Week Four Preview: Arizona Cardinals vs Los Angeles Rams

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Sep 25, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy (25) runs the ball and gets tackled by Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Corey Peters (98) in the end zone for a safety during the second half at New Era Field. Bills beat the Cardinals 33-18.
Sep 25, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy (25) runs the ball and gets tackled by Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Corey Peters (98) in the end zone for a safety during the second half at New Era Field. Bills beat the Cardinals 33-18.

Week four will see the Los Angeles Rams take the greatest show on turf to the desert to do battle with the Arizona Cardinals. The NFC West division rivals will face-off as the Cardinals (1-2) chase the Rams (2-1) who sit alone on top of the division. The Cardinals have won four out of the last five matchups in the series between the two teams; with the Rams beating the Cardinals in Arizona last year. Sunday’s game figures to be a tough and intense contest with plenty of excitement.

Performance does not always directly correlate with talent. Sometimes the most talented teams do not always perform their best. That was the case last week as the Cardinals struggled on both offense and defense. They went to Buffalo and executed very poorly. The Cardinals are now tied with the San Francisco 49ers for last place in the division. It is too early to start worrying but the result of Sunday’s game could have major implications on their season and be telling about where this team is heading.


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Game Information

In week four of the regular season, the Arizona Cardinals come back home for a matchup with the Los Angeles Rams at University of Phoenix Stadium this Sunday, October Second. Kickoff will take place at 1:25 p.m. MST (3:25 CST) on what should be a beautiful sunny afternoon with an expected temperature of 91 degrees. Those looking to watch the game from the cheap seats at home, will find it televised on FOX stations. Check your local listings.

What to expect

The Cardinals will be hoping to bounce back and play with a purpose on Sunday. This is a veteran team that will put last week behind them. Look for the Cardinals to come out prepared and ready to take on a poor Rams’ offensive that has had difficulty finding the end zone this season. Arizona will need to show up with their A-game or they will get beat — any team can win on any given Sunday in the NFL. Usually the team that wants it more gets it.

A lot will be on the line this week, especially for the Cardinals where a loss could very well mean the end of their season. If they hope to be serious NFC West contenders and have a shot at the postseason, Sunday’s game is a must-win situation. Arizona cannot afford to start the season 1-3 and expect to have a chance at making the playoffs.

The Cardinals will need to come out strong while attempting to get off to a quick start. They have yet to score in the first quarter all season and can’t continue to play from behind if they are going to win games. Look for Palmer to rebound after one of the worst performance of his career last week and attempt to get going early. The Cardinals have been a solid passing team, ranking 11th, but could be better despite averaging 274 yards per game. Palmer has been efficient throwing for 862 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions through three games. He has continued to show great rapport with Larry Fitzgerald who has caught three of Palmer’s five touchdown passes. The combo should be on target for another big afternoon this Sunday.

Overall Arizona’s defense ranks ninth overall and sixth against the pass, holding the Bills to just 89 yards passing last week. The Cardinals have struggled against the run, however, and rank 28th after last week’s gashing, where they gave up 208 yards on the ground, ballooning their average rushing yards allowed from 96.5 to 133 per game. Defensively, Arizona will try to shut down the run while being aggressive with their pass rush to put pressure on Case Keenum and force him into committing mistakes. Keenum figures to struggle against the Cardinals’ strong secondary as he has had turnover issues in the past. The Rams could be in for a long afternoon against an Arizona defense loaded with playmakers.

The Rams are fresh off of a spirited road win in Tampa and are hoping to keep things rolling when they head to Arizona in week four. The Rams have won their last two games after losing miserably in their season opener and finally scored their first touchdown of the season last week. Offensively, Los Angeles ranks 32nd in offense, averaging just 15.3 points per game — good enough for 29th in the league.

The Rams have not been very strong on offense and are especially weak at quarterback. Fans have been waiting for a chance to see the NFL’s 2016 first-overall pick, Jared Goff, in action. They have been particularly enticed by the recent performances of Goff’s rookie counterparts — Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott and Jacoby Brissett. It appears that fans will have to wait a little longer to get a look at him; no timetable has been given for a possible start by Goff. Rams’ Head Coach, Jeff Fisher, has said the plan is to bring Goff along before starting him and let him gain experience watching and preparing to play first.

The Cardinals have struggled against the run lately and were gouged by the Bills last week for 208 yards. If the Rams are able to get the ground game going it could take some of the pressure off of Keenum and allow him to create bigger plays downfield. Expect a heavy dose of Todd Gurley on Sunday as he will be Los Angeles’ workhorse on offense. So far Gurley has not gotten off to the hot start most had expected, as the one-man wrecking crew ranks just 18th in rushing yards with 183 through three games to the tune of a 2.9 yards per carry average.

Arizona Head Coach, Bruce Arians, has not been satisfied with his team’s play up to this point. The Cardinals have been doomed by slow starts, communication issues on offense and have not been responding well to halftime adjustments. Only four teams who began 2015 with a losing record after three games, managed to advance to the postseason. After being considered Super Bowl contenders, the Cardinals’ season could be in jeopardy as their chances of returning to the playoffs are looking more bleak with each loss. In what is shaping up to be must-win game for Arizona, the Cardinals will look to get on track with victory in Sunday’s divisional showdown with the Rams.

Essentials to winning

If the Cardinals are going to salvage their season, beating the Rams in week five is essential. Things have not gone as expected for Arizona this season, who head into Sunday’s contest as eight point favorites with a good chance to get back on the winning track.

For the Cardinals to beat the Rams, their offense will have to get off to a faster start. It all starts with Carson Palmer being more on target with his throws and establishing a rhythm early. To do that Palmer and the Cardinals’ offense should come out swinging with several well-designed quick short throws. Once Palmer gets going the rest of the offense begins to open up. The Cardinals cannot afford to get off to another slow start and end up playing from behind.

The defense is going to need to step up against the run this week and have a difficult task ahead in stopping Gurley. Though he has gotten off to a slow start, Gurley is still capable of taking over a game, much like LeSean McCoy did last week. The Cardinals can’t expect to win while giving up more than 200 yards on the ground. Stopping the run on Sunday will be key for Arizona’s defense.

In addition to stopping the run, the Cardinals’ defense will need to put pressure on Keenum and force him into making bad decisions and plays. He has shown to be prone to making mistakes and miscues when pressured. If Arizona’s defensive front is able to keep Keenum off balance, they should have plenty of opportunities for creating turnovers on Sunday.

Possible downfalls to avoid

For Arizona their biggest pitfall will be from another slow start. Last week in Buffalo they failed to even get a first down through their first five possessions. When the offense stalls it impacts the rest of the team and forces them from the game plan. The consequences are disastrous. Another slow start could put the postseason out of reach. They need to play better early.

The defense also has step up against the run. The Cardinals can ill afford another gashing on the ground like the one at the hands of the Bills last Sunday. It’s important that they rebound this week and find a way to contain Gurley and the Rams’ rushing attack.

Players to spotlight

If the Cardinals are going to win this week against Los Angeles, Carson Palmer is going to have to be more accurate and do a better job of protecting the ball. Four turnovers are never good, regardless what time of the game they come in. He can’t expect to give his team a chance of winning with sloppy performances like week three’s in Buffalo. Palmer is a much better quarterback than that and should bounce back this week against a suspect Rams’ secondary.

As always, David Johnson is someone to spotlight on offense. He is a dual threat talent who can’t beat opposing defenses on the ground and through the air. Anytime Johnson has the ball in his hands, he is a homerun threat and capable of posting six. He is a fun and exciting player to watch and is still only getting better.

Hopefully this is the week the passing game gets going and someone other than Larry Fitzgerald or David Johnson catches a pass. Last Sunday against the Bills, the Cardinals’ receiving group looked sloppy and dropped multiple passes on the afternoon. John Brown and Michael Floyd (concussion) have yet to assert themselves in the offense this season. Through three weeks they have made a minimal impact. For this team to play to expectations, the receiving corps need to carry their weight.

Defensively, look for Patrick Peterson and Tony Jefferson to have another big game and get their mits on at least one poorly thrown Keenum pass. Chandler Jones and Markus Golden each have one sack in each of the Cardinals’ first three games. They will be looking to make history when they go for their fourth sack in four games on Sunday. Expect them to put plenty of pressure on Keenum and force him into making more than one errant throw. 

 Game projection

The Cardinals come into Sunday’s game as more than a touchdown favorite over the Rams. Palmer and the Cardinals’ offense will look to find a spark and get off to a quicker start in this all-important division rivalry matchup. It will be vital for them to find a way to put points on the board in the first quarter for the first time this year. 

Defensively, Arizona needs to do a better job of stopping the run and will have to find a way to contain Gurley on Sunday. They will not be able to survive another fiasco like last week’s in Buffalo, where they gave up nearly 200 yards on the ground to McCoy and company. The Cardinals will also need to put pressure on Keenum and force him into making mistakes that create opportunities for the defense.

According to ESPN’s Matchup Predictor82.5 percent of fans believe that the Arizona Cardinals are going to outmatch the Los Angeles Rams in this divisional showdown. This team has more talented personnel than their play would indicate through three weeks. For a team that only lost three games and went to the NFC Championship just a season ago, they have gotten off to a disappointing start. The Cardinals need to bounce back in week four if they are going to have a chance of being a Super Bowl contender this year.

– Miles Dittberner, is a Managing Editor at cover32 and covers the Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings. Like and follow cardinals32 on Facebook and Twitter

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