Carson Palmer and the Cardinals take on the Rams in an important NFC West matchup
The Los Angeles Rams found the perfect remedy for their struggling offensive attack last Sunday. That remedy was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had their issues on defense, and the Rams took advantage in a 37-32 victory. Case Keenum was able to get in a rhythm, the offensive line blocked well and the running game got into a nice flow as well. Now, comes a new test for Los Angeles of the Rams’ self-discipline and maturity as they have an opportunity to put together strong performances in a row.
Arizona comes into this game with a record of 1-2, as they were blasted by the Buffalo Bills 33-18 last Sunday. The Cardinals have that look of a team that is still trying to find that right chemistry and get every player doing things the Cardinals way. The only silver lining so far for Arizona is that its two losses are to AFC East teams and will not hurt them as badly in potential tiebreaker situations in the NFC playoffs picture. However, if the Cardinals are going to stay in the conversation for home-field advantage and a second straight NFC West title they can ill afford to fall to 1-3.
Los Angeles at Arizona
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 2 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Cardinals -8.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Rams defense against Carson Palmer and the Arizona passing game
After getting torched for 405 yards by Jameis Winston last week down in Tampa Bay it will be very interesting to see how the Rams’ defense and especially the secondary responds Sunday. You can rest assured that Arizona head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer are going to try and attack Los Angeles in the secondary through the air. So expect the see a lot of opportunities for Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown early and often for Arizona. It is going to be up to the defensive line for the Rams, led by Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn, to dominate the Cardinals’ offensive line and get pressure on Palmer. They don’t necessarily need a ton of sacks, but consistent pressure and making Palmer uncomfortable will make a big-time difference on Sunday.
2. Arizona defense against Case Keenum
There is a lot of quality talent on the defensive side of the ball for the Cardinals. This week is a golden opportunity for them to play to their potential as the 49ers and Seahawks have shown this season that Case Keenum and the Rams’ offensive attack can be slowed down. Calais Campbell and company along the Arizona defensive front are going to have to step up and control the line of scrimmage and force Keenum to beat them downfield. If Keenum is forced to beat the Cardinals by throwing the football, then look for Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu to have a field day causing turnovers.
3. Special teams battle
This is an area where the Cardinals have a ton of work to do and have made some key changes this week in order to jumpstart their special teams. Ryan Quigley takes over at punter for Drew Butler, who is out with an ankle/Achillies injury. On the season, Arizona is dead last in the NFL in net punting at 33.6 yards per punt. So it will be very critical for Quigley to have a few 45-50-yard punts to shift field position. Los Angeles has one of the better punters in the league in All-Pro Johnny Hekker. Kicker Greg Zeuerlein has a very strong leg so the Rams will try to exploit Arizona and dominate field position with Hekker and try to steal some points with long field goals.
Arizona is usually very tough at home and after failing to get off to a fast start in Buffalo last week against the Bills look for the Cardinals to play with a greater sense of urgency. If Carson Palmer can get in rhythm early in the passing game, it will set up the running game nicely and keep the Rams off balance defensively. Los Angeles will need to get off to a great start on both sides of the ball and limit the unnecessary penalties if the Rams are going to have a chance to win this game late in the fourth quarter. The bottom line is that Arizona needs this game more since entering at 1-2 will find a way to play with enough attention to detail on both sides of the ball to even its record.
Prediction: Cardinals 23, Rams 13
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottWhittum.