Rams’ Jalen Ramsey, The cornerback won most of their duels in the AFC South, but they will engage in their first NFC West battle Sunday
THOUSAND OAKS — Jalen Ramsey has been looking forward to this since March, when DeAndre Hopkins was traded from Houston to Arizona, putting the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback and wide receiver in the same division again.
Back then, Ramsey responded to news of the trade by posting a hype video on Instagram, captioned: “Respect is mutual but we gotta get after it!!”
They’ll get after it Sunday in Glendale, Ariz., Ramsey and Hopkins competing for the first time as members of the Rams (7-4) and Cardinals (6-5) after battling seven times when they were in the AFC South with the Jaguars and Texans.
“I enjoy playing top receivers,” Ramsey said Friday before practice. “I live for that.”
Hopkins was more measured in his comments: “Looking forward to going against him.”
There are millions of reasons to think it’s as good a receiver vs. cornerback matchup as you’ll see. Hopkins, 28, signed a two-year contract extension Sept. 8 for $27.25 million a year, making him the league’s highest-salaried non-quarterback. Ramsey, 26, signed a five-year extension the next day for $20 million a year, the most for a defensive back.
Both earn their money. Hopkins is third in the league in receptions (77) and fourth in yards (967), on pace to catch 112 passes, a record for the franchise of Larry Fitzgerald. Ramsey is to pass coverage what Aaron Donald is to the pass rush, holding the receivers he covers to 2.3 catches per game, the fewest for any cornerback with 10 or more starts, and 24 yards per game.
This season, the Rams have faced five of the NFL’s 15 most productive wide receivers. With Ramsey responsible for most of that coverage, they’ve held four of those receivers under their per-game averages for targets, catches and yards. The latest and best case was three weeks ago when Ramsey limited Seattle’s J.K. Metcalf to two catches for 28 yards.
“We saw Seattle, we saw how that went. It’s definitely fun to watch, fun to be part of,” Rams safety John Johnson said of seeing Ramsey take on a top receiver.
Hopkins knows all about it, except for the fun part.
Although the Texans beat the Jaguars in five of the seven games, Ramsey won most of his duels with Hopkins, holding him under his career average for yards four times, catches four times and catch percentage five times.
“Those battles are always fun, whether I feel like I won or lost the matchup,” Ramsey said. “Me getting traded last year (from Jacksonville to L.A.), I got out of that division, and I didn’t think I’d be playing him for a while.
“It seemed like he followed me. I follow him during the games, he follows me to the division.”
The trade that sent Hopkins and a draft pick from Houston to Arizona in exchange for running back David Johnson and two picks helped to make the Cardinals contenders in the NFC West.
Hopkins and quarterback Kyler Murray are connecting on 74.8% of passes. That includes the desperation, 43-yard heave that the 6-foot-1, 212-pound Hopkins took away from three Buffalo defenders for a winning touchdown in Week 10.
“When Kyler needs a play, he feels confident in finding DeAndre,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury told L.A. writers.
The late-game play against Buffalo showed what the Rams are up against.
Said Johnson of how to play Hopkins: “I think you’ve just got to challenge him. He’s a good 50-50 ball catcher, so you’ve definitely got to get up there and challenge him.”
Johnson also sounded happy to leave that to Ramsey. The safety said: “That’s his job, that’s going to be his duty. I think we all know that.”
After playing less than 70% of defensive snaps in Sunday’s loss to San Francisco because he injured a hip in warmups, Ramsey said Friday he’s “all good.”
Ramsey won’t cover Hopkins exclusively. Ramsey’s use in the wide-ranging “star” position gives him other responsibilities on some plays. The Rams will mix it up in order not to be predictable, meaning Darious Williams and Troy Hill will get Hopkins sometimes.
But Hopkins will mostly be Ramsey’s responsibility in what he says is mostly a friendly rivalry.
“We’ve got a mutual respect,” Ramsey said. “We can be cool outside of the field. But when it’s time to play, when it’s time to buckle our chin straps and go make plays for our team, we’re both not going to hold nothing back. We’re going to compete to the highest level there is. That’s respecting your opponent and respecting the game at the same time.
“We’re cool. But on Sunday we won’t be.”
The Rams declared outside linebacker Terrell Lewis out of Sunday’s game at Arizona, the second straight game and sixth overall the rookie will have missed with knee problems. Defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day (hip) is questionable. …
Coach Sean McVay indicated outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo will be activated and play Sunday after five games on injured reserve with an elbow sprain, and defensive end Derek Rivers is ready to make his Rams debut two weeks after being claimed on waivers. …
Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald remained on the COVID-19 list Friday and appeared likely to miss a second straight game. …
The Rams returned to Thousand Oaks for practice Friday, a day after they practiced at SoFi Stadium for the first time during the season to get out of heavy wind. McVay was asked if he has pressed Rams management on getting an indoor-outdoor training facility. “Those are definitely conversations that I’ve had, but I’m also understanding of with the stadium being delayed, all the different things with COVID, that puts everything else at a little bit of a standstill,” he said. “(I) understand that we’re still at least a couple years away from being able to get those things done just based on everything that has to occur.”
Colleted By: ocregister.com