It was December 6, 2015, and the 9-2 Arizona Cardinals were looking to clinch at least a share of the NFC West title with a win over the then-St. Louis Rams. With Palmer at quarterback, the Cardinals cruised to a 27-3 road victory on their way to 13-3 season.
Palmer threw for 356 yards and two touchdowns, but he was hit 10 times and sacked twice during the game. Five of those hits and one of the sacks were delivered by Donald, who also had seven tackles in the game.
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“He wreaks havoc inside the pocket,” Palmer said on “The Dan Patrick Show” on Monday, September 27, noting the challenge his former team faces when the Cardinals and Rams, both 3-0, meet in Week 4 with the NFC West lead on the line.
Kickoff is set for 1:05 p.m. MST Sunday, October 3, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.
The Rams have won the past eight meetings with the Cardinals, and Donald has been a big reason why. The 6-foot-1, 280-pound defensive tackle has 12 sacks in 14 career games against Arizona, including a three-sack performance in 2018.
“He is an absolute problem,” Palmer said.
Cardinals Center: ‘I Can’t Block Him’
Donald’s big game back in 2015 came “before everybody knew how good he was,” Palmer said.
“That was was back when he was getting a lot of one-on-one, single blocks,” the former Cardinals QB said. “Now, entire game plans are built around him, so he’s hardly one-on-one with anybody.”
The Cardinals weren’t doubling Donald back then, Palmer said, which proved to be a mistake. He remembers calling a play in the huddle late in the game when center Lyle Sendlein objected.
“Lyle looked up at me and said, ‘Don’t call it. Don’t call it,’ ” Palmer said.
When he asked Sendlein what the problem was, Palmer said the center responded, “I can’t even see the guy let alone block him. … Don’t call that inside zone play. I can’t block him.”
The quarterback obliged and changed the play. Later, after watching the game film, Palmer said he realized just how big of a problem Donald had been.
“We didn’t hardly block him at all,” he said. “Nothing’s changed since that game.”
Palmer led the Cardinals to another win over the Rams the following season, a 44-6 victory in Los Angeles on January 1, 2017. It’s the last time Arizona has beaten L.A.
Big Test Coming for Banged-Up O-Line
Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury called the Rams’ defensive star “as good a football player as I’ve seen in my life.”
“He’s really been dominant in the previous games we’ve had with him,” Kingsbury told reporters Monday, September 27. “We’ve got to find a way to try and slow him down. You’re not going to stop him, but you try to slow him down as best you can.”
Injuries on the offensive line may make that more difficult for the Cardinals. Already playing without starter Kelvin Beachum, Arizona lost guards Justin Pugh and Justin Murray to back injuries in the first half of the Cardinals’ 31-19 road win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 3.
Josh Jones, the Cardinals’ regular starter at right guard, was moved to right tackle against the Jaguars to replace Beachum, who missed the game with a fractured rib. Following the first-half injuries, Sean Harlow replaced Pugh at left guard, and Max Garcia stepped in for Murray at right guard.
Kingsbury said all three linemen are “day to day,” and their availability against the Rams still is being determined.
“We’ll see where (Beachum) is at this week,” said Kingsbury, who’s 0-4 against the Rams. “We’d love to get him back obviously, but we want to makes sure when he comes back he’s 100% healthy.”
As for Pugh and Murray, Kingsbury said he doesn’t believe either has a long-term injury, but their return “may not be this week.”
Larry Legend Picks Cardinals to Upset Rams
The Cardinals’ recent struggles against the Rams didn’t deter legendary Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald from picking his former team to win the NFC West showdown.
“I’m not far enough removed to go against my boys down in Arizona,” Fitzgerald said Monday, September 27, on his “Let’s Go” SiriusXM radio show and podcast. “I’m looking forward to the Cardinals going out there and getting to 4-0.”
Despite picking the Cardinals to beat the Rams, the (for now) retired receiver said Los Angeles has the best chance of the five remaining unbeaten teams (Cardinals, Rams, Panthers, Broncos and Raiders) to win the Super Bowl — at least on paper.
“If you were picking one team right now, you would have to go with the Rams just because of the fashion of victories they’ve had,” Fitzgerald said.
“But the Cardinals, with Kyler Murray, have the most dynamic player out of all of those five teams at quarterback with what he’s able to accomplish with his arms and his feet and his intangibles,” he said. “On paper, you have to pick the Rams, but it’s hard to bet against Kyler.”