Setting the Stage
This week one matchup, from a Cards perspective, is a great way to rip the training wheels off and see how this revamped Cardinals team performs.
Last season, the Cardinals found no success against Jeff Fisher’s team, losing both matchups. Also worth noting, St Louis was the first team to defeat the Cardinals in the 2012 season after the Birdgang started 4-0.
But this isn’t the same Cardinals team that ended the season 5-11 after that hot start. With new faces all around, Arizona hopes an active offseason leads to success on the football field.
Among those new faces are veteran QB Carson Palmer and new head coach Bruce Arians. If the duo can bring credibility to a Cardinals offense that was the league’s worst in yards last season, Arizona could be a team to beat in 2013.
The Cards begin their campaign in St Louis to take on Sam Bradford and the Rams.
Calais Campbell / John Abraham vs. Jake Long
Since being drafted at number one overall in 2008, few, if any offensive lineman have been more consistent then former Dolphin Jake Long. The biggest free agent acquisition for the Rams in 2013, a lot of eyes will be on Long regardless of his matchup to see how he performs in new colors.
He’ll have a cloying task ahead of him as he will be standing in between DE Calais Campbell and QB Sam Bradford. Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles should try to throw as many exotic looks at Long as possible, including ones that bring active sacks leader John Abraham into the action. While Abraham is third on depth chart, he should see plenty of action on passing downs.
If Long can be exploited in any way, Sam Bradford will have a long day ahead of him, with most of it spent picking turf out of his facemask.
Michael Floyd vs. Janoris Jenkins
In camp and the preseason, Carson Palmer’s favorite target was not veteran Larry Fitzgerald, but instead sophomore Michael Floyd. Fitz will almost certainly get his catches, but constantly throwing to No. 11 is an uninspired offensive approach, and an easy way to get him injured.
Enter Michael Floyd, who gets to face fellow second year starter in Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins got the best of the Cardinals in 2013, combining for 6 passes defensed, and two pick-sixes in the Week 12 matchup. You can bet that the Cardinals hold something of a grudge against him.
With former Pro Bowl corner Cortland Finnegan smothering Fitzgerald all game, expect Carson Palmer to keep his eyes open for his number two in Floyd.
Special Teams Units
I could sing the praises for the explosive return ability of Arizona’s Patrick Peterson. Instead, I’ll have Cardinals Spanish Radio Network commentator Gabriel Trujillo do it for me, as he calls Peterson’s punt return to tie the single season NFL record for punt return TDs.
Earlier in that same 2011 season, the then-rookie cornerback returned a punt 99 yards in overtime to win the game 19-13.
The fact that both of those touchdowns occurred against the Rams gives me a compelling reason to hold my breath every time Jeff Fisher even juggles with the idea of punting to No. 21.
Card’s Run D vs. Rams Run Game
This matchup is the one I’m most interested in, and I think the result will ultimately decide the victor.
The Cardinals biggest weakness on the defensive side of the ball last season was rush defense. While the pass defense allowed the fifth-FEWEST yards in the NFL, the Cardinals’ rush defense allowed the fifth-MOST.
With Pro-Bowl linebacker Daryl Washington out due to suspension, a lot will ride on the shoulders of rookie Kevin Minter and newcomer Jasper Brinkley. They’ll look to stifle a largely unproven corps of Rams running backs, who have a combined 108 carries for 529 yards and no touchdowns in the NFL.
By the Numbers
Arizona 2013 Record: 5-11
St Louis 2013 Record: 7-8-1
St Louis swept the Cardinals in 2012, 17-3 in Week 5 and 31-17 in Week 12. In 2011, however, the Cards swept the Rams, 19-13 in Week 9 and 23-20 in Week 12.
All-time series: Tied 20-20 in the regular season, but the Rams were victorious when the two teams met in their lone 1975 NFC divisional matchup.
Vegas betting line: St Louis is the 4.5 point favorite
When I browse all the sports media outlets, it astonishes me that the Rams are such overwhelming favorites. I really like what Fisher has done to the St Louis franchise, but this game feels tailored to the Cardinals’ strengths as a team. Here’s my (optimistically biased) prediction for the game.
The Rams will instantly feel the void left by Steven Jackson, as the run game fails to get going. After falling behind to an early deficit, the running game is abandoned in favor of the pass, causing Bradford to force some throws into an elite pass defense unit. Bradford scores a couple, but also gets picked several times in the process.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, will come hot out the gate, with two quick Carson Palmer deep balls thrown perfectly behind aggressive corners Finnegan and Jenkins. The run game adds another late, and Jay Feely contributes a field goal off of a Patrick Peterson interception to widen the gap. The Cards defensive unit faces incredible pressure late, but ultimately holds up, with an emphatic fourth down stop to win the game.
Bradford’s late rally proves to be not enough, as the Arizona Cardinals squeak out with the win, ARI 24-21 STL.
I encourage you to also check out isportsweb’s own Josue Zamora’s preview of the game, from a St Louis Rams perspective.