Excuse me for rhetorically asking, “Are you ready for some football?” Your St. Louis Rams will come rumbling through the tunnels of the Edwards Jones Dome Sunday to take on a much improved Arizona Cardinals team looking to get some payback. Last season the Rams swept the Cardinals and ending their 4 game winning streak in a breakout game for the defense where they recorded a franchising tying 9 sacks in their first meeting. Both teams have gone through a complete makeover in the offseason looking to free the NFC West crown from the grips of San Francisco and Seattle.
What makes for one of the best games on opening day, the Rams and Cardinals are chock full of intriguing matchups. Here are three to keep an eye out for:
Rams QB Sam Bradford vs. Cardinals’ defense
The Rams franchise signal caller has had his fair share of trouble with the Cardinals’ stingy defense over the years. Bradford put up pedestrian numbers against the Cardinals 12th-ranked defense going 15 of 38 for 346 yards, 4 TDs and 2 INT. His 39.5 completion percentage against Arizona was the worst amongst any opponent Bradford faced last season. He was also sacked 3 times by the Cardinals. Arizona’s 5th-ranked passing attacked was headlined by the ultra athletic cornerback Patrick Peterson, who has intercepted Bradford 3 times since he’s been in the NFL. His three interceptions on Bradford are the most against any quarterback in the NFL. The Cardinals have Bradford’s number as of late, but now that he’s equipped with better receiving options, it will be interesting to see if he can turn the table.
Rams WR Tavon Austin vs. Cardinals DB Tyrann Mathieu
Two of the most talked about players in the 2013 draft will potentially go head-to-head when Austin is lined up in the slot. The Honey Badger was a playmaker for the Cardinals defense during the preseason tallying 12 solo tackles, a sack and a pass deflection. Mathieu occasionally manned the nickel from his safety position coming off the the edge to blitz or to play man coverage. They likely won’t face each other the entire game as the versatile and quick Austin will be used in multiple formations to create mismatches. Both Austin and Mathieu are considered to be candidates for rookie of the year because of their knack for making big plays. Mathieu’s scrappy style of play against Austin’s speed is a matchup deserves close attention.
Rams LG Chris Williams vs. Cardinals LDE Calais Campbell
At 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds, Calais Campbell is an immovable force on the Cardinals defensive line. In the 3-4 alignment, Campbell will line up on the inside shoulder of Williams. Campbell had a career year in 2011 sacking the quarterback eight times, but he dropped to 6.5 last season after missing three games. His sack total might not wow you, but at his size at a “penetrating” position 6.5 to 8 sacks is a high number. The former first-round tackle for the Bears was in a competitive battle for the left guard position with Shelley Smith that drug out to the final preseason game. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher announced Williams as the starter, but winning the job over Smith shouldn’t be a surprise for a more talented Williams. Williams has his hands full in practice everyday going head-to-head with Michael Brockers. Brockers has been on the winning end, but hopefully the experienced gained guarding Brockers will help Williams against Campbell.