Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals (-8, 43 o/u)
I don’t think anyone saw this coming, especially after Week 1. But heading into Week 4, the Los Angeles Rams (2-1 SU, 2-1 ATS) – who were shutout by the Niners in their opener – lead the vaunted NFC West while last year’s champ, the Arizona Cardinals (1-2 SU, 1-2 ATS), are bringing up the rear. Granted, it’s still very early and the teams are only separated by a game. So the state of the division could – and probably will – look completely different after the Rams visit the Cards at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale this Sunday (1:00 PM Eastern).
After the Week 1 debacle, the Rams rebounded with a magnificent defensive effort against the Seahawks (9-3 at home) and then rode their offense – you read that right – to a 37-32 road win over the Bucs last week. The team is still averaging just 15.3 points per game (29th), though, and its passing game – led by the thoroughly underwhelming Case Keenum – sits second last in the league at 174 YPG.
The struggles through the air have allowed teams to sell out to stop Todd Gurley on the ground. The second-year back has only managed 183 yards on 63 carries through three games, though he did manage to get on the scoresheet last week with two majors.
Coach Jeff Fisher will be hoping Gurley can get chunk yardage against Arizona, much like LeSean McCoy and Tyrod Taylor were able to do in a 33-18 Week 3 upset of the Cards (186 rushing yards and three TDS, combined, on 26 attempts). The Cardinals generally have a stout run defense, though. It’s their secondary that features the biggest holes, apart from lock-down corner Patrick Peterson. The Rams just don’t have the weapons to expose those holes. Expect Arizona to do what every other team has done against LA – stack the box to contain Gurley.
When Keenum drops back to pass, he’s apt to find himself under some pressure. Arizona has improved its pass rush from last season, already racking up nine sacks on the year.
The Rams have a great front-seven, themselves, and Arizona QB Carson Palmer has been under his own share of pressure. DT Aaron Donald has yet to record a sack this season, but according to Pro Football Focus, he has an NFL-leading 17 pressures. Keep a close eye on the status of Cardinal guard Evan Mathis, who missed last week’s game due to injury.
While the run defense deserves its share of the blame for last week’s upset, the main culprit for the loss was Palmer. The pivot tossed four picks and barely completed 50-percent of his passes on the day.
That game continued a concerning trend of up-and-down road play from the veteran QB, who was just abysmal in the NFC Championship game at Carolina last year. But this week’s game is at home, and I expect Palmer to bounce back, whether or not WR Michael Floyd (concussion) is in the lineup. The Rams were able to squeak out a 24-22 win in the desert last year. But Palmer lit them up for over 350 yards, and Zona, as a team, is 6-3 ATS in the last nine at home against the Rams.
I see Palmer and co. boat racing Los Angeles and evening their record on the year.
Pick: Cardinals -8.
Photo credit: FF Swami (Flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].