Cardinals-Rams could be Battle of the Backups with Murray, Stafford hurt

Nov 12, 2022, 8:02 PM | Updated: 8:15 pm

TEMPE — Week 10 marks a pivotal matchup for the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams.

Staring down a pair of three-win marks and seemingly losing ground in the NFC West title race by the week, the two teams are desperate for a victory and something to build on in hopes of finding a way back into playoff contention.

And there’s a real chance one or both will have to navigate the potential season-altering game without their top option at quarterback.

Kyler Murray and Matthew Stafford were limited participants in their respective practices on Friday and enter Sunday as questionable. Murray appears to have a better shot than Stafford at playing, with the former dealing with a hamstring issue compared to the latter sitting in concussion protocols.

So with their statuses up in the air until we get official word 90 minutes before kickoff, the spotlight shifts to backups Colt McCoy, who is 2-1 as a Cardinals starter, and John Wolford.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler and Adam Schefter on Saturday reported that it very well could end up being a battle of the backups on Sunday.

And it’s not the first time the Cardinals have had to prep for Wolford in a season-impacting game, either.

In 2020, the Rams turned to Wolford against the Cardinals in Week 17 with a playoff spot on the line for both parties. Knock off the divisional opponent and you’re in.

Unfortunately for Arizona, it had to turn to backup Chris Streveler early on with Murray dealing with injury issues. The end result? Not great.

And despite Wolford tossing an interception on his first pass attempt of the day and being held scoreless, the signal caller did just enough in the 18-7 win. Aside from his 231 passing yards, Wolford carved out a nice role in the run game behind 56 yards on six carries.

“I think the overall game plan won’t change much. It’s the same system but obviously, their backup is a guy that can run the football,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Thursday. “The zone read stuff, the scrambling on third down, it’s obviously different than Stafford. … His skillset’s different than Matthew, so we will adjust accordingly if he’s the quarterback.”

“This kid’s a good quarterback. He makes good decisions, he can throw the football, but he’s scary when he pulls the ball down,” the coordinator added. “He’s not a big guy but he’s fast and he plays fast with the ball. The ball’s out very fast in the pass game. He’s their backup for a reason. He’s no slouch.”

Regardless of who is signal calling for the Rams, things haven’t been smooth for the reigning Super Bowl champs in 2022.

Entering their Week 10 matchup, the Rams are rolling out the second-worst offense in the NFL, putting up 286 yards per game. Their 29th in the league in points per game with 16.4 and 30th when it comes to running the football, rushing for just 68.4 yards per contest.

Throw in the team’s offensive line issues, eight different starting alignments in the past eight games, and it’s hard to find any sort of bright spot on the offense outside of the obvious in wide receiver Cooper Kupp.

The All-Pro wideout has continued to show his dominance in the NFL, recording 813 yards and six touchdowns over eight games played. He’s reeled in 72 of his 93 targets and is averaging 11.3 yards per catch.

That’s not to say he hasn’t had his down moments, too.

Arizona had Kupp’s number back in Week 3, holding him to just 44 yards on four catches (six targets). He did, however, still found pay dirt behind a 20-yard TD run. Kupp has seen no fewer than seven catches and 79 yards in every other game played in 2022. No one else on the roster comes close to Kupp’s numbers, with tight end Tyler Higbee next in line with 36 catches for 312 yards.

For the Cardinals to have a chance at taking down their NFC West nemesis, it all starts with containing Kupp once again.

The best way to do so is by limiting the number of targets going his way with a solid pass rush and a stout secondary.

Easier said than done, especially with safety Budda Baker and No. 1 cornerback Byron Murphy listed as questionable for the matchup.

“We have to play our game,” defensive lineman J.J. Watt said Friday. “We have to execute our game plan, do our job. We have to set edges, we have to stop the run, we have to get after the quarterback. We just have to play good football, give ourselves a chance and do everything in our power to limit points and score some points if we can.

“Everybody has to do their job,” he added. “The next man has to step up and do his job and everybody just do their role and play good football.”

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