The St. Louis Rams have lost two of three games and now will try to slow down one of the NFL’s hottest teams in the 3-0 Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Here’s a look at five things to watch (noon; TV-Fox Channel 2; Radio-WXOS-101.1 FM).
1. The Rams offense has struggled against practically everyone. How can it dent one of the NFL’s top defenses?
Arizona’s opportunistic defense has seven interceptions in three games and returned three of those for touchdowns. The Cardinals have scored 41 points off turnovers and are facing a Rams’ rushing attack that ranks 29th out of 32 teams with an average of 71.3 yards per game. If the Rams ever needed a ground game, this is the day because Arizona’s ball-hawking secondary will have a big day if quarterback Nick Foles is forced to play from behind.
2. Can the Rams’ elite pass rush negate or contain patient and efficient Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer?
The rejuvenated and healthy Palmer is 16-2 in his last 18 starts and has won nine in a row. He has been sacked only once through three games but is facing a Rams team tied for first in the NFL with 13 sacks. The Rams need to be in Palmer’s face all day or risk getting picked apart by Larry Fitzgerald and company. Despite the Rams’ fierce pass rush, opposing teams are completing just over 81 percent of their passes them. Not a good sign with Palmer as hot as he’s been at any time in his career.
3. Will the Rams find a way to consistently move the ball on offense?
Rookie running back Todd Gurley gives the Rams a potential home-run threat in the ground game that wasn’t there before. Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham add depth, but the ineffective and inexperienced offensive line continues to bog things down whether the team is running or throwing. Pass protection remains iffy at best and second-year left tackle Greg Robinson has struggled at times. The return of receiver Brian Quick adds another big target, but Kenny Britt was slowed by a shoulder injury and tight ends Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks remain inconsistent at best.
4. How will the Cardinals deal with the Rams’ all-pro pass rushing tandem of Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald?
This should be an interesting matchup because the Cardinals have a strong left tackle in Jared Veldheer and Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati is expected to make his debut after coming over in free agency from the 49ers. Iupati had been out while recuperating from minor knee surgery. That should give the Cardinals’ line a bit more bulk, but the aggressive blitz schemes of Rams defensive coordinator were extremely effective last week while helping hold a powerful Pittsburgh offense to only 12 points. This should be a fun battle to watch.
5. Who wins the battle between Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins?
These two rivals have squared off before with varying results. Fitzgerald is one of the hottest receivers in the NFL and has caught five of the nine TD passes thrown by Palmer this season. He also is coming off back-to-back 100-yard receiving games and has more catches (23), yards (333) and TDs (five) through three games than at any time in his career. Jenkins held Fitzgerald to seven catches for 30 yards in their last meeting, but that was when Palmer was injured. When Palmer was healthy during Arizona’s 31-4 win over the Rams in their first meeting last season, Fitzgerald had nine catches for 112 yards.