Three undefeated teams, and the Arizona Cardinals are among them, hoping to improve to 5-0 for the first time since 1974. The St. Louis Rams, 2-2 despite a lot of problems with their offense, are on the verge of their first above .500 start through the first five games since 2006.
On paper, this looks like a win for the Cardinals. They haven’t lost to the Rams in St. Louis since 2004, winning seven straight contests there. Their defense is ranked third in the NFL in points allowed (15.2) and fourth in forcing turnovers (10), including an NFL best six forced fumbles.
When you look at the offensive stats for the Rams – Only 288 offensive yards per game (still more than the Cardinals), with Sam Bradford not throwing a touchdown over the last two games while throwing at least one interception over the last three, there seems to be plenty to worry about, with bad protection not really helping the third year quarterback.
There’s no run support as well. Steven Jackson might be healthy, but he’s gaining only 3.3 yards per carry and still hasn’t scored a single touchdown, while the Cardinals hardly give up anything in run defense, allowing only 101 yards on the ground per game. Jeff Fisher has got to find ways to open gaps for him and Richardson, or this will look very bad for the Rams when it’s all said and done.
And how do the Cardinals get things done? Keeping it simple for Kevin Kolb, and excellent defense. Simply limiting Kolb’s mistakes, and throwing a lot to Larry Fitzgerald. Kolb is completing 62.6% of his passes and has thrown only two interceptions so far this season, along with 7 touchdowns. With or without Beanie Wells there’s no running game, averaging only 68 yards on the ground. The Rams allowed 175 rushing yards last week against Seattle, so the Cardinals should try and use that, either with a no-huddle offense or simply pushing Ryan Williams forward.
The best player on the field is Larry Fitzgerald. The best paid wide receiver in football isn’t putting up huge numbers (22 catches, 245 yards, 2 touchdowns) because this isn’t a team that’s going to put up big numbers. But as long as he’s winning and playing well, he’s happy. Fitzgerlad has dropped only one pass out of the last 187 targets (since the start of last season) the fewest drops in all the NFL. Kolb knows that when throws down the middle and deep, there’s going to be someone to catch it.
But the biggest plus and specialty of the Cardinals is the playmakers on defense – Adrian Wilson, linebacker Daryl Washington who is quietly turning into one of the best in the NFL (3 sacks this season) and Patrick Peterson at corner. They need to try and get some edge pressure on the Rams, who handled the Seahawks’ pass rush very well last week, especially relying on Calais Campbell, the 6’8 defensive end.
Prediction? Not a whole lot of offense, but the Rams’ biggest play maker is their kicker, setting the franchise record for longest field goal twice last week. The Cardinals have just about enough on offense and especially on defense to pull them through another close one.