Last MInute News, Rumors etc.:
(Updated regularly if or when needed) - Cards placed RB Chris Johnson - who suffered a fractured tibia - on "IR To Return" (which means he's out until no earlier than the Super Bowl. With Andre Ellington limping around with a turf-toe, the Cards wil probably start #3 RB David Johnson, backed up by Stephon Taylor. Cards brought up Kerwynn Williams from the practice squad to add more depth to the RB position. Cards also released CB Robert Nelson and signed CB Corey White. DJ Swearinger was signed to the PS. Tight End Brandon Bostick was released from the PS. A week ago, the Cards signed veteran defensive lineman Red Bryant (who, according to BA committed zero mental errors in his first week of play). D Johnson adds heft to go with excellent speed, but is said to be a work in progress when it comes to pass routes and blitz pickup.
Setting the Stage:
It will be the "early" (Sun. afternoon) game/ Rams dropped their 4th consecutive game - a 31 - 7 thrashing by the Bengals. With the ins and outs of a possible move to LA generating buzz that the Ram front office and coaching staff are on the bubble, their HC Jeff Fisher has adopted a "don't tell us we're not playing hard" seige mentality. Expect the Rams - already known for their aggressive, physical play - to come out like mad dogs this Sunday. Cards won their 3rd straight - a 19 -13 squeaker over the Niners. Cards are 9 & 2 with five tough games remaining on their schedule.
Rams - arguably undone by the trade earlier in the year of their franchise qb (Sam Bradford) in favor of Nick Foles &/or Casey Keennam- are 4 & 7 and pretty much done for the year playoff-wise. When you chip away all the W's, L's and stats, you're left with a very physical football team on both sides of the ball with an offense that can pound the ball on the shoulders of rookie star, Todd Gurley and the scatback explosiveness of Tavon Austin.
Last week's Niners game should serve up the following lesson: "Don't assume that statistical trends are predictors of the future." (Why? Because, during the week between games, coaches tend to work on overcoming weak spots. In other words, just because the Rams only gave the ball to Gurley 9 times doesn't mean they'll ignore Gurley again next Sunday. Do not be misled by the Ram's record - this is a division game on the road.
Opponent's Last Game
They got pasted by the Bengs, 31 - 7.Rams fell behind 9 - 3 at halftime and traded 2nd half FG's with a Roethlisberger-less Steeler team to wind up on the losing end of a 12 - 6 "pitcher's battle"
StL received. Foles starting. TB on KO. They went 3 & out. Punt was downed at the Cincy 37. Bengs moved to the StL 10 in 6 plays. Dalton hit Green for a 10-yard TD. Bengals 7 - Rams 0.
TB on the KO. A 16-yard pass to Cook moved the Rams out to their own 36. Drive sta;;ed at the StL 49. Penalties moved them to their own 44. TB on the punt. Cincy The two teams traded 3 & outs. Bengals got the ball back at their own 12 and moved to the 26 as the quarter ended.
First Quarter Score: Bengals 7 - Rams 0.
A 30-yard "basketball play" with Dalton handing off to Bernard who handed off to M Jones moved the ball to the StL 8. But the Bengals could get no closer than the Ram 3. Cincy settled for a 21-yard Nugent FG. Bengals 10 - Rams 0.
TB on the KO. More razzle dazzle - Direct snap to Gurley who handed it to Austin on an inside reverse. Austin ran around RE and was pushed out of bounds at the Bengal 13 for a 60-yard gain. Two plays later, Austin - on another end around - circled RE for a 5-yard TD.Bengals 10 - Rams 7.
TB on the KO. Dalton led the Bengals on a 10-play (5:02) TD drive capped by a 22-yard deep-right TD pass to Eifert. Longest play of the drive was just 14 yards. Bengals 17 - Rams 7.
3:27 left till the half. KO returned to the StL 28. Rams made it to the Bengal 23 (biggest plays were passes to Britt for 18 yards and 14 yards). But on the 8th play of the drive, Foles' pass for Cook was intercepted by Nelson and returned to the Cincy 15. Dalton took a knee to run out the final 0:31.
First Half Score: Bengals 17 - Rams 7.
TB on the KO. Cincy received. Dalton pecked his way to the Bengal 44 before his pass for M Jones was intercpted by J Jenkins and downed at the Ram 23. An 8-yard sack of Foles helped force StL to punt fro, its own 35. Punt was returned to the Cincy 28. Dalton hit Bernard for +45 yards and two plays later Dalton hit Green for an 18-yard TD. Bengals 24 - Rams 7.
Let the floodgates begin - KO return net penalty was to the StL 11. On the third play from scrimmage, Foles threw a Pick 6 (his pass intended for Marquez was picked off by L Hall and returned 19 yards for the TD). Bengals 31 - Rams 7.
TB on the KO. The two teams traded 3 & outs. StL got the ball back on its own 5 and managed to move to its own 48 to end the quarter.
Third Quarter Score: Bengals 31 - Rams 7.
On the second play of the quarter, Foles was picked off again. Cincy ball on its own 18. Cincy held to 3 & out. Punt was fair caught at the Ram 34. A 25-yard pass to Cook helped move the Rams to the Cincy 26, but Foles was unable to convert a 4th down. Bengals managed to move to the Ram 36 in 7 plays but they too were unable to convert a 4th & 3. Rams took over on their own36 with 6:25 to go. It was dink & dunk time. Foles managed to move the Rams in 13 plays to the Bengal 23 but was unable to convert a 4th & 15, Cincy took over at their own 23 with 3:02 left to play. McCarron now in at QB. Three & out. Ram ball at their own 33 with 1:40 to go. Mannion in at QB. Time ran out with the Rams at the Bengal 39.
Final Score: Bengals 31 - Rams 7.
Meaningful Game Stats
Passing - Foles returned as the starter and threw 3 picks. He was 30 of 46 for 228 yards and no TD's. Mannion was 6 for 7 n the final series of the game (but for only 31 yards).
Receiving -Britt led Ram receivers with 7 (averaging 10.5 ypc). Mason caught 7 passes for 37 yards
Rushing - Rams gained 5.5 ypc. Gurley only had 9 running attempts. (I repeat: Gurley only ran the ball 9 times) Don't expect that to happen again vs. the Cardinals). Austin carried just four times but led all Ram ballcarriers with 63 yards and averaged 15.8 ypc
Pass Defense - Rams gave up236 passing yards. Cincy completed 21 of 28 (one pick)
Run Defense - Rams gave up 4.5 ypr.
Turnovers - Even-up. No fumbes lost. Foles and Big Ben each threw one pick.
Tackles - Barron led with 10/Laurinaitis had 9.
Sacks - Rams had zippity doodah. Cincy racked up 3.
Third Down Efficiency - 6 for 15 (40%). Cincy was 3 for 10 (50%.
Net Rushing Yards - 94. (Cincy had 140)
Run/Pass Ratio: 17/53 (Bengs were 31/28)
Net Punting Average - 37.8 (vs. 42.8 for Cincy)
Penalties - Rams were flagged 7 times; Bengals 3.
Red Zone Efficiency: Rams - 1 for 2 = 50%. Bengs - 2 for 3 = 66%)
Time of Possession: Rams: 29:53. Cincy: 30:07.
Meaningful Season Stats
First Downs: Rams 166 - Opponents 200
First Downs (Passing): Rams 85 - Opponents 114
Receiving: Austin (343 yards and 4 TD's), Cook (379 yards) and Britt (404 yds) lead Ram receivers. Britt averages the most per catch (16.8 ypc). Austin is only averaging 9.3 (why is that)?
Passing Yards: Rams 2,093 - Opponents 2,688
Rushing: Gurley is averaging 4.8 ypc. The ever-dangerous Tavon Austin is averaging 9.2. Gurley has gained 794 yards to date.
Sacks: Rams sacked their opponents 30 times while giving up just 15 sacks. Donald is the Ram sackmeister with 7. Quinn is next with 5. The other 18 Ram sacks are spread around among 10 other defenders.
Defense - Laurinaitis (83) and Barron (80) lead the Rams in tackles. Interception leaders are T Johnson (4) and Jenkins (3).
Field Goals: Rams 15/23 = Opponents 25/27. Zuerlein is only 3 for 8 outside the fifty.
Time of Possession: Rams 28:14 = Opponents 32:50
Turnover Ratio: 0
QB's: Foles and Keenum both have QB Ratings in the low 70's. Foles had a 57.9% completion rate. Keenum completed 46.2% of his passes. Foles had a 7 TD/9 Pick ratio. Keenum had 1 TD and threw no picks in his only game. Foles averaged 6.3 yards per attempt. Keenum averaged 5.2.
WR 18 Britt ...............15 Marquez........19 Welker
LT.....73 G Robinson....xx Battle
LG....71 G Reynolds....69 Wichmann.....67 Folkerts
C 61 Barnes...........65 Rhaney...........60 Kush
RG 64 Donnal..
QB 17 Keenum........05 Foles.............14 Mannion
RB....30 Gurley...........27 Mason...........36 Cunningham......34 C Reynolds
TE.....88 Kendricks.....46 Harkey
DE 93 Campbell..........90 Redding......71 Bryant
NT 95 Gunter...............69 X Williams
DT 92 Rucker..............73 Mauro........72 Stinson
SLB 44 Golden.......... ..54 Freeney......56 Riddick
ILB 20 Bucannon.........59 Fua
ILB 51 Minter...............55 Weathrspoon
WLB 57 Okafor...............96 Martin
LCB 21 Peterson...........27 C White
RCB 25 Powers.............28 Bethel
SS 26 R Johnson.........22 Jefferson
FS 32 Mathieu.
Matchup: Ram Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
Rams rank last in the NFL in passing, but that doesn't mean the Rams don't have their weapons. They can triangulate a defense with a speedster (Austin), a big TE target (Cook) and their big play wideout (Britt). And you always have to worry about Gurley countering on play action.
The Card pass rush remains pretty much "by committee", with Freeney arguably their most explosive pass rusher and Golden making his presence felt. Their secondary is banged up - Powers is day to day and the Cards just signed C White at corner and released a backup corner (the other) Nelson.
Foles had a 3-pick afternoon last Sunday. Ram O-line looks kind of unsung and possibly vulnerable.
Key Matchups: Peterson vs. Britt. Mathieu or maybe Bethel vs. Cook. Powers or Bethel vs. Welker. Freeney vs. G Robinson. Somebody (Bucannon?) should keep an eye on the other Ram TE (Kendricks).
Matchup: Ram Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
Gurley is arguably the best RB in the NFL. Card run defense has consistently been in the Top 5 but, when it's banged up (as it has been latelty), it may tend to wear down late in games. The elevation of X Williams and siging of Red Bryant can only help.
Key Matchups: This is another one of those games where gap-disicipline is more important than one-on-one matchups. (Sometimes Cardinal LB's will get overly geeked up and stray from their primary jobs. Do that Sunday and Gurley will leave cleat-marks all over your chest). Cardinal Front Three and ILB rotation key to not wearing down. Important that we contain Austin off the jet-sweep. (Maybe we should put Mathieu on him). Pass rushers shouldn't overrun Foles.
WR1 11 Fitzgerald..13 Jar Brown......10 Golden
LT 68 Veldheer....79 Sowell
LG 76 Iupati.........62 Larsen
C 63 Sendlein....53 Shipley
RG 61 Cooper
RT 70 Massie.......78 Watford.........74 Humphreys
TE 85 Fells...........87 Niklas
WR2 15 M. Floyd.....12 John Brown...14 Nelson
QB 03 Palmer........05 Stanton.........09 Barkley
RB 38 Ellington.....27 C Johnson....30 Taylor............33 K Williams
TE 84 Gresham
LDE.......91 Long............95 Hayes..........63 Longacre
LDT.......99 Donald.........98 Fairley
RDT.......90 Brockers......93 Westbrooks
RDE......94 Quinn...........97 Sims
ROLB....56 Ayers...........54 Hager
MLB......55 Laurinaitis...53 Bates
LCB.......22 T Johnson..20 Joyner
RCB .....21 J Jenkins....47 M Roberson
S...........26 Barron.........31 Alexander
FS ......23 McLeod......38 C Davis
Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Ram Pass Defense
When Palmer has time, he can be deadly. When he doesn't, he often has the weapons to still engineer big plays. But sometimes, when hurried, he'll make a bad decision and wind up in "pick city." Card pass protectors had a tough time vs. SF pass rushers. Ram pass rushers are a gazillion times tougher to defend than were the Niners. StL defense is tough across the entire 11 man roster. Quinn and Ayers are tough coming off the right side. Donald is considered by many to be the best interior DL in football. T Johnson and Jenkins are good in coverage. McDonald is solid deep.
Palmer is at his best when he can parlay an extra half-second into intermediate to deep passes for chunk yardage. But the key here is buying him the extra half second. Otherwise, he'll be forced to throw underneath, throw swings or circles to his RB's or hit his TE down the short seam. Then his offensive production becomes a matter of whether we can pose enough of a threat in the run game to keep Ram defender off the backs of Carson's receivers.
Key Matchups: Vehldeer and Iupati (& a RB) vs. Quinn and Ayers. Fitz vs. T Johnson. Floyd vs. Jenkins. John Brown vs. Joyner. Grisham vs. Barron.
Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Ram Run Defense
C Johnson (cracked tibia) is gone for the season and playoffs. Normally, it would be up to Andre Ellington to step up without missing a beat, but "Dre has a turf toe and is day to day. That leaves it up to the rookie (David Johnson) who's bigger than CJ or Andre but just as fast and may turn out to be the best of the three. DJ is still learning the finer points of being a quality RB (i.e. blitz pickup, ball protection, running good routes) where a mistake or two could cost us a football game. The hope here is that, after 11 games, he's no longer a rookie and will play like a seasoned bell cow. To add more depth behind DJ, Ellington and Taylor, the Cards added Kerwynn Williams from the PS. (Williams knows the offense and showed flashes of raw talent when pressed into duty last season).
Last Sunday, Iupati & Co. didn't live up to their billings as crunching run blockers. (Most of the Cardinal running plays wound up as collisions behind the LOS). Cardinal run blockers will have to do better against the Rams - the threat of a long run is a great way to slow down a pass rush or loosen up a secondary. Look for Johnson to take the majority of carries early, and after that (depending on who's healthy and effective) BA will just have to wing it.
Rams defensivety are formidable across the board - How about a Front Four of Long, Donald, Brockers & Quinn and LB's consisting of Laurinaitis and Ayers (plus Barron in kind of a Monster role). In the back end, T Johnson and Jenkins are strong corners. McDonald is solid. Their nickel guy (Joyner) can be a bit vulnerable to a 3rd WR like John Brown or JJ Nelson. Best way to beat the Rams: (1) stay balanced but (2) remain unpredictable and (3) don't let mistakes put us in a hole. One way to slow down a pass rush is to run directly at a pass rushing dude or tire him out with screens and flares on the perimeter. Problem is: we're thin at RB.
Key Matchups: Our OL vs. Ram DL. RB's vs. Ayers and Ram corners.
P 06 Hekker
K 04 Zuerlein
H 06 Hekker
LS 44 McQuaide
KR 36 Cunningham
PR 11 Austin
K 07 Catanzaro
P 02 Butler
H 02 Butler
LS 82 Leach
KR 31 D Johnson.....10 Golden
PR 21 Peterson
Matchup: Niner Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Zuerlein is very weak outside the fifty. Hekker.s punting average is equal to those of Ram opposing punters. The ever-dangerous Austin (is a potential game-changer on punt returns. Although the home run potential is there, Peterson, Mathieu, Golden, Nelson. D Johnson & Co. are not consistently breaking off long returns the way they were expected. Butler has become more solid but not "money" inside the 20.. We like the way Cat Man has consistently put the ball into the back of the end zone, but every three games or so, he'll hurt us with a missed XP..
Key matchups: Bethel and Campbell vs. Austin. Catanzaro vs. the back of the end zone. Butler vs. the sideline - keep the ball away from Austin.
SF: Fisher is HC. Former Cardinal HC Dave McGinnis is his right-hand assistant. Gregg (Bounty Man) Willams is DC, Frank Cignetti is OC and John Fassell is ST coordinator. Fisher is catching considerable fan heat due to the Rams'miserable W & L record. Ram owners are said to have wanted to move to LA with a winning record. This puts Fisher on the proverbial hot seat. Bottom line - Rams are a tough team with a losing record. For how long can they keep playing hard while continuing to lose? At what point in the season are they likely to mail it in? In other words, which team will we get to play Sunday - a team curled up in the fetal position or a snarling pack of rabid dogs who are sick of losing. (Beware the proverbial trap game).
AZ: Bruce Arians comes across as having an "old school" coaching style but unafraid of new approaches or to stretch the play-calling envelope. HIs motto: "No risk-it/no biscuit." A fun guy to follow - and he backs it up with solid coaching fundamentals (he has a huge staff of teaching-coaches from diverse backgrounds) and a record of proven success. Impressive stack of W's hasn't hurt his credibility with the players any.
As we mentioned earlier, the strength of the Rams is in its physical. badass defense, but their offense has struggled. Fisher understands that they'll have to score more and is not shy about dialing up one gadget play after the other. Expect to see a lot of wildcat with Gurley the deep back. The challenge for Jeff wil be (a) opening things up without (b) sacrificing that which brung 'em.
This will be the second time we play the Rams right after we play the Niners, only this time we play them on the road. Main concern continues to be Carson Palmer's safety. We can't "play timid" but the Ram defense (under the aggressive eye of Gregg Williams) can go out and hurt you. Although the Rams have the roster-talent and physicality to win big, Fisher's MO seems to be more to hang around for most of the game and hope to capitalize on a late break or two to steal the win. Lesson for Cards: Stay sound. Don't beat ourselves early, and don't squander any hard-earned scoring opportunities. Once again Cards will have to accept the physical challenge but "play smart."