Sunday's slate of contests delivered several breathtaking finishes, including a pair of afternoon overtime thrillers between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Buffalo Bills, and the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals. Monday's showdown between the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals has the potential to close out the week on an exciting note. The Cardinals currently own the NFC's best record at 10-2 and are attempting to fend off the Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers from competing for the bye and home-field advantage.
Arizona will encounter an inner-divisional Rams opponent that's 8-4 but hasn't been the best version of themselves in recent weeks. Sean McVay's Rams have lost three of their last four, with their one victory coming against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. Los Angeles' recent losses include two-score and three-score defeats to the Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers. The recent additions of Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller have outsiders questioning the team's chemistry within the locker room. Starting quarterback Matthew Stafford has been in less-than-ideal form as he continues to play through an injury.
The Rams will also be looking to avenge a rather embarrassing Week 4 defeat to the Cardinals that finished 37-20, which was Los Angeles' first loss of the season.
There's no love lost between these familiar foes. We've identified three player-versus-player matchups we’re particularly excited to monitor.
DEANDRE HOPKINS VS. DARIOUS WILLIAMS
With Rams star cornerback Jalen Ramsey being placed on the team’s Reserve/COVID-19 List just hours before kickoff, we’ve unfortunately been robbed of the upcoming showdown between him and DeAndre Hopkins. The unforeseen development should thrust Darious Williams into Los Angeles’ No. 1 cornerback role, and his assignment for Monday night just grew considerably more difficult.
Ramsey’s absence means every cornerback on L.A.'s roster gets bumped up a spot and Morris will want to avoid the possibility of getting Hopkins lined up against the likes of David Long Jr. and Kareem Orr.
It's worth noting that Williams is no slouch. The 5-foot-9, 187-pound Williams is used to proving his naysayers wrong. A 2018 undrafted free agent out of UAB, Williams has performed as one of the finest undrafted gems in recent memory and has carved out a permanent home for himself in Los Angeles' ball-hawking secondary.
The Cardinals got the better of the Rams back in Week 4, but Hopkins was held relatively in check. The former Houston Texan was limited to 67 receiving yards on just four receptions and failed to find the end zone. Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has generally avoided employing his cornerbacks in isolated one-vs-one matchups against the same opposing receiver on a consistent basis, but playing against Hopkins may require the special treatment his talent deserves, especially considering Ramsey won’t be available on Monday.
Hopkins continues to battle through injuries. He recently returned from a three-game absence to take the field in Arizona's Week 13 win over the Chicago Bears but was clearly limited. Hopkins secured both of his targets for 32 yards and a touchdown while playing 39 of 53 snaps. If Hopkins is ready for a full workload, he could possibly take advantage of a plus matchup here in wake of the Ramsey news. Avoiding Ramsey, who has been his usual elite self all throughout 2021 goes down as a fortunate break for Arizona.
COOPER KUPP VS. BYRON MURPHY
The Cardinals aren't the only team that will field an elite receiver on Monday night. Cooper Kupp has experienced a breakout campaign for the ages, having already compiled a career-high 1,366 receiving yards in just 12 appearances. Kupp currently leads the league in that category and is the only receiver in the NFL to have already surpassed 100 receptions. Kupp has been virtually unstoppable all season long, having immediately developed an impressive amount of chemistry with Stafford. Things haven't gone swimmingly for Stafford as of late, but he has the comfort of knowing that somewhere out there, Kupp is running open and making himself available on a snap-by-snap basis.
The Cardinals cornerback that is most likely to be tasked with stifling Kupp is Byron Murphy, a third-year player out of Washington. Kupp has the ability to play both inside and outside, and Murphy matches that skill set, as defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has employed Murphy both on the boundary and inside throughout 2021. Murphy isn't just Arizona's most versatile corner, he's their most talented one too.
Murphy possesses the skill set necessary to compete with any and all receivers but will have his hands full with Kupp.
VON MILLER VS. D.J. HUMPHRIES/KELVIN BEACHUM
Monday's ever-important contest is the type of game general manager Les Snead acquired Von Miller for. Los Angeles undeniably has an eye toward postseason success, and the mid-season moves for Miller (and Odell Beckham Jr.) are supposed to boost their chances of playing for Super Bowl LVI in front of a home crowd at SoFi Stadium. In his first three games with the Rams, Miller has logged nine combined tackles, three tackles for loss, and one pass deflection. The future Canton-bound edge rusher is still searching for his elusive first sack as a member of the Rams, and recording one against the dual-threat talent that is Kyler Murray on Monday night would be awfully memorable.
Morris has allowed Miller to rush both off the left and right side since Miller arrived in L.A., and we expect that trend to continue against the Cardinals. It means he could see a fair amount of both D.J. Humphries at left tackle and Kelvin Beachum at right tackle. Humphries is an underrated blindside protector that's been in fine form all throughout 2021. Beachum has fit into Arizona's culture well since arriving from the New York Jets in 2020 and was most recently named the team's Walter Payton Man of the Year. These matchups should provide plenty of entertainment.
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