Rams Ready for Another Divisional Battle

Posted Nov 23, 2012

It seems like a long time ago now but Oct. 4 is a day less than two months removed from today.

It was a big day for the Rams as they moved over the .500 mark for the first time since 2006 with a nationally televised victory against division rival and undefeated Arizona.

Nearly seven weeks have elapsed since that evening and neither team has won a game since. Arizona has lost six in a row since its scorching 4-0 start. The Rams have done only a smidge better, losing four of their five games and managing a tie against San Francisco.

So when the Rams and Cardinals renew acquaintances on Sunday, barring another crazy game that ends in a tie, one team must end its recent winless streak.

“We understand something’s going to give,” coach Jeff Fisher said.

From the Rams’ perspective, the chance to go on the road and play their fourth NFC West Division game should provide a golden opportunity to get back on track, at least based on how they’ve performed in the division to this point.

Through 10 games, the Rams are 3-6-1 but they’ve fared much better against division foes San Francisco, Arizona and Seattle with a record of 2-0-1 in those divisional games.

“Right now, we have had some success against the division,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “We look to continue that this week. Hopefully, we’ll be able to start expanding it outside the division. But, like I said earlier, you just try to get better each week. We’re focused on the Arizona Cardinals this week and going out and beating them.”

To understand why the Rams have fared better within the division than outside of it, one only needs to take a look at the types of games that are generally taking place within the NFC West.

As a general rule, if you are playing a NFC West divisional game, you better come with your mouth guard and as much padding as possible because it’s going to be a slugfest. More often than not, it’s going to be a relatively low scoring slugfest, featuring physical, aggressive defenses and power rushing attacks.

To wit, in the Rams three divisional games, they’ve outscored their opponents by an average of 20 to 13.3. Offensively, they’ve put up an average of 328.6 yards per game, while allowing 314 yards per game.

In other words, the games are fairly evenly matched and can swing one direction or the other on a big play or two.
“Those division games are naturally physical games,” middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “They are games you circle on your calendar when you get it, especially when you are a guy that has been around and haven’t had a whole ton of success in the division. We wanted to emphasize that. We consider those to count as two when you win ‘em. That’s why there is a lot of focus on them and every time we go out against a division opponent we know it’s going to be a 60-minute brawl. So far it’s been good for us and we get another crack at it this week.”

Don’t expect much to change in terms of how Sunday’s 3:15 kickoff at University of Phoenix Stadium will go. Neither team has experienced much of a dramatic shift in terms of philosophy and both defenses continue to bring the wood on every down.

“I’m expecting a very physical game,” running back Steven Jackson said. “Their defense is full of playmakers that are big-time hitters and do a great job of fitting against the run. As well as bring pressure from the outside in passing situations. I’ll be looking for another physical game.”

Arizona’s defense continues to rank among the league’s best, entering Sunday’s game ranked ninth in total defense (324 yards per game) and coming off a game in which it forced Atlanta into six turnovers, including five Matt Ryan interceptions.

Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton has continued to help his group evolve by installing different looks every week intended to create confusion for the opposing offense.

That hasn’t changed since the initial meeting.

“Even with the short week that we had going against them the first time, they were very multiple,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “But, in this league, your rules have to kind of handle everything. We expect they’ll have something different for us, having played them already. What they do, they do well, they do fast. They’ve got some good players. It’ll be a good challenge. Obviously, having to go there adds another wrinkle to it, playing on the road. But, hopefully, we can build off what we were able to do in San Francisco and have some success.”

While Arizona’s defense has continued to excel, the Cardinals offense has continued to search for answers at a variety of positions, most notably at quarterback. This week, the Cardinals will start their third different quarterback this year in rookie Ryan Lindley.

Lindley replaced John Skelton early in last week’s game but otherwise doesn’t have much film out there aside from the preseason. Rams assistant head coach Dave McGinnis said there’s enough available to at least get a solid handle on what Lindley can and can’t do.

“We go back to preseason and he’s got enough now,” McGinnis said. “We’ve seen him and of course, as I say, they’re going to run this offense. Ken Whisenhunt’s going to run his offense and they’re going to run it through Lindley and clearly he trusts him enough to run the entire offense. But, we’ve got quite a bit of film on him.”
The Rams continue their search for takeaways this week as they have gone five games without one. Arizona has shuffled its offensive line since the Rams posted nine sacks in the initial meeting.

The Cardinals are also expected to have the services of running back Beanie Wells, who is returning from the injured reserve/designated to return list.

With just six games remaining, both teams are well aware that they’re running out of time. There’s no better tonic than a divisional win for two teams starving for a victory.

“We want to show, not only the NFC and the rest of the NFL, but the NFC West that we are a team to be reckoned with,” Jackson said. “Outside of the tie with San Fran, we’ve been able to have wins against Seattle and Arizona. We want to continue to build off that. We want to go in Arizona and hopefully get another win. But, it’s going to be a tough divisional fight. They have their backs against the wall and we know that when we go on the road, those are tough ones to get, so we have to learn how to win on the road.”