The St. Louis Rams host their second of two division opponents, the Arizona Cardinals, in five days. Coach Fisher said after the Seahawks game that they were treating Sunday afternoon as if it were already a Wednesday work day. The man and his coaching staff had a plan in place for the ridiculous turnaround. This is where having the youngest average aged roster works to their advantage physically. But will it backfire mentally? We’ll know in about 24 hours.
Thursday marks the first primetime home game for the Rams since December of 2007 when they hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 16. The Rams lost 41-24 as they ended the year 3-13 under then head coach Scott Linehan. But that’s all ugly history most Rams fans , and to use Fisher-ism here, would love to delete.
This is now the Jeff Fisher era and I have to say it’s started out much better than I had imagined.
Not only the Rams but the 4-0 Arizona Cardinals sitting at the top of the NFC West… I can pretty much tell you that no one predicted that in week 1. That’s why you play the games, folks. And I’m not talking about Madden ’13.
The Five Things I’ll be watching for in week 5: Nothing earth shattering here and if anything it’s pretty similar to some of the things I was looking out for in week 4 against the Seahawks.
1) A Rams running man needs to show up.
The entire Rams running game against the Seahawks’ second best rushing defense equaled 75 yards. 55 of them came off of 18 carries via Steven Jackson. Jackson was listed questionable with his bum groin on Wednesday’s injury report. Which means just like last week he’ll give it a go and probably have similar results – i.e. less than 100 yards rushing.
Jackson on the Arizona defense:
I’m very impressed with what they’re doing. Their usual suspects, their key players on defense, are making key plays right now. They’re doing a very good job of being aggressive downhill, so we have to be able to withstand the storm that they’re going to bring. Their defense is playing lights out right now, so we have to make sure that we take upon the blitz, and when they do decide to blitz, hopefully make them pay for it.
I know Seattle had a great rushing defense going in but I expected Jackson’s back-up to put up more than the 16 yards Daryl Richardson ended up with.
The Cardinals are giving up on average 101 yards on the ground which ranks them midrange (15th) in the league. The collective efforts of Jackson, Richardson, and I’m hoping, Terrance Ganaway, will surpass the century mark.
2) The effects of injuries on both sides of the ball.
The Rams will be without starting left tackle Rodger Saffold (knee) again this week as well as emerging defensive end Eugene Sims (concussion). Both are pretty big hits to their respective lines. Saffold’s stand in Wayne Hunter is also listed as questionable with his own knee issues. The other defensive end Williams Hayes took a noticeable number of snaps in Chris Long‘s stead on Sunday. So the Rams defensive line is literally walking on thin ice. But hey, at least the Rams aren’t the New York Jets. *knocks on wood.
Here are the rest of the Rams walking wounded:
We didn’t hear anything about wide receiver Brandon Gibson‘s knee until it popped up on the injury report two days ago and it’s still pretty hush hush. This could mean more action for the rookies Chris Givens and Brian Quick if Gibson is not 100 percent.
3) The Red Zone isn’t just a highlight channel on NFL Network.
Nick Wagoner of STLouisRams.com:
In fact, that’s been a regular problem in the first quarter of the season. Through four games, the Rams are tied for 30th in the league in red zone production. They have ventured inside the opponent’s 20-yard line nine times with only three touchdowns and five field goals for a total of 37 points to show for it.
Those numbers don’t even include the trips inside opponent’s territory that haven’t gone inside the 20. The reasons for the Rams’ struggles at putting it into the end zone are numerous but many are things that can be fixed.
A jaw dropping set of stats if you ask me. It’s phenomenal to watch kicker Greg Zuerlein make all these long distance field goals. But the heart of the problem is he’s getting these 50+ yard attempts because the offense can’t get into the red zone let along in the end zone.
Sam Bradford‘s take on it:
We’d like to score a touchdown on every possession. 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.
Wagoner says the reasons for the Rams’ red zone woes are numerous but fixable. Let’s see if they’ve figured out at least one or two of the problems. I’d start with the personal foul penalties and the false starts.
4) Keep an eye on wide receiver Andre Roberts.
Coach Fisher on Roberts being an emerging receiver:
Yes, he is. Everywhere you look, there’s a different number out there and somebody’s making plays and we anticipate (TE Todd) Heap coming back, so that’ll even create a little bit more pressure on our defense.
The Rams defense can’t just double the Cardinals main receiving threat Larry Fitzgerald. The Dolphins in week 4 lost track of Roberts which led him to 6 receptions for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Fitzgerald had a relatively ho hum afternoon with 8 receptions for 64 yards and one touchdown. Don’t sleep on Early Doucet and Michael Floyd either.
In other words, the Rams secondary have a tough task ahead of them.
5) Contain the dangerous return man.
Stefan Logan (71 TRY: total return yards): Check. Brandon Banks (50 TRY): Check. Devin Hester (124 TRY): Well, almost check. Leon Washington (70 TRY): Check. So, what about Patrick Peterson?
That’s quite the list of punt/kick returners the Rams have had to face in the first four weeks of the season. With the exception of the great Hester, the Rams special teams have done a good job of keeping these dynamic return guys under wraps and didn’t give up any touchdowns.
But will the Rams be able to contain their special teams nemesis? After all, it was Peterson who single-handedly gave Rams fans bad dreams in 2011 with his 80-yard and 99-yard return TDs. I couldn’t delete those from my mind even if I’d wanted to. Coach Fassel and his crew have to make sure this doesn’t become a reoccurring nightmare.
The Rams have to take notice of Peterson as an offensive possibility, too.
I love being a part of the offense because it was something I did the majority of my life, majority of my years playing pee-wee football, high school football. I didn’t have the opportunity to play it in college, but I have the ability to do it. But to have a chance to do it at the highest level in the NFL to help my team move the ball downfield, help put them in great field position, that’s an honor to have a defensive guy come over and try to help those guys out on the offensive side. I love every bit of it.
Oh, yeah. It’s definitely called the ‘Pat Cat.’ Whenever 21 is coming in the game, it’s the Pat Cat.
The short week turnaround time will definitely make the first quarter of the game interesting. I expect some sloppiness and the team that takes advantage of those mistakes and the better prepared team should come out on top in the end.
The Rams running game will be a little better than five days ago. Bradford and his receivers will make strides in week 5 giving the Cardinals secondary something to whine about at the end of the night. I’m thinking Bradford will put up three Benjamin Franklins and two touchdowns if he can get some time to throw the long ball.
The defense will continue with their “bend but not break” regularly scheduled programming only to break a couple of times because of Fitzgerald and Roberts. I’m not sure if Arizona will show a whole lot in terms of rushing though.
If you’ve noticed how the Cardinals have been winning this season it’s by close margins (16-20 vs. Seattle, 20-18 at New England, and 21-24 vs. Miami) excluding the 27-6 blow out of the Philadelphia Eagles.
This Thursday Night Football game will also be a close one and probably will go down to the last series if not the very last play of the game.
The Rams will rely once again on the right leg of Zuerlein to reach 3-0 perfection at home, 2-0 in the division, and 3-2 overall on the year.
Rams win it on NFL Network in #RamsPrimeTime 20-23.
Okay, really these are my final thoughts:
Maybe we are all just looking too closely to all the little details of this match up. What if it all just comes down to which team can stay healthy throughout the sixty minutes of play.
The injury report for the Rams is nothing to sneeze at but when I scrolled down to check out the Cardinals’ report… Whoa.
Sometimes it’s the simple things that make the difference between winning and losing.
In this case, the game could come down to who is the next man up.
A NFL roster is in constant flux and the team with the best depth all the way to the 53rd player is the team that usually wins in the end. (See the Super Bowl XLV winning Green Bay Packers.) Packers general manager Ted Thompson earned his keep and the respect of many that season.