Analysis: Cardinals' win over Rams keeps their small playoff hopes alive — for now

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Unless you think the Cardinals can win six of their last seven games or at least five of their last seven, Sunday’s strange 27-17 victory here over the Rams at SoFi Stadium must be tempered with some serious reality.

The only way the Cardinals can reach the playoffs this season, now that they are 4-6, is if they basically win most of their remaining games and pray that a good majority of the rest of the NFC keeps fading into a blur of ugly, inconsistent football.

One of those might happen, but it’s difficult to believe both will considering what we’ve seen thus far.

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Think about it. On Sunday, the Cardinals were playing without their franchise quarterback. Kyler Murray was dealing with a tender hamstring and the correct determination was made not to risk it and to send in veteran backup Colt McCoy.

Considering the Rams were without their own starting quarterback, Matthew Stafford, the switch didn’t feel like much of a bad trade off. The Rams, after all, countered with backup John Wolford, who has only made one prior start in his three-year professional career.

McCoy won the battle of the backups, to be sure, completing 26 of 37 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. He led Arizona on five scoring drives, including two touchdowns, one of which was a 6-yard pass to A.J. Green following a strip sack and forced fumble by rookie Myjai Sanders that was recovered by J.J. Watt.

Green’s touchdown catch, which was a beauty for a guy who had been invisible the past three weeks, gave Arizona a 17-3 lead at halftime. He also came up with a clutch grab on a fourth-down play during Arizona’s first possession of the game, which led to a field goal by emergency kicker Tristan Vizcaino, who was a last-minute replacement for the injured Matt Prater.

Yeah, it was that kind of game with mysteries behind every turn. But that’s the point here moving forward. The Cardinals survived on Sunday against the Rams. The question is whether they can survive the next several weeks.

Can they really expect to keep winning games down the stretch, for instance, without fourth fifths of their starting offensive line? The only regular in the lineup on Sunday up front was right tackle Kelvin Beachum.

Left tackle D.J. Humphries couldn’t play because of a sore back. Left guard Justin Pugh is on season-ending injured reserve after tearing his ACL. Right guard Will Hernandez went on IR last Wednesday with a pectoral injury. And then on Saturday, center Rodney Hudson joined him because of a knee problem that has been dogging him since Week 4.

© Jayne Kamin-Oncea, Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Nov 13, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) is lifted in the air after a touchdown catch in the first half against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Can a makeshift offensive line consisting of Josh Jones, Cody Ford, Billy Price and Lecitus Smith sufficiently protect Murray in upcoming games against the 49ers, Chargers and Patriots? Granted, they held their own against the Rams. But will they hold up when things really get nitty gritty?

The Cardinals finally scored a win in the NFC West, but with a 1-3 record in the division, they still have two games remaining against the 49ers and that will be no easy task. In fact, the 49ers are on the schedule next — a week from Monday night in Mexico City.

Who knows what the Cardinals and the rest of the NFC will look like then?

And what about the availability of savvy tight end Zach Ertz? He left in the first quarter with a knee injury and never returned. He’s been a security blanket for Murray and if he’s out for any length of time, it’s a big drop off if the offense is going to rely mainly on rookie Trey McBride and Stephen Anderson.

When it was also learned before the game that No.1 cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. would also be inactive because of a nagging back strain, it was hard to like the Cardinals’ chances of trying to stop do-everything wide receiver Cooper Kupp.

Oddly enough, they did. Kupp was held to just three receptions for a -1 yard until he exited in the fourth quarter with an ankle issue.

But when he was on the field, he produced nothing, thanks to some smothering coverage by the Cardinals. Antonio Hamilton filled in neatly for Murphy and had seven tackles in the first half alone.

Meanwhile, the healthy players the Cardinals had to count on delivered. In addition to McCoy, that included Hopkins, who finished with 10 receptions for 98 yards. They also had to rely on fellow receiver Rondale Moore, who responded with nine catches for 94 yards, including a slick, one-handed grab for a 26-yard gain midway through the fourth quarter that was huge.

With the Cardinals holding a 17-10 lead, that sensational catch on fourth and 3 helped the Cardinals make it a two-score game, which they did when running back James Conner ran for his second touchdown of the game on a 9-yard dart and dive.

He also scored on a 4-yard rush in the second quarter and his two running touchdowns were the first time he’s found the end zone since Week 1. In a game where it figured the Cardinals had to run the ball to win, Conner rushed for 69 yards on 21 carries.

The Cardinals even got some help from a core player whom just a few days ago you never expected to be able to take the field. But there was All-Pro safety Budda Baker, playing despite a high ankle sprain, giving it his all and trying to lead the way like he always does.

After Conner’s second rushing TD, Baker, seemingly as if on cue, intercepted a pass from Wolford to essentially nail things shut for the Cardinals. An ensuing 46-yard field goal by the new kicker, Vizacinao helped do that for good. Like a ton of things on Sunday, it was wildly unexpected.

But that’s what we’re talking about here. With seven games left in the regular season, don’t try to expect this every week. It’s too much to ask.

Have an opinion on the Arizona Cardinals? Reach McManaman at bob.mcmanaman@arizonarepublic.com and follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac. Listen to him live on Fox Sports 910-AM every Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 on Calling All Sports with Roc and Manuch. 

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Analysis: Cardinals’ win over Rams keeps their small playoff hopes alive — for now

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