The St. Louis Rams will host their second division game in a row when the undefeated Arizona Cardinals come to town for a primetime matchup on NFL Networks Thursday Night Football. Thursday nights game is probably the only time the Rams will find themselves on primetime football this season, although things could change due to the NFL’s flexible scheduling policy. The odds makers have made the Arizona Cardinals a 1 point favorite in this game, which is no surprise given their perfect record and knack for playing in close games dating back to the 2011 season. The Rams are going to need to continue to win at home if they want to be in the race for a playoff spot this season, especially since they play only 7 true home games this year with the game at Wembly Stadium against the Patriots. So how do the Rams stack up against the division leading Cardinals?
Offense. The St. Louis Rams offense has definitely had its ups and downs this season, injuries to Steven Jackson and the offensive line are a big factor in their inconsistency, but the new offensive system also contributes to that as the players are still learning the playbook. Statistically speaking the Rams are the 17th ranked total offense according to NFL.com’s statistics, which ranks the Cardinals as the 25th total offense in the NFL. The Rams and Cardinals are both dealing with injuries along the offensive line which has limited their offensive production. Statistically speaking the Rams and Cardinals are actually fairly even in most categories, with the biggest advantage for the Rams being in the 3rd down conversion category where they actually lead the division at 38%. The Rams would appear to have the advantage at the Quarterback and Runningback positions, while the Cardinals have a decided advantage at wide receiver thanks to all world receiver Larry Fitzgerald. In this game I don’t expect either offense to really break out and win the game so I would give the Rams only a very slight advantage by virtue of their 3rd down conversion rating.
Defense. This game will feature two stout defenses that have each been the primary factor in their teams success so far this season. The Rams and Cardinals have the 14th and 17th overall defenses according to NFL.com’s statistics. Again the statistics are very close in most statistical categories except for the 3rd down conversion percentage, which the Rams have the edge allowing only 31% versus the 34% that the Cardinals are allowing. The Cardinals have the advantage in points allowed per game(15.2 vs 22.8) and yards per rushing attempt (3.6 vs 4.7). Hopefully with Brockers in his second game the defense will improve on both of those numbers as he gets more comfortable and makes an impact on the interior of the line. Overall each of these teams is difficult to move the ball against, and they both also excel at turning the football over with the Cardinals having forced 10 turnovers versus 8 for the Rams. The defenses both appear ready to make their presence felt and turn this game into a battle of special teams and field position with neither team having a decided defensive advantage.
Special Teams. The special teams play could be the single biggest difference maker in this game. Each team has their own special teams weapon that can turn the game in their favor. For the Arizona Cardinals it is none other than Patrick Peterson which to a Rams fan requires no further explanation. His punt return touchdowns against the Rams last year were the difference maker in two close games and the Rams need to be prepared for his explosive ability. The St. Louis Rams have their own young special teams superstar in Greg Zuerlein. The rookie kicker has opened this season 12-12 with a franchise record 60 yarder against the Seahawks in the Edward Jones Dome. In a game that may be decided by a field goal or less having a kicker like Zuerlein on your team has to make both the offense and defense feel much more relaxed. The Arizona Cardinals have also yet to miss a field goal this season as they are 7-7 with a long of 47 yards, so although Zuerlein has been incredible he isn’t the only kicker capable of making an impact in this game. The Cardinals do hold the advantage in net punting yard average (42.9 vs 39.4), with 9 punts downed inside the 20 yard line already, as well as average yards per punt return (10 vs 8.2). The slight edge in special teams goes the St. Louis Rams by virtue of having a kicker who is in range as soon as they cross midfield.
Overall this should be another tough game that comes down to the final minutes and possibly one final play. If the Rams can contain Larry Fitzgerald on offense and Patrick Peterson on returns they have a great shot to come away with another victory and surpass the win total from the 2011 season. Jeff Fisher will have them ready to go on a short week and on the national stage. My prediction is that the running game finally gets something going to help ease the pressure on Bradford and open up the play action, and the St. Louis Rams knock off the undefeated Cardinals and stay perfect at home 16 - 12 as Zuerlein is once again the Rams leading scorer.