Welcome back a new edition of All In the Cards! This week the Cardinals high-flying offense faces its first formidable defense of the season in the St. Louis Rams. For whatever reason, the Rams play 10x better when they face a division opponent than when they face everyone else. This week I’ll go in-depth on how the Rams present a huge challenge and how the offense may have to change things up if they want to move to 4-0. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Without further ado, let’s see how these two teams stack up against each other:
St. Louis Rams @ Arizona Cardinals
Last Meetings: W 31-14 vs. St. Louis (11/9/14) & W 12-6 @ St. Louis (12/11/14)
If there is one thing that I’m more passionate about than the Arizona Cardinals, it’s statistics. However, I’m pretty sure by now most of you have heard about Arizona’s historic offensive start to the season so I’m not going to delve much into the numbers. My only comment (because of course there had to be at least one) is that 126 points is a lot regardless of it being the first three games, the middle three games, or the last three games. In addition to the praise, it has also been noted many times that the Cardinals’ offensive explosion came against three of the worst defenses in the NFL. I’d question grouping the 49ers defense with the porous Bears and Saints defenses but I can concede that the San Francisco defense is much worse than it has been in awhile.
That’s what makes this game against the Rams so intriguing. There’s no doubting that the Cards have a great offense, but just how great is it? Is it really going to challenge single-season scoring records? (nope) Can it win games if the Cardinals defense is playing badly? (that is something we probably won’t find out for awhile) Can it face heavy defensive pressure and step up their game to overcome it? That last one is what we will find out this week.
The Rams defense is 11th in the NFL in points allowed, giving up 22.3 points a game. In addition, St. Louis is only giving up 202.3 passing yards a game, which is tied for seventh best. This will definitely be the first big test for a Cards offense that is first in scoring (42 points a game) and ninth in passing yards (266.3 yards per game).
However, the biggest test will be at the line of scrimmage where the Cardinals offensive line (league-low one sack allowed) battles a Rams defensive line that has 13 sacks already on the season, tied for second most. I don’t think I need to reiterate just how important keeping Carson Palmer healthy is to the Cardinals success. I also don’t think I need to remind people which defense put Ben Roethlisberger on the shelf for the next several weeks. However, it is worth mentioning that both Palmer and Drew Stanton went down last year against the Rams in separate games. I am well aware that Palmer’s injury was non-contact but it was how they attacked Stanton last season that makes me and every Cardinals fan nervous. Any time they had a chance to hit Stanton, they took it.
Let me state right here that I believe there is nothing wrong with that approach as long as the hits remain legal, which they were most of the time. However, recognizing that a defense is going to be aggressively attacking your quarterback puts a lot of pressure on your offensive play-calling. There will likely be less passes downfield so as to limit having Palmer stand around and get hit. Instead, I expect more screen passes and run plays (the Rams have given up 122.7 yards per game on the ground).
It will probably result in the Cardinals’ lowest point total of the season, but luckily the Cards won’t need to score a lot to beat the Rams. The Cardinals 47 points against the 49ers are only three less than the 50 points the Rams have scored all year. With the exception of an inspired performance against the Seahawks, new quarterback Nick Foles has been abysmal and the promising running game hasn’t been able to function thus putting even more pressure on Foles.
With that being said there are still two potential problems facing the Arizona defense: overconfidence in their own performance and the fact that the Rams play so much better against NFC West teams.
This Cardinals team has enough hardy veterans that the locker room should prevent a potential letdown game. The worry actually comes from the same secondary that jumped routes against the 49ers and ended up scoring multiple touchdowns. Tyrann Mathieu said after the game that he and the other defensive backs were able to recognize the 49ers play call right from the snap and thus were able to get in position to pick off the pass. This happened because the 49ers limited the offensive playbook to make Colin Kaepernick more comfortable. It also made them very predictable and thus ineffective. The problem here is that the Rams know that. Thus they could run a play they’ve run one way all season and run it another way to trick an overzealous defensive back and get a long touchdown on blown coverage. Here’s to hoping that the Cards secondary anticipate this and take fewer risks.
The Rams performance against NFC West teams is the one variable out of Arizona’s control and honestly the whole situation is hard for me to explain. There are so many statistical differences between the Rams team that faced the Seahawks and the Rams team that faced the Redskins and Steelers that you would swear they were two different teams. Of all the statistical differences, the one that stood out the most was third down conversion. The Rams converted 6 of 11 third downs against Seattle, and 4 of 22 third downs against the Steelers and Redskins. If the Cards can stop the Rams on third down and run the ball effectively, they’ll have a great shot at reaching 4-0.
Prediction: Arizona 27, St. Louis 16
If you have Larry Fitzgerald, you might as well start him as the Rams are one of the few teams he has dominated throughout his career, even when he had bad quarterbacks. Coming into this season, Fitzgerald has hauled in 138 catches for 1,631 yards and 16 touchdowns against the Rams during his career. The catches and touchdowns are the most he has had against an opposing team while the receiving yards ranks second. If he’s truly back then bet on history repeating itself, even if he draws extra secondary attention. Now you might call me crazy, but the best play for the Rams this week is their Defense/Special Teams. Normally you wouldn’t start any defense against a historically-great scoring offense, but it’s about the intangibles. Expect at least one interception and/or fumble recovery and don’t be surprised if they’re able to rack up 3-5 sacks. That might not sound overwhelming but I just don’t see anyone on the Rams offense who would make a safer bet.
NFl Week 4 Predictions:
- Baltimore 23, Pittsburgh 17: I wanted to give up on the Ravens but the matchup (Steelers on a short week and playing their first game without Ben Roethlisberger) was too good to pass up. I’ll give credit to Michael Vick, he did an adequate job filling in at quarterback. It’s hard for a quarterback who came in just a month ago to run an offense as intricate as Todd Haley’s scheme. However, there’s no doubt this game would have been too far out of reach for a Ravens comeback if Big Ben was on the field.
- New York Jets 29, Miami 13: The Dolphins have been one of the biggest disappointments early in the season and I don’t see things getting much better. The Dolphins have given up 435 rushing yards so far this season so Chris Ivory, who should be back for this game, is poised for a big fantasy day.
- Atlanta 26, Houston 16: Depending on your thoughts about the Eagles, this is possibly Atlanta’s first easy game of the season. Sure the Texans are coming off their first win of the season, but Atlanta finally has good professional football again and I expect the Georgia Dome to be rocking.
- Buffalo 27, New York Giants 23: The fact that I think the Giants are by far the best team in the NFC East (at least as long as Tony Romo is out) should show how much I believe in this Bills team. It looks like Rex Ryan is still one of the best coaches in the NFL; he just needed a change of scenery.
- Oakland 24, Chicago 10: As of the time I am writing this, I’m under the impression Jimmy Clausen will be the Bears starting quarterback. Even if Cutler plays I doubt he’ll be 100% and the Bears need him 100% to beat a feisty Raiders team that is finally starting to see progress under Jack Del Rio. Could be another big day for Derek Carr against a bad Bears secondary.
- Cincinnati 24, Kansas City 20: The Bengals made a statement last week that they are still a threat in the AFC and I think they reinforce that with a win against the Chiefs. Also I think Kansas City still has a good team and time to turn things around from a 1-3 start. They’ve just had a tough schedule up to this point. They should be able to rebound during their next four games.
- Indianapolis 38, Jacksonville 17: You finally got a win Indianapolis so that monkey is off your back. Now it is time to dominate an inferior opponent at home. I’m not asking you to put up 51 points on the Jaguars like the Patriots did, but you should come away from the game feeling like you had complete control.
- Washington 23, Philadelphia 20: Despite the loss last Thursday against the Giants, I remain impressed by how competitive the Redskins have been so far this season. I literally have no other basis for this pick other than thinking Eagles will probably choke away this game in the fourth quarter.
- Carolina 24, Tampa Bay 13: Normally having your next game be at Seattle would be a potential distraction from your current game, especially against the Buccaneers. However, the schedule-makers blessed the Panthers with a bye week between this game and the Seattle game so there shouldn’t be any distractions or looking ahead.
- San Diego 27, Cleveland 17: I’ll be honest; I have no idea what to think of this matchup. The Browns in particular really confuse me and I have no idea what to expect from them. I know what I’m getting from Philip Rivers and the Chargers so I’ll side with consistency and pick the Chargers.
- Denver 20, Minnesota 13: Is it too late to flex this game to Sunday night? This should be a really great game but with Peyton Manning starting to get his form back and the Broncos defense continuing to wreck havoc on opposing offenses, I’ll go with the home team.
- Green Bay 38, San Francisco 13: Although they haven’t scored as many points as the Cardinals, even I have to concede that the best NFC offense goes to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. If Pittsburgh put up 43 points and Arizona put up 47 points against the 49ers defense, how many will the Packers score?
- New Orleans 23, Dallas 17: I originally picked the Cowboys, but with signs indicating that Drew Brees will back I decided to switch. Even if he doesn’t start, Luke McCown wasn’t terrible in his place so the Saints have a good shot at this one with either quarterback.
- Seattle 19, Detroit 13: While I wasn’t overly impressed by the Seahawks in their win against Chicago, I have been impressed by the Lions for the wrong reasons. Maybe if this wasn’t Monday night you could have talked me into the Seahawks looking ahead to their matchup with Cincinnati next week but I see no plausible way they lose this game.