GLENDALE, Ariz. — First, Rams outside linebacker Justin Hollins examined the situation, saying the Raiders’ defense appeared fatigued on the wild 2-point conversion that Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray converted last week that covered 85 yards of grass and took 21 seconds to conclude.
Hollins then attempted to understand what the Raiders’ defense must have felt after allowing perhaps the longest 2-point conversion in NFL history, which ignited Arizona’s comeback victory after trailing 23-7 in the fourth quarter.
“I looked at it and I was like, ‘Man, that would definitely suck.’” Hollins said. “That would definitely suck. We would have to find a way to get him on the ground or something.”
Hollins was then asked if the combination of physical and mental fatigue after allowing an unlikely 2-point conversion would demoralize his team. That’s when the imagination stopped for Hollins.
“I don’t know how I would have felt because I don’t think they would have converted it on us,” Hollins said. “I think we would have come at it with a different approach.”
Hollins referred to Murray as an escape artist, but the Rams are confident they are disciplined enough to get Murray on the ground if they find themselves in similar scenarios Sunday when they face the Cardinals at State Farm Stadium for their first NFC West clash and road game of the season.
The key to containing Murray from extending plays and scrambling for yards, according to Hollins, is to keep fresh rotations with the edge rushers and defensive linemen.
The Rams had concerns with their depth at outside linebacker, especially after Leonard Floyd hurt his knee in practice last week. As a result, they added former UCLA product Takkarist McKinley from the Tennessee Titans’ practice squad and signed him to their active roster.
Floyd, Hollins, Terrell Lewis and McKinley, who put on shoulder pads for the first time this week since tearing his Achilles tendon 10 months ago, will be tasked with keeping Murray in the pocket. They also have the benefit of having Aaron Donald, the greatest interior pass rusher of his generation.
Last week, the Rams took away running lanes and forced Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota to be one-dimensional as a passer during their first win of the season. Donald, who recorded three sacks the last time the Rams played in Arizona, said that game plan probably wouldn’t work against Murray.
“He’s a legit quarterback,” Donald said. “Obviously, I could do a lot. … They got a good running game and he’s a part of that running game and he’s able to do a lot of things, extend plays and if you don’t bottle him up, if you don’t get to him, if you don’ Don’t make him uncomfortable, it could be a long day for us. So, we know up front what we got to do to try to affect the game in a big way and us trying to find a way to affect him and not let him get in a rhythm.”
While his Rams got the better of the Cardinals in their last meeting in a 34-11 NFC wild-card route Jan. 17 at SoFi Stadium, head coach Sean McVay joked that he enjoyed coaching against Murray before calling him a nightmare.
Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, obviously, has different sentiments when watching his star quarterback work the pocket for extended periods.
“It’s exciting to watch, I’m a fan at that point,” Kingsbury said. “It’s really out of my control. After I’ve called the play and he lets his natural abilities take over, it’s special to watch a talent like that play at that level, compete that hard, bringing his team back in those moments he did the other day. He’s got some special ability that you just become a fan in that moment.”
It wasn’t that long ago when many were questioning Murray’s work ethic after the Cardinals added a homework clause in Murray’s contract extension, stating he needed to watch more football film and play fewer video games. The team rescinded the clause after ensuing backlash.
Now everyone is talking about containing the elusive Murray.
“Maybe it’s harder to see him, probably the only thing,” Rams middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said about keeping track of the 5-foot-10 Murray. “He’s really quick and he’s a guy that, like you said, when you do try to come and attack him high, he’s short enough to go underneath you and take off and run. You definitely have to be in control when you’re trying to tackle him.”
The Rams, who have won 10 of their past 11 meetings with Arizona, will face a confident Cardinals team in search of payback for January’s playoff defeat, but they can take control by putting them in third-and-long situations and not making the escape artist’s job easier.
JEFFERSON ON THE GO
The Rams’ offense can help the defense’s tough task against Murray by scoring early and often, but its offensive line is dealing with injuries and quarterback Matthew Stafford hasn’t had one of his best playmakers this season.
Wide receiver Van Jefferson will miss his third consecutive game Sunday and won’t be available for at least the next four games after the team placed him on injured reserve Saturday.
After Jefferson underwent knee surgery in training camp, McVay expressed optimism he would miss only a couple of games. McVay went from labeling Jefferson as “day to day” to “week to week” on Wednesday.
“No,” McVay said when asked about Jefferson possibly having a setback in his rehab. “He’s on track, just kind of week to week right now.”