Nov 2, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) throws in the pocket against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Heading into the regular season, few, if any, outside of Arizona would have picked the Cardinals to be holding the NFC’s best record at the halfway mark. Even fewer would have guessed that the Rams would upset both the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks in a three week span, with a chance to improve to 3-1 in divisional play after this weekend. So far, the Arizona Cardinals have greatly benefitted from the St. Louis Rams’ success within the division, with each ‘9ers and Seahawks loss extending their lead in the NFC West. This week, they’ll need to knock Jeff Fisher and Co. off their “streak,” or risk getting caught from behind in the race for conference and divisional supremacy. In order for the Rams to upset, they’ll need to be hitting on all cylinders. Here are our five keys of victory on Sunday:
Rams sticking with the run on offense, even if only moderately successful
Last week, despite the win, the St. Louis Rams offense ranged anywhere from stagnant, at best, to implosive, at worst. The only “highlight” of the day might have been Tre Mason, who rushed for 65 yards on 19 carries, including a breakaway 21 yard gain in the opening half. Mason was even more impressive in his first “start” against the Seahawks top ranked run defense, carving his way for 85 yards, averaging 4.7 yards per attempt. The Arizona Cardinals are arguably the best run stopping defense in the NFL this season. Somehow, someway, the Rams need to find a way to stay two-dimensional on the field.
Keep Austin Davis upright
The San Francisco 49ers turned up the presser on Austin Davis last week, and he did no respond well. The rookie had arguably his worst career performance, throwing two inexcusable interception, and missing a number of open receivers that had a clear path to a touchdown. Luckily, the Cardinals are one of the worst in the league at “hitting home” on their pass rushing attempts, having recorded only 8.0 total sacks on the year (i.e. the number of sacks the Rams recorded last weekend alone). The key to moving the ball will likely involve a dink-and-dunk type of offense and allowing St. Louis’ playmakers to work against the Cardinals surprisingly-underperforming secondary. However, if Austin Davis is regularly on his back, he’ll likely resort to more drastic throws down the field, which is not a good idea against the Cardinals…
Get pressure on Carson Palmer
Robert Quinn and the St. Louis Rams pass rush have essentially made a name for themselves on a foundation laid in dominating performances over the Arizona Cardinals offensive line. This year, that re-vamped Arizona line has only allowed seven sacks (tied for 7th-fewest) and nine hits on the quarterback (tied for 5th-fewest). If the Rams don’t want Larry Fitzgerald to have a field day on their young secondary, they will need to drastically increase those Cardinals’ “pressures allowed” totals.
Don’t give up “the big play” in the secondary
Last week, the St. Louis Rams showed they had learned from their mistake in their previous game against the San Francisco 49ers by allowing only two passes of 20+ yards, with none over 30 yards. As a result, the 49ers managed only 263 yards of total offense on the day, which resulted in a meager 10 points. The Cardinals are, statistically, even less explosive than the 49ers. If the secondary can find a way to keep the arsenal of Arizona receivers in check, they should be able to keep the opposing offense under 20 points and be in good position to win the football game.
“Win” on special teams
On paper, the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals are seemingly “built” to cancel each other out. Rams run heavy offense vs. the Cardinals run dominate defense. Arizona’s efficient offensive line vs. St. Louis’ recently-monsterous defensive line. Rams inability to stop the run vs. Cardinals inability to get anything going on the ground. Cardinals above-average passing attack vs. Rams above-average secondary (6th-fewest yards and 4th-fewest touchdowns allowed). The difference in the game could come down to special teams, where the Rams should be favored. Johnny Hekker is unquestionably leading a better punting unit than Drew Butler, Benny Cunningham is smoking Ted Ginn Jr. in kick return average, and the Cardinals haven’t had a decent punt return against a respectable team since their season opener against the San Diego Chargers.