As good as the Arizona Cardinals have looked this season, they have to feel uneasy ahead of a crucial game with division rivals the St. Louis Rams on Oct 4 (1:00 PM Eastern at University of Phoenix Stadium).
While the Cards got the best of the Rams twice last season, they were the two most costly wins any team could have. Carson Palmer went down for the year in the team’s 31-14 win in Week 10; then Drew Stanton was lost when Arizona won a 12-6 decision in Week 15. Down to their third-string QB, the Cards’ Super Bowl chances were dashed.
This year, the Rams D-line looks even more fearsome than last year, with Chris Long fully healthy and playing alongside Robert Quinn and 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year Aaron Donald. St. Louis racked up six sacks in a big win over Seattle in Week 1, but were worn down by a powerful Washington running game last week.
Arizona hasn’t allowed a sack through the first two games, but that was against a couple underwhelming pass rushes in the Saints and Bears. Against St. Louis, it will be in their best interest to get a solid ground attack going to help keep Carson Palmer upright. With Andre Ellington unlikely to be in the lineup, that duty could fall on electrifying rookie David Johnson. Johnson has three touchdowns already on just nine career touches. Look for the offense to get him more involved this weekend and moving forward.
The Rams have proven they’re still an enigma, unable to consistently play well outside of divisional matchups. Against Washington, Nick Foles and the offense failed to sustain drives, going just 2-of-12 on third down. So far, tight end Jared Cook has proven to be the only reliable target in this passing game. Expect Bruce Arians to take Cook out of the game and put the onus this underwhelming group of receivers to win the game.
Since it’s an NFC West showdown, the Rams should keep it close. But Arizona went 6-2 against the spread at home last year, and is off to a 1-0 start this year. Expect that trend to continue in Week 4.
Straight-up pick: Cardinals.
(Photo credit: Landry Heaton (flickr) “Arizona Cardinals Concept-White Pants” [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)