Rams Get Prime Opportunity Against Arizona

Posted Oct 3, 2012

With a short week in which they’ve had only three days to prepare for Thursday night’s nationally televised game against Arizona, the Rams have crammed a week’s worth of preparation into a 72-hour window.
By their very nature, football players and coaches are creatures of habit, used to a routine that allows them to practice, recover, play, recover and return to practice. But after Sunday’s win against Seattle, the Rams didn’t have much time to do anything aside from dive right in to the game plan for the Cardinals.

To be certain, both sides will deal with the effects of a short week and quick turnaround and the Rams might even have a slight edge because they don’t have to travel but it’s certainly made for a challenging week.

“It’s definitely noticeable, considering that we’ve practiced the past two days and in a normal week, we wouldn’t step on the field until (Wednesday),” quarterback Sam Bradford said.

But in the new rough and tumble version of the NFC West Division, bumps and bruises figure to be at an all time high this year anyway. That leaves little time to lick your wounds before moving on to the next one.

Arizona is riding the wave of a 4-0 start to the season and has won 11 of its past 13. The Rams sit at 2-2 and are looking to move to 2-0 in the division and claim their third consecutive home victory.

After vanquishing one long time nuisance in the Seahawks last week, the Rams get another team that’s served as a thorn in their side for the better part of the past decade.

With a 7:20 p.m. kickoff on NFL Network, it’s the first primetime home game for the Rams since a December 2007 game against Pittsburgh. Arizona comes calling Thursday riding a seven-game winning streak against the Rams at the Edward Jones Dome

That type of dominance isn’t exclusive just to Arizona in terms of the Rams struggles within the division but it is one that is particularly maddening for Rams players. Of course, much like the rest of the schedule, coach Jeff Fisher has been consistent in his insistence that every week is a new challenge and the past means nothing.

The Rams and Cardinals have played some close games in recent years, particularly in the Gateway City but that doesn’t make for much of a rivalry when one side owns the scoreboard.

“You establish rivalries, but I wouldn’t imagine we have one based on past history over the last four or five years,” Fisher said. “We haven’t had much of a rivalry with anybody, so we have to work towards that and that comes from having competitive, great games and close games and those kinds of things.”

Much like with Seattle, the Rams and Cardinals are cut from similar cloth in how they have been constructed. Both teams play hard-nosed, tenacious defense and neither possesses what you’d call an explosive, high scoring offense.

“They’re a well coached football team,” Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “They play hard. They’ve got a number of playmakers on both sides of the ball. We know very well that we’re going to have a stiff challenge coming in there playing the game Thursday night. I’m very impressed with what I see of this team on tape.”

Offensively, Arizona presents a little different look than Seattle though, relying much more on the passing game than a workhorse running back. Quarterback Kevin Kolb has stepped in and done a solid job and is starting to find a rhythm with receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts.

Through four weeks, the Cardinals are 31st in the league in total offense, averaging 271 yards per game.

The Rams actually prefer opponents with pass-heavy attacks with their vastly improved secondary and a pair of holy terrors off the edge in the pass rush.

The key for the Rams defense will be to ensure that Arizona doesn’t hit any of the home run plays and force Kolb to methodically work his way down the field. That approach has resulted in interceptions multiple times this season for the secondary.

“They’ve got all three aspects of the passing game: they’ve got a short, intermediate passing game and then the play action and they can take their deep shots,” Fisher said. “We have to defend them back to short. We’ve got to make sure we don’t give up big plays, big, deep shots and then hope that we can get our hands on some balls. Kevin’s throwing the ball with accuracy and he’s completing a lot of his passes, particularly because that group knows how to get open.”

On the other side, the challenge is even greater as Arizona boasts one of the league’s most talented defenses with a star or two at every level of the unit. Linemen Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett and safety Adrian Wilson have been long time tormentors of the Rams while linebackers Daryl Washington and Same Acho and cornerback Patrick Peterson are quickly falling into the same category.

“(It’s) another very good defense,” Bradford said. “Similar to the last defense, they’re really good up front, they’re big, they’re physical, they’re athletic. They’re athletic in the back end. They’ve got some guys that they will move all over the place. They’re multiple in the looks they’re going to show us. The past couple of days, there have been a lot of time put in trying to make sure that we see everything and we’re able to put as much time as we can into figuring out what they’re going to try to do to us.”

The Cardinals seemed impenetrable in the opening three weeks but struggled to slow down Miami’s passing attack last week. Once again, the Rams offensive line will be charged with the task of opening holes in the running game and allowing Bradford time to throw.

One area the Rams must improve is their performance finishing drives with touchdowns instead of settling for field goals. That’s been an emphasis from Fisher this week. Bradford believes that can be fixed by simply focusing better and not having mental errors.

“We’d like to score a touchdown on every possession,” Bradford said. “I think it just comes down to execution, being better on first and second down, not having penalties down there, just finding a way to score.”

In another game that seems to have slobberknocker written all over it, the basic tenets of winning the turnover battle and finding ways to excel on special teams could once again be the difference.

The Rams were able to do that against Seattle and now they must do it again to the Cardinals in order to reach some lofty heights.

While it wouldn’t seem like much in NFL locales like Green Bay or Baltimore, the Rams have a chance to move to 3-2, which would put them over the .500 mark for the first time since the middle of the 2006 season.

“I’ve only been a Ram, so it would feel good,” running back Steven Jackson said. “I hope to retire a Ram, so I hope to have a lot more of those and be on the winning end of a win-loss column.”