Rams defense limping into Wild Card matchup vs. Arizona Cardinals

Jan 14, 2022, 5:00 PM | Updated: Jan 15, 2022, 1:32 pm
Los Angeles Rams free safety Taylor Rapp (24) tackles San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiy...

Los Angeles Rams free safety Taylor Rapp (24) tackles San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (11) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

TEMPE — Led by defensive lineman Aaron Donald, the Los Angeles Rams defense is one of the toughest units to contend with.

The Arizona Cardinals’ Week 14 loss to the Rams was proof of that, with quarterback Kyler Murray held scoreless and tossing two interceptions in the 30-23 defeat.

But the NFL is an ever-changing beast, where injuries and other variables can really impact a unit. The Rams are facing that head on as they prepare for Monday’s Wild Card matchup.

While Donald remains healthy and an obvious problem, other key parts of the defense can’t say the same, notably inside linebacker Ernest Jones.

After the seven-tackle, one-interception showing Jones had against Arizona in Week 14, losing the inside linebacker to a Week 16 ankle injury is a huge blow to the defense’s game plan.

Jones may have a chance to return to action this postseason, but it won’t be until after the Wild Card round if the Rams win on Monday.

It doesn’t get much better for the Rams at the next level, either. In fact, it gets a lot worse.

Safety Taylor Rapp was ruled out on Saturday while in concussion protocols ahead of the matchup, while fellow safety and defensive signal-caller Jordan Fuller was already out with a season-ending ankle injury suffered in Week 18’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

Fuller and Rapp represent the Rams’ top two tacklers, with the former putting up a team-leading 113 tackles. Rapp sits second on the roster with 94.

The pair also put up five passes defensed, while Fuller outpaced Rapp in the interceptions department 4-1. The injuries have led to the Rams adding retired defensive back Eric Weddle, who hung it up nearly two years ago, back into the mix.

But regardless of who lines up in the secondary and in the middle of the field, Los Angeles’ pass rush remains a force, ranking third in the league in sacks with 50. As a unit, the Rams are top 10 against the run, allowing 103.2 yards per game.

“They’ve got big-name guys that are big-time players that have played in big games,” Murray said Wednesday. “As a competitor, these are the games that you have to step up in and make plays and execute.

“There’s no shying away from this. We know who we’re playing. We know the caliber of guys that they’ve got over there, the guys that can wreck a game. We’ve got to match their energy and be ready to play. There’s no way around it.”

There’s also cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who paces the Rams in passes defensed (16) and is tied with Fuller for the team lead in interceptions, to deal with.

The best way to combat that if you’re the Cardinals? Do your job.

“You really just want to try to stay on schedule, and if you can, keep those guys on the field as many plays as possible,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Wednesday. “That’s really the only chance you have to try to slow down Donald and some of those pass rushers they have.

“Consistently making the routine plays, staying on schedule, extending drives is going to be a huge part of us trying to win the game.”

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