ST. LOUIS — Building momentum for next season was on the St. Louis Rams' minds as they prepared to play the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Rams' slim playoff hopes were all but dashed with a 23-13 loss to the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday, and now they need to win their four remaining games just to avoid the team's 10th consecutive non-winning season.
"I just want us to finish out this season strong collectively as a group," Rams tight end Jared Cook said. "We've been saying all year that we have a lot of talent in this room and we have guys in here that (can) make an impact in this league.
"I think we can still make some things happen and prove to the world what we can do. Not only that, but it's a good transition into next season and just what kind of team that we can have and the good things we can do with the guys in this room. We just have to keep pushing."
Cook is the Rams' leading receiver with 40 catches for 557 yards and four touchdowns, but the team's passing attack has taken a back seat to its ground game in recent weeks with the emergence of rookie running back Zac Stacy.
"I'm fine with it because we needed that aspect of our game to open up," Cook said. "We needed that running game. After those first few games, we saw that you can't pass the ball all game, especially that Dallas game.
"It was an eye-opener. You can't pass the ball 40 times a game and have no running threat."
The Rams ran for 114 yards last week against the 49ers -- that includes minus-5 yards on a failed fake punt -- but they struggled to move the ball through the air.
Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens completed 19 of 37 passes for 218 yards. Those numbers were skewed by at least six dropped throws by his receiving corps.
Clemens said he remains confident in his receivers.
"The only thing that I've said is drops are going to happen," Clemens said. "You're not going to catch all of them. That's just part of the game. It happens. I haven't lost a bit of confidence in any of these guys and we'll get back going. It's one game.
"I think sometimes people have a tendency to overreact to either drops or to losses, poor performance by the quarterback. We'll get back in the saddle this week and get back to it."
The Cardinals have lost three straight to the Rams, who trailed by 11 points in their season-opener before rallying for two fourth-quarter touchdowns to post a 27-24 win.
Arizona ranks seventh in the NFL in defense. It will be the eighth opponent ranked in the Top 10 that the Rams have faced this season.
The Rams still must face New Orleans' No. 8-ranked defense and Seattle's No. 1-ranked defense.
"We'll work on the seventh this week, and then go from there," Clemens said. "It's some great opportunities for us to kind of see where we measure up and hopefully this week we do better than last week."
The Cardinals have 34 sacks this season, just three less than the Rams.
Arizona outside linebacker John Abraham has eight sacks in his last six games, giving him 130 for career, the most among active players.
"They're bringing a lot of pressure, bringing a lot of pressure from the linebackers," Clemens said. "Every once in a while they bring everybody. They've played more 'zero coverage' where everybody's in man and there's no post safety in the middle of the field. They've played, I think, a higher percentage of that than we've seen from any other opponent. They're pinning their ears back and coming.
"It's a high-risk, high-reward mentality and we've got, obviously, the playmakers on the outside where if they can make these guys miss one tackle, then it's a house call."
The Rams' offensive line will undergo more changes this week.
Tim Barnes will be taking over for an injured Scott Wells at center and Harvey Dahl might return at right guard after a four-game absence because of a knee injury.
"Harvey brings an attitude and a toughness that we really appreciate about him," Clemens said. "Obviously, he's a veteran guy with a lot of experience, but he plays the position with a mindset that, especially as a quarterback, you really appreciate.
"You go back to when Sam (Bradford) got hurt, Harvey was going to hurt somebody -- and we're glad that he didn't - but you appreciate that mindset as a quarterback in an offensive lineman."
Quarterback Carson Palmer has keyed the Cardinals' offense, connecting on 62.8 percent of his passes for 3,189 yards with 19 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
Palmer, who has posted three straight 300-yard games, is expected to play against the Rams despite a sore throwing elbow that limited him in practice this week.
"What Carson Palmer has done is brought consistent play at quarterback, and that's what they were missing," Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis said.
Wide receiver Michael Floyd leads the Cardinals in receiving yards with 860 yards, but fellow receiver Larry Fitzgerald remains the team's most dangerous offensive threat with nine touchdowns.
Fizgerald's 15 touchdown catches against the Rams are most by any active player against any team.
"He's big and he has phenomenal hands and he runs crisp routes," Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said of 30-year-old Fitzgerald. "He's kind of like a machine out three. You can know what kind of routes he's going to run and you can try to set him up, but he'll just big-body you away from the ball."
The Cardinals are 5-1 at University of Phoenix Stadium this season. They've won three straight at home.
The flip side is that the Cardinals have lost eight straight games against NFC West foes since last year's season-opening win over Seattle.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.