Battered Rams secondary steps up to help muzzle Cardinals

After being inactive the first two games of 2022, rookie Derion Kendrick made a splashy debut, helping the Rams keep the Cardinals out of the end zone. Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES -- It was this past December against the Arizona Cardinals that Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey was forced to watch the television broadcast of his team's game after testing positive for COVID-19 instead of being on the field with his teammates. And while listening to that game, Ramsey heard the broadcasters talking about how much the Rams were missing his play.

"I hate that," Ramsey said during training camp. "I like when it's kind of seamless. Like yeah, maybe there's like a top dog, right? But then everybody else right under that is like all at a steady level, which is an extremely high level of playing the position. So that's kind of the goal for our whole unit."

Hearing that on the broadcast, Ramsey said, helped his "mindset of like trying to help prepare guys and make sure that everybody was ready in our room just in case something like were to happen."

In Sunday's 20-12 victory over the Cardinals, the Rams' secondary was going through the same thing, although Ramsey was one of the few constants for Los Angeles. They dealt with several injuries, as the Rams were without cornerbacks Troy Hill, David Long Jr. and Cobie Durant on Sunday, along with safety Jordan Fuller.

Instead the Rams leaned on rookie cornerback Derion Kendrick, a sixth-round draft pick making his regular-season debut who played 90% of the team's defensive snaps and made a big play in the fourth quarter to break up a Cardinals fourth-down pass.

The week before, it was Durant, the Rams' fourth-round pick, who intercepted Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota, causing Ramsey to say the "Rams hit on another mid-round draft pick."

"[That's] honestly what was going on in my mind," Ramsey said. "But that's what the Rams do, right? Like that's what the Rams organization is about. Like scouts, they find the good players, the players that are slept on and the coaches and all the leaders on the team helped develop those players and make sure they’re ready to play and make big-time plays like that.

"It wasn't surprising to me if I'm being honest, but it was good to see it actually happen in a real game."

In Week 3, a Rams secondary that struggled in the Week 1 loss to the Buffalo Bills fared much better against the Cardinals, even though they were helped by Arizona being without wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (suspension) for the game and A.J. Green for the second half after he left with a knee injury.

The Rams did allow receiver Marquise Brown to catch 14 passes for 140 yards, but the defense kept quarterback Kyler Murray and the Cardinals out of the end zone. The Rams rank 23rd in Football Outsiders' DVOA, and although they have four interceptions this season, they are allowing an average of 252.7 passing yards per game.

"I'm really pleased with their ability to kind of keep Kyler contained for the majority of the day because of the dynamic athlete that he is," Rams coach Sean McVay said.

And with Hill on injured reserve and out at least another three games, the depth in the Rams' secondary will need to continue to show that "next-man up" mentality. In Week 4, they'll face a San Francisco 49ers offense that is averaging just 172.7 passing yards per game, which is the fourth-worst in the NFL.

"When guys go down, we just have to go out there and play to the best of our abilities," safety Terrell Burgess said. "They believe in everyone here. We were confident and went out there and played our best.

"...It shows how much volume we have in our secondary and the whole defense -- for guys to go down and other guys to step up to play to the best of their abilities speaks a lot and I'm sure we'll continue to do the same next week."