Key Matchups: St Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals


While Rams fans everywhere have been basking in the glory of the road victory against San Francisco last week, it is back to reality as the weekend approaches. St Louis face another divisional away day, this time against the holders of the NFL’s best record, the Arizona Cardinals. Opinion is divided as to how much of a surprise the Cardinals 7-1 first half to the season is, but regardless of preseason expectations the fact remains that Arizona are legitimate contenders in the NFC in 2014. Here is this week’s selection of the key individual battles for the Rams.


The only Cardinal to feature in the current top 40 receivers in the league, Larry Fitzgerald has unquestionably played his part in his team’s success so far this season. A Pro-Bowler in seven of the last nine seasons but only the second offensive player selected from the Cardinals since Kurt Warner in 2008, Fitzgerald has been one of the few strengths on an offensive unit that has arguably held Arizona back from play-off success in the last half-decade or so. With 11 players having run with the ball for the Cardinals this season, not one averaging over 4 yards per carry, the aerial threat posed by Fitzgerald is by far the biggest issue for Gregg Williams and the Rams defence to deal with. Hoping to limit Fitzgerald’s impact on Sunday will be rookie EJ Gaines. With a team-leading 7 passes defended, along with an interception and a fumble recovery, Gaines is proving to be a steal for a 6th round draft. Gaines is currently graded +4.0 on the season by Pro Football Focus, 22nd of 106 cornerbacks and a full 50 spots in the list above last year’s Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan, himself graded at -2.9. Despite their excellent win-loss record, Arizona only ranks 27th in the league in total points scored with 192. While this is still higher than St Louis 30th ranked tally of 149, if Fitzgerald is effectively contained the Rams may not be looking at too high a score required to win. Success for Gaines in this area is essential.


After a two consecutive poor games, it is clear that greater support is needed for Rams quarterback Austin Davis. The fall in Davis’ stock is the reverse of fortunes of number two overall pick, Greg Robinson, who from a slow start and talk of a draft bust has now been on the field for every one of the Rams’ 237 offensive snaps in weeks 6 through 9. Robinson is the future on the Rams offensive line, but in the short-term is also the man to keep Davis upright and give him time to make plays in the remaining weeks of the current season. On the opposite side of the ball with be Arizona’s number 93, Calais Campbell. The 7th year veteran is currently Pro Football Focus’s 4th highest 3-4 defensive end, grading at +16.4. While Campbell is clearly a pass rushing threat with 16 hurries already this season, he also excels against the run. Highlighted by as a key player this coming Sunday, Campbell will be looking to stop Tre Mason, Benny Cunningham and company thereby heaping more pressure on Austin Davis. Greg Robinson was drafted for his overall potential, but also for the immediate impact as a run-blocker. If Robinson can keep Campbell quiet, protect Davis and create channels for the Rams running backs to get through it will be key in getting St Louis downfield and into scoring positions.


This has the potential to be a real mismatch. The diminutive former-LSU safety Mathieu stands 5’9” and gives up 8 inches in height to Rams tight end, Jared Cook. Graded just in the red at -0.1 by PFF, Mathieu has had an average season in 2014 coming off his rookie season which was cut short by injury. In his very first game in the league Mathieu clashed with Cook, causing a fumble which stopped the Rams scoring a certain touchdown as well as turning the ball over to Arizona. If the Rams cannot get the running game going, Davis will be forced to go through the air with Cook likely to see a high percentage of passes coming his way. If Cook can use his height advantage to edge out Mathieu, make those catches and keep the Rams moving downfield it will not only boost Davis’ confidence but provide the Rams with crucial chances to get on the scoreboard. Despite having only two catches last week, Cook’s PFF grading improved from +3.9 to +5.0, retaining his 11th place in the league among tight ends in the process. While Mathieu is no pushover, Cook will look to keep his numbers on the year moving up. If he does so, it could be massive for the Rams chances of handing the Cardinals their second loss of the year.