There are plenty of reasons to believe it should be a good one. The teams split their regular-season meetings, with each winning on the road. Both teams have had stretches of championship-level highs and maddening lows, and that extends to the quarterbacks, too. Kyler Murray simply hasn't been the same since returning from his mid-season injury. Matthew Stafford can make every throw in the book, but that sometimes gets him in trouble.
Both teams figure to go as far as their quarterback takes them, and that starts Monday night.
When the Cardinals have the ball...
Kyler Murray looked like two completely different players in his two games against the Rams this season.
Kyler Murray vs Rams This Season
Week 4 (Win)
Week 14 (Loss)
This is no surprise. Murray has not been nearly as good in any facet since he sprained his ankle in Week 8 (which he returned from in Week 13). Of course, Murray has also been missing superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for the past month, but that won't change Monday night, either. Hopkins isn't expected to suit up unless Arizona's playoff run continues past this week, and perhaps longer.
The Rams are also missing some key pieces, though, which represents an opportunity for the Cardinals to take advantage. Los Angeles will be without starting safeties Taylor Rapp and Jordan Fuller after both suffered injuries in Week 18. These are major, major losses. The Rams have played just 48 snaps without either Rapp or Fuller on the field, and while it's a small sample size, the results haven't been good.
Rams Defense This Season
Rapp, Fuller Both off Field
Rapp, Fuller Both on Field
Yards per attempt allowed
Yards per rush allowed
Defensive success rate
The Cardinals need to attack the Rams defense with tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. Los Angeles had four players with more than 20 tackles when a running back or tight end was on the receiving end of a play. Three of them (Fuller, Ernest Jones and Rapp) will not play Monday.
Murray has had his ups and downs targeting tight ends. His four interceptions when targeting a tight end this season were tied for sixth-most, and two of those four actually came against the Rams in Week 14.
It's a different story when talking about running backs: Murray completes 88% of his passes (best in the NFL) and averages 7.1 yards per throw (second in the NFL) when targeting running backs. Given the Rams' talent at cornerback and along the defensive line, Kliff Kingsbury and company should look to take advantage of quick-hitters to running backs and test a very thin Rams safety corps.
When the Rams have the ball...
In the most recent meeting between these two teams, Matthew Stafford diced up the Cardinals to the tune of 287 passing yards and three passing touchdowns and a 77% completion percentage. The Rams won 30-23.
Since then, Stafford's been unsteady at best, with an NFL-high eight interceptions. Seven of those eight have been against zone coverage, also the most in the league.
Matt Stafford vs Zone Coverage, Weeks 15-18
NFL Rank (out of 34)
What's interesting here is that over the final four weeks of the regular season, teams almost completely stopped blitzing Stafford when they played zone. Stafford faced a blitz on just 8.8% of his dropbacks against zone coverage, the fourth-lowest rate in the league. The NFL is a copycat league, and in this case, teams have found a key to success against Stafford and copied it: Don't blitz up front and play zone on the back end.
One reason this has worked is that opponents' pass rushes have been able to get home even without blitzing. From Week 15 onward, Stafford was pressured on 33% of his dropbacks when the opponent did not blitz, which ranked 11th-highest out of 34 qualified quarterbacks. The Rams offensive line has to hold up better, yes, but it's more on Stafford to be more decisive. Since Week 15, he's been allowed an average of 2.81 seconds before being pressured when opponents don't blitz, the fourth-highest figure in the league.
Interestingly enough, the Cardinals played zone on just 57% of the Rams' dropbacks this season, by far the lowest rate of any of the Rams' 14 opponents. Arizona may have a difficult decision to make regarding how to best line up Monday night. Stafford has really struggled against zone coverage recently, but the Cardinals' zone coverage has been among the league's worst lately. In fact, those struggles began in Week 14... against the Rams.
Cardinals Zone Coverage, Weeks 14-18
Pass TD allowed
Yards per attempt allowed
Passer rating allowed
One final thing to watch will be Stafford's willingness to air the ball out the Cardinals' porous zone. This season, the Cardinals' zone defense allowed six passing touchdowns on throws 20 or more yards downfield. Only the Bears allowed more. Stafford, meanwhile, threw six touchdowns on throws 20 or more yards downfield against zone coverage, third-most in the league. But he also threw eight interceptions on that type of pass, most in the NFL. Stafford will need to balance being aggressive with being smart when going downfield, a balance that has waxed and waned this season.