Updated Nov 25, 2012 - 9:32 am
Arizona Cardinals vs. St. Louis Rams Preview
When the Arizona Cardinals went to St. Louis for a Week 5 prime time divisional showdown with the Rams, Ken Whisenhunt's squad was riding high.
The team had begun the 2012 season 4-0. Kevin Kolb looked like a competent quarterback. The defense was playing out of its mind. And all seemed right in the Valley.
On that fateful Thursday night, the Rams throttled Arizona. Kolb was sacked nine times. The team put up a season-low three points and all the momentum they had built up over the prior four weeks had been washed away in 60 minutes.
Flash forward seven weeks, and the Cardinals still haven't been able to right the ship since.
Kolb is no longer the starting quarterback, nor is his replacement John Skelton. The offensive line isn't averaging nine sacks allowed per game as they did in St. Louis, but the Rams' rout certainly exposed some glaring deficiencies up front. And although Ray Horton's squad continues to make big plays -- six turnovers forced last week -- when they've needed a stop during their six-game losing streak, even the defense has had it's troubles.
The Cardinals will start rookie Ryan Lindley on Sunday against St. Louis.
Lindley made his NFL debut last Sunday with the Cardinals leading 13-3 in the second quarter against the Falcons. He looked every bit the part of a rookie, going 9-for-20 for 64 yards.
A lot has been made as to whether or not the decision to start Lindley is Whisenhunt's way of waving the red flag in an effort to evaluate for next season.
At 4-6, the Cardinals would need to most likely win out in order to contend for a playoff spot. A tall task regardless of the situation, but especially with a rookie quarterback.
Lindley is a sixth-round pick out of San Diego State, who made a name for himself as a junior back in 2010, when he threw for 3,830 yards and 23 touchdowns for the Aztecs.
Heading into the draft, most scouting reports liked his poise in the pocket, his ability to go through progressions and durability.
The knock on him going into the NFL was that he wasn't very athletic, struggled with accuracy and tried to force too many throws into coverage.
All three of those points were put on display at times against the Falcons, but it's hard to expect much of him given that this was his first week taking major snaps with "the ones."
On the other side, Sam Bradford hasn't looked like a No. 1 overall pick of late. While he has the highest completion percentage (60.8) of his career to date, Bradford has struggled during the team's current five-game winless streak.
In each of the last four games, Bradford has been asked to throw at least 30 passes. And while he has thrown six touchdowns to three interceptions in that span, the former Oklahoma star hasn't thrown for more than 300 yards.
Against Arizona, Bradford had his least accurate game of the season, completing just seven of his season-low 21 attempts. The difference is, two of those throws went for touchdowns.
When he was drafted in April 2010, Bradford was expected to turn around an entire franchise. So far, it just hasn't happened. He only has 11 career wins in nearly three full seasons.
While it's too early to tell if the Rams came out a winner from their pre-draft deal with the Washington Redskins, plenty of fans and media members alike are unhappy the team opted to stay with Bradford instead of drafting rookie phenom Robert Griffin III.
The Cardinals' offense has been anemic during their six-game losing streak.
From quarterback play (No. 27 in passing) to line protection (No. 1 in sacks allowed with 44) to the running attack (No. 30 in rushing), Arizona has become a one-dimension threat. Unfortunately in the NFL, teams can't win with just defense.
While the Cards will likely get a boost with the return of running back Beanie Wells (toe) and tight end Todd Heap (knee), with a rookie quarterback behind center, two rookie tackles and a rookie wide receiver, improvement may be something that has to wait until the offseason.
The biggest casualty in all of this, outside of the team's recent record, is wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald has just 596 yards receiving to go along with five touchdowns. Unless a dramatic change occurs over the final six weeks, the Cardinals' All-Pro wideout is on pace to have his worst statistical season since his rookie campaign in 2004. Fitzgerald has had four receptions or less in four games this year, and his coming off a one-catch performance in Atlanta.
Jeff Fisher's offense hasn't been any great shakes, either.
Bradford has been asked to throw the ball more this season, in large part because the usually reliable Steven Jackson has been a shell of the player he was in 2010 and 2011.
He ranks No. 20 in the league in yards per carry (3.8) and has just one 100-yard performance so far this season.
Danny Amendola has been a bright spot for St. Louis at wide receiver (leads the team in catches, yards and touchdowns), but hasn't been on the field enough of late to make a big impact. He missed a month following a collarbone injury he suffered in the team's win over Arizona and is doubtful for Sunday's contest with a foot injury.
Brandon Gibson was supposed to pick up the slack in Amendola's absence, but hasn't had a game with 50 or more yards receiving in over a month.
Rookie Chris Givens out of Wake Forest seems to be acclimating just fine in St. Louis. Givens torched the Cardinals for a 51-yard touchdown in Week 5, and although he isn't great at breaking tackles, he makes for Bradford's main big play threat down the field.
The Rams' offensive line is better than Arizona's front five, but that isn't saying much. St. Louis is No. 23 in the league in sacks allowed with 54. The Cardinals, though, had just one in their 17-3 loss earlier this season.
The Cardinals left Atlanta with a bad taste in their mouths, and for good reason. But even in defeat, Arizona's defense coming out of the bye was sensational. While they didn't close out the game late, the Cardinals virtually ended Matt Ryan's MVP candidacy by forcing six turnovers, five by way of the interception.
Just about everyone in the Valley remembers St. Louis' battering of Kolb and Co. back in Week 5. But it hasn't been all roses since for Chris Long, James Laurenitis and the Rams D.
During the team's five-game winless streak, the defense hasn't given up fewer than 24 points in a game. In three games during that span, the team surrendered 99 points. Needless to say, it hasn't been pretty.
While it's still safe to say the defense is a strength (No. 13 against the pass and No. 16 against the run) for the Rams, and likely will be if they are to pull out a road win Sunday, opposing teams have had success putting points on the board against them.
Arizona's defensive effort was a bit surprising given the recent rash of injuries -- O'Brien Schofield and Calais Campbell come to mind. But even more surprising was the decision to not start five-time Pro Bowler Adrian Wilson. While Rashad Johnson and James Sanders certainly did their part and Horton has dismissed any notion of Wilson's role changing, the safety's presence moving forward will make for an interesting storyline.
Neither team has won since their Week 5 matchup, so something has to give on Sunday. Well maybe not, considering the Rams have already tied in a game this season. Lindley won't do enough to win the game for Arizona, but he won't do enough to lose it for them, either. In the end, the game will come down to a non-offensive play. Enter in Patrick Peterson, who had two punt returns for touchdowns against St. Louis a season ago.
Prediction: Cardinals 13, Rams 10
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