This game belongs in Lost and Found. The Cardinals lost quarterback Kurt Warner to retirement and have replaced him with Derek Anderson, who went to the Pro Bowl in the 2007 season then suffered through two lost years with the Cleveland Browns. Anderson came to Arizona presumably to be the backup to Matt Leinar, but won the job in the preseason when Leinart was ineffective and then sulked about his demotion.
The Rams, meanwhile, feel like they’ve found their key to the future in rookie quarterback and No. 1 pick Sam Bradford. St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo initially intended to start veteran A.J. Feely in the opener, but Bradford was so impressive in the preseason (completing 60 percent of his passes, with three touchdowns and no interceptions) he forced his way into the lineup.
Keys for the Cardinals
• St. Louis may have the worst set of receivers in the league, so the Cardinals likely can employ man-to-man coverage and shift safety Adrian Wilson to the line of scrimmage either as an extra defender against the run or as a blitzer to try to harass Bradford. Don’t be surprised if Wilson blitzes at least a half-dozen times during the game.
• Arizona never got its running game going in the preseason but that will be vital in this game. Anderson has a strong arm, but he can be inaccurate (18 INTS to just 12 TDs the last two years). If he has to throw the ball 35 times, the Cardinals could find themselves in trouble.
Keys for the Rams
• St. Louis needs to establish a running game with Steven Jackson to take some of the pressure off Bradford. The Rams’ offensive line has been a sieve the past few years, but if it can open some holes for Jackson the onus won’t be on Bradford to have to try to win the game.
• If the Rams can get pressure from their front four against the Cardinals’ shaky tackles, they could force Anderson into some poor throws. The matchup to watch will be defensive end Chris Long against Arizona right tackle Brandon Keith, making his first career start.
The Cardinals are the superior team, but opening up on the road against a Rams’ team that now has a quarterback it believes in won’t be easy. Still, the Cardinals prevail, 20–14.