would Los Angeles’ 45-6 blowout loss to the Baltimore Ravens in front of the nation Monday count as the team’s lowpoint? Or would following that up with a Dec. 1 loss to the 3-7-1 Cardinals drop the bottom out of that low point even more?
The run game was disastrous against Baltimore — nine carries for 22 yards — and Rams quarterback Jared Goff has been plagued with inaccurate passing this year. He’s completing 61% of his passes with 11 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and seven fumbles.
As Goff readies to face the Cardinals, his counterpart, rookie Kyler Murray, is completing 65% of his passes with 14 touchdowns, five interceptions and one fumble.
Since a Week 9 bye, the Rams have averaged 11.7 points over three games. They are tied for the fifth-most giveaways this season (20).
Point being, there’s still a heavy Super Bowl hangover in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles is scuffling at the moment, having been booed out of The Coliseum following the Baltimore blowout that ended with a chest-puffing “hold me back, bro!” meeting between Rams corner Jalen Ramsey and former Los Angeles corner Marcus Peters.
Game 2: vs. Steelers (6-5)
Pittsburgh has won five of its last six with the lone defeat coming in striking fashion two weeks back against the Cleveland Browns. The Myles Garrett-Mason Rudolph altercation to end that one will reach a fever pitch again on Sunday as the Steelers visit the Browns.
And there’s a quarterback controversy to boot.
Rudolph was benched in favor of third-stringer Devlin Hodges in a 16-10 victory over the hapless Cincinnati Bengals, and Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin named Hodges as the starter for the Week 13 game in Cleveland. One could imagine that potentially fluid situation could continue on Dec. 8 when the Steelers visit Arizona.
The numbers between the two:
Mason Rudolph: Passer rating of 80.3, completing 162 of 263 passes (62%), 6.2 yards per attempt, 12 TDs, 9 INTs
Devlin Hodges: Passer rating of 97.7, completing 27 of 40 passes (68%), 7.9 yards per attempt, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Game 3: vs. Browns (5-6)
Cleveland has rebounded from a 2-6 start with three straight wins heading into a visit to Pittsburgh.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield took just four combined sacks against the Bills, Steelers and Dolphins in the last three weeks. Thanks to that comfort, he’s thrown seven touchdowns to just one interception over that span, and the quarterback has gotten help from a balanced running attack.
Browns running back Nick Chubb has averaged more than five yards per carry in two of the last three games.
Cleveland is very much trying to keep its postseason chances alive. Beating Pittsburgh next week would certainly help before the Browns visit the desert on Dec. 15.
Game 4: at Seahawks (9-2)
Arizona would love to put up a better fight than a 27-10 loss to the Seahawks back in Week 4.
If we dice Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray’s season into two parts thus far, then that was the final game of Phase 1 for the rookie. He took four sacks and threw a pick, rushing four times for 27 yards and a score.
He’s been less prone to getting behind the sticks since, as head coach Kliff Kingsbury has flashed more and more designed runs into his quarterback’s gameplans.
The Cardinals’ offensive output looked quite similar to Seattle’s in the teams’ first meeting, and Arizona’s penultimate game of 2019 should be a prime opportunity to show how much Kingsbury’s offense led by Murray has improved over the course of the year. The challenge: Expect the Seahawks to be playing for something.
While they have a relatively tough schedule until meeting Arizona for a second time, the Seahawks finish the year hosting San Francisco. That could potentially be for the NFC West title.
Seattle hosts the Minnesota Vikings this week and then hits the road to play the Rams and Carolina Panthers before hosting Arizona on Dec. 22.
Game 5: at Rams
As of Week 13, the Rams have a 14% chance of making the playoffs after falling to 6-5 with a loss to the Ravens on Monday, per FiveThirtyEight. The schedule ahead doesn’t look prime for a late-season rally.
In between facing Arizona this Sunday and the teams’ season finale, Los Angeles hosts the Seahawks before facing the Dallas Cowboys and 49ers on the road.
As it stands, one of the 8-3 Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings will take the NFC North, with the other potentially holding on for a Wild Card spot. The lesser of the 49ers (10-1) and Seahawks (9-2) in the NFC West will likely earn another Wild Card. And then there’s the 5-6 Eagles, Bears and Panthers to consider as competition at the moment.
The Rams might not have playoff possibilities by the final game of 2019.