Cardinals’ run game in flux entering matchup with Rams

Two division rivals that won a total of nine games in 2022 play the first of two matchup this season on Sunday when the Los Angeles Rams host the Arizona Cardinals.

The Rams (2-3) and Cardinals (1-4) split the season series the last two seasons, with the road team winning each one. Prior to 2021, the Rams had won eight consecutive regular-season games over the Cardinals with Sean McVay as head coach.

Both teams are searching for an identity. The Rams fell to 5-12 last season after winning the Super Bowl, and the Cardinals were 4-13, which led to the departure of head coach Kliff Kingsbury and the hiring of Jonathan Gannon.

The Cardinals have been competitive in their four losses, but in those games have been outscored 51-0 in the fourth quarter.

They will be facing the Rams without leading rusher James Conner, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday after sustaining a knee injury in the second quarter last week against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Arizona likely will use a committee approach at the position, led by rookie free agent Emari Demercado, who rushed for 45 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries and caught a pass for 12 yards against the Bengals.

The Cardinals hope to get Keaontay Ingram back after he missed the past two games with a neck injury. They claimed Tony Jones Jr. off waivers from the New Orleans Saints this week.

“He was ready,” Gannon said of Demercado. “He’s been playing a little bit on third down (where his protections have been good), so he’s ready to step in there and play football. I kind of gave him a little chat on the sideline and he was good to go. It was impressive to see honestly.”

Arizona quarterback Joshua Dobbs has been a factor in the running game with 142 yards and runs of 23 and 44 yards. Wide receiver Rondale Moore is also a threat from the backfield. He has had runs of 41 and 45 yards, with the latter resulting in a touchdown.

Dobbs has started all five games this season, with Kyler Murray still recovering from ACL and meniscus surgery. He threw his first two interceptions of the season against the Bengals, including one that was returned for a touchdown.

The Rams got wide receiver Cooper Kupp back from injured reserve last week for their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and he had eight catches for 118 yards. However, the shining star has been fifth-round rookie Puka Nacua, who leads the NFL with 46 receptions and is second in yards with 572.

Los Angeles traded wide receiver Van Jefferson to the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford remains bedeviled by interceptions, as he has five this season, the same as his total of touchdown passes. Only five NFL quarterbacks have thrown more picks.

The Cardinals’ secondary will need improvement after Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase racked up 192 yards and three touchdowns on 15 receptions last week.

McVay said of Kupp and Nacua, “Whether they complement each other or not, they’re two really good football players that we feel good about having and we’ve got to continue to do a good job utilizing their skills.”

Rams defensive lineman Bobby Brown III (knee) was placed on injured reserve Tuesday. Los Angeles linebacker Ernest Jones (knee), tackle Joe Noteboom (groin) and guard Kevin Dotson (ankle) did not practice Wednesday.

For the Cardinals, safety Jalen Thompson (hamstring) and wide receiver Marquise Brown (illness) sat out the Wednesday practice.