Setting the stage
Bruce Arians and the Arizona Cardinals are looking to let off some steam after sketchy officiating cost them a chance to beat the Philadelphia Eagles in week 13. The Rams don’t promise to go down easy, however. Despite having a losing record at 5-7, Jeff Fisher’s team defeated the Cardinals to open the 2013 season.
Both teams are completely different now than they were to open season, with elements both better and worse.
St Louis may have the most marquee difference, as franchise quarterback Sam Bradford has been out with injury for a couple weeks, being replaced by veteran backup Kellen Clemens.
Not all is bad for the Rams, though. Rookies Zac Stacy and Tavon Austin have stepped up their play lately, and along with the Cardinal killer Jared Cook comprise a dangerous set of weapons for Clemens to work with against the staunch Arizona defense.
That may be easier said than done. Since their week one meeting, Arizona is 7-4, with Carson Palmer and Rashard Mendenhall hitting their strides after slow starts to the season for both of them. Pro Bowl linebacker Daryl Washington will also be in the lineup after missing the first meeting due to suspension.
Here are a few matchups to watch.
Tyrann Mathieu vs Tavon Austin
In 2011, the LSU Tigers faced off against the Mountaineers of West Virginia, with Tyrann Mathieu and Tavon Austin head to head. In that matchup, Tavon Austin caught a game-high 187 yards on 11 catches, but Tyrann Mathieu intercepted a pass intended for Austin, with LSU winning the game 47-21.
That’s not to say the situations around the two players are similar to their meeting in college, but there is a hint of familiarity between the two players, and as the saying goes, that breeds contempt. This matchup will be a particularly fun matchup to watch in this game, and for years to come.
Jared Cook vs Daryl Washington
Arizona’s struggles against the pass catching tight end have continued all season long, a problem that Daryl Washington was supposed to alleviate, in theory.
D-Wash wasn’t present in the week one matchup, and I hypothesized that Cook’s big night was a result of his absence. Well, Cook hasn’t been the only tight end to light up Arizona, so consider my hypothesis disproved.
Nonetheless, something needs to happen against opposing tight ends if the Cards want to consider themselves an elite defense. Whether its D-Wash, Mathieu or Patrick Peterson, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles needs to find an answer in his personnel, or else a repeat of week one could be imminent.
Larry Fitzgerald vs Janoris Jenkins
In week one, I highlighted the key matchup between Michael Floyd and Janoris Jenkins, the number-twos, as one of note. With Cortland Finnegan out to injury, Janoris Jenkins gets promoted (?) to the number one, and gets to cover All-Pro wideout Larry Fitzgerald instead.
Even though Floyd has been the hotter hand as of late, it would be foolish for the Rams to forget about Fitzgerald, who still has the ability to take over a ballgame. He is sixth in the NFL with nine touchdown grabs coming into Sunday’s game.
The Cardinals are frustrated after a heartbreaking defeat against the Eagles last week, and have come on strong since their week one loss. The Rams, on the other hand, have a few feathers in their 2013 cap, but still have regressed to their mean as a team that’s not ready to take that next step. Arizona is, and this win goes a long way to keeping them in contention. All that combined with the fact that the game is in Glendale, I think Arizona is primed for career days out of several players en route to a rout, ARZ 30-3 STL.
Kickoff is Sunday, December 8th, at 4:25 ET on Fox from University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.