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2016 Regular Season
Preview: Rams @ Cards

Setting the Stage:
Cards had what was arguably the worst outing since Bruce Arians became head coach, losing to the Bills 33 - 18 and going 1 @ 2. The Rams. Meanwhile the Rams took a chunk out of Tampa Bay's hyde, riding the crest of five take-aways to win on the road and go 2 & 1.

To say that the Cardinals were embarrassed would be an understatement. To say that the Rams - enjoying their return to LA - feel pretty good about themselves would be just as much an understatement as well.

Logically, one might say that the Cards' second loss of the season (& the way they did it) has "gotten the attention" of BA and his coaching staff (who must be wondering whether they can regain control of a football team that seems to be performing outside the boundaries of their control).

Jeff Fisher's task, while less onerous, is no less formidable - he has to manage his team's success (getting his players to buy into the "nose to the grindstone"/"one game at a time" ethic.

Will the Cards get angry and rise to the challenge? Or will they assume the fetal position? Will the Rams build on the momentum? Or will they prematurely believe their press clippings? Should be an interesting matchup.

Opponent's Last Game
Rams capitalized on five take-aways to come from behind (20 - 10 near the end of the first half) and then endure a weather-delay (with 2 minutes to play in the 4Q) to fend off a final TB drive to beat the Buccos 37 - 32.

First Quarter
Rams received (TB on the KO) and mounted an 8-play opening TD drive capped by a 44-yard TD completion from Keenum to Quick.
Rams 7 - Tampa Bay 0.

TB on KO. TB went 3 & out. T Austin returned the punt 8 yards to the LA 29. On the 3rd play from scrimmage, Keenum's pass for Austin was picked off by Alexander and returned 38 yards for a TD. XP no good. Rams 7 - Tampa Bay 6.

Cunningham returned the KO to the Ram 40. The two teams exchanged 3 & outs. Rams fair caught the TB punt on their own 32. They managed to reach the TB 35-yard line where Zuerlein's 53-yarder was good. Rams 10 - Tampa Bay 6.

TB on the KO. Bucs ((off completions of +19 and +31 yards) reached the Ram 23 as the quarter ended. Tampa Bay 13 - Rams 10

Second Quarter
A 14-yd Winston to Evans completion helped move the Bucs to the LA 1, where Sims ran it in up the gut. Tampa Bay 13 - Rams 10

TB on the KO. On the 3rd play from scrimmage, Keenum completed an 8 yd pass to Britt who fumbled. Fumble recovered by Conte. TB ball at the LA 43. A 20-yard completion to Brate helped set up a Winston - Brate 3-yard TD connection. Tampa Bay 20 - Rams 10.

TB on the KO. Rams reached their own 45 but had to punt. Out of bounds at Tampa Bay 18 with 3:04 till halftime. On the third play from scrimmage, Winston's pass for Sims was intercepted by Barron and returned to the Tampa Bay 22. 2:23 left on the clock. Rams reached the Tampa Bay one in 6 plays before Gurley ran it up the middle for a one-yard TD. (It's now a 3 pt football game). Tampa Bay 20 - Rams 17.

TB on the KO. Knee. Half over.

2nd Half Score: Tampa Bay 20 - Rams 17.

Third Quarter
TB received. TB on KO. They reached their own 45 but had to punt. Fair caught at the LA 11. The two teams went 3 & out, and Rams went 3 & out a second time. TB recovered a fair catch fumble at their own 34. A couple of completions to Evans enabled the Bucs to reach the Ram 23, where Aguayo missed from 41-yards out. Rams took over at their own 31 with completions to Britt (+19) amd Marquez (+12) leading to a one-yard TD run by Gurley. Rams 24 - Bucs 20.

TB on KO. Bucs reached their own 34 to end the quarter.

Third Quarter Score: Rams 24 - Bucs 20.

Fourth Quarter
Bucs reached the Ram 13 where - on 3rd & 6 - Winston was sacked (by quinn) and fumbled. Picked up by Westbrooks and returned 77-yards for a Ram TD. Rams 31 - Bucs 20.

TB on KO. Bucscame right back with a 7-play TD drive capped by a Winston to Brate 1-yd TD pass. (2 pointer was no good). Rams 31 - Bucs 26.

TB on the KO. On the third play of a 7-play TD drive, Fisher dialed up four straight runs up the middle followed by a 43-yard TD bomb from Keenum to Austin. (2-pointer failed). Rams 37 - Bucs 26.

4:38 left to play. TB on the KO. Winston led TB on an 11 play TD drive consumated by a 7-yard completion to Evans. (2-pointer once again failed). Rams 37 - Bucs 32.

KO returned to the Ram 6-yd line. 2:10 left to play. Rams held to 3 & out. Punt returned to Buc 44 with 1:42 left on the clock. Winston managed to peck his way down to the Ram 15, but Ram secondary held firm and the Buccos ran out of time.

Final Score: Rams 37 - Bucs 32.

Team Stats

First Downs - Rams 45 / Opponents 75

Third Down Conversions - Rams 1240 / Opponents 20/46

Fourth Down Conversions - Rams 1/2 / Opponents 3/4

Offensive Yards - Rams 788 / Opponents 1,098

Rushing Plays/Yards/Avg - Rams 81/266/3.3 / Opponents 88/300/3.4

Passing Compl/Att/Int/Avg/Yds - Rams 49/91/3/8.1/559 / Opponnts - 80128/1/6.5/829

Sacks -Rams 4.0 / Opponents 6.0

Field Goals - Rams 44 / Opponents1/2

Time of Possession -Rams 28:04 / Opponents 31:56

Turnover Ratio - 0

Key Player Stats

Passing: Keenum - 49 for 91/53.8%/ Int %: 3.3%/YPA: 6.1/Sacked 6.0/Rating 66.1

Rushing: Gurley -63 for 183 yds (2.9 YPA)

Receiving: Britt (14 for 199). Austin (14 for 145 & 1 TD). Quick (6 for 84 & 1 TD). Kendricks (6 for 76).

Field Goals - Zuerlein: 4 for 4 (one outside the fifty)

Punting - Hekker: 44.0 gross avg

Punt Returns - Austin 9 for 7.2 avg

Kickoff Returns - Cunningham averages 34.3 YPR. Austin: 1 for 5 (5 YPR)

Tackles - Ogletree (29), Barron (22) and Joyner (21)lead the team

Sacks - Quinn leads with 2 followed by McDonald and Hayes a(1each) Keenum's been sacked 6 times.

Interceptions - Barron 1 (Keenum's been picked off 3 times). None

Fumble Recoveries - Five (Quinn leads with 2 followed by Ogletree, Sensabaugh and Easley with one apiece).

Rosters/Match-ups

Ram Offense

WR......18Britt (#54) ..................15 Marquez ..........10 Cooper
TE........46 Harkey......................84 Hemingway
LT.........73 G Robinson(#68)......72 Murphy         
LG        76 Saffold (#34)) ..........68 J Brown             
OC        61 Barnes (#29)............65 Rhaney    
RG       69 Wichman #58)).........64 Donnal
RT        79 Havenstein (#43)           
TE        88 Kendricks (#53)).......89 Higbee (#52)                                            
WR      11 Austin (#89)..............83 Quick (69)............13 M Thomas........86 Spruce
QB      17 Keenum (#33 )..........16 Goff.....................14 Mannion...

RB.......30 Gurley (#17)...........,,,23 Cunningham.......39 M Brown.........34 Reynolds

* Not listed on roster. PFF grades in parentheses

Cardinal Defense

DE        93 Campbell (#9)) .....72 Stinson (#106)
NT        98 Peters (#56)..........69 X Williams .............72 Pierre                
DT        95 Gunter (#86)..........92 Rucker) .................97 Mauro (#45)....90 Nkemdiche
SLB     55 C Jones (#17)........57 Okafor               
ILB       20 Bucannon (#73) ...50 G Martin           
ILB       51 Minter (#22)...........54 Bartu                
WLB    44 Golden (#43).........96 K Martin     
LCB     21 Peterson (#4)                
RCB    41 Cooper (#12).........26 B Williams (#94)......28 Bethel              
SS       36 Swearinger...........27 Branch (#10)                 
FS       32 Mathieu (#26)........22 T Jefferson (#2)

PFF Pos Rankings in parentheses   

Matchup: Rams Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
Rams started the season as a "keep it close" football team that played conservative offense and then beat you with its defense. (They scored a grand total of 9 points in their first two regular season games while limiting the Seahawks to just 3-points in Game #2). The CW was that Jeff Fisher would use Casey Keenum as a place-holder until rookie QBOF Jared Goff was ready for prime time). That perception may have changed somewhat last weekvs. Tampa Bay, when Keenum hit Quick for a 44-yd TD in the 1Q and - after 4 consecutive runs in the 4Q - Keenum hit Austin with a 43 yard TD bomb.

Statistically, Keenum hasn't exactly set the world on fire, completing 53.9% of his passes and compiling a 66.1 QB rating. Austin and Britt lead Ram receivers with 12 receptions apiece. They got Quick involved in the passing attack last week. He and the Rams TE (Kendrick) havre 6 catches apiece. Their RB (Gurley) inexibly is not among Ram receiving leaders.

The Peterson/Cooper corner tandem looks solid, but the entire Cardinal secondary looked discombulated in Buffalo. On paper, this unit should be able to contain LA's receivers, but - unless they step up and execiute consistently - "paper don't mean diddly."

Opposing pass rushers have gotten to Keenum 6 times. Their highest-rated lineman are inside men, Barnes (#29) and Saffold (#34) affording the opportunity for Cardinal pass rushers (most notably, C Jones and Golden) to get to Keenum early and often. One other thing, regarding the use of the blitz. Last week, the Rams torched TB twice with deep TD passes. Coach Bettcher might want to rely on more 4 - 5 man rushers, less exotic blitzing and have at least one secondary guy have deep responsibility. One other thing that might work more in our favor - In terms of mobility - Keenum isn't as much of a threat as Tyrod Taylor and we should be able to play him more straight-up with less concern about the zone-read.

Key Matchups: Peterson vs. Austin. Cooper vs. Britt. Mathieu vs. Quick.. T Jefferson vs. Kendrick. C Jones and Golden vs. Robinson and Havenstein

Matchup: Rams Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
Gurley (2.9 ypc) doesn't appear to have gotten untracked so far this year (but there's always a first time)..

LA's run-blocking figures to be the culprit, but NE and Buffalo have demonstrated that we're vulnerable to straight-ahead smashmouth blocking - both between the tackles or at the perimeter.

In two of three games. Card front-three (Campbell, Peters, Gunter) haven't been effective penning up enemy ballcarriers at or behind the LOS. Our edge guys haven't done a very good job of holding contain. Begs the question: Is this mostly due to a lack of athletic chops? Or is it attitude? And - are the players willing and able to correct it. (Note - Cards placed ILB Alani Fua on IR and replaced him with Joplo Bartu (4 year vet out of Texas State).

T Jefferson leads the team in tackles. Cooper (who recently joined Peterson to man a corner) has provided a surprisingly reliable physical presence. The Badger is gradually rounding into form - but is spending more time deep and less in the box than he or the coaches (or the injury gods) want him to. Minter is growing into a leadership role at ILB, but Buccanon is experiencing a form of "sophomore slump." Branch is ranked #10; he and Swearinger are capable deep patrollers.

Key Matchup: Gurley vs. Minter. Our DL vs. their OL.


Cardinal Offense

WR1    11 Fitzgerald (#2)......13 Jaron Brown (#38)
LT        68 Veldheer (#28)......73 Wetzel                       
LG       76 Iupati (#12)                   
C         53 Shipley (#14)........78 Watford (#68).....................70 Boehm                    
RG       69 Mathis (#22) .......61 Toner                   
RT........74 Humphries (#52)
TE       .85 Fells (#36) ...........80 Momah      
WR2    15 M. Floyd (#74)......12 John Brown (#70).....14 JJ Nelson        
QB       03 Palmer (#32).........05 Stanton     
RB       31 D Johnson (#1).....23 C Johnson.......38 Ellington.......30 Taylor
TE        84 Gresham (#19)

PFF Pos Rankings in Parentheses

Ram Defense

LDE......95 Hayes (#39)..............93 Westbrooks (#87)...96 Longacre
LDT......99 Donald (#1) ..............91 Easely (#29) 
RDT.....90 Brockers (#7).............92 C Thomas (#51)
RDE....94 Quinn (#17)................97 E Sims (#65)
MLB....52 Ogletree (#8).............54 Hager. ....................59 Forrest
LCB....22 T Johnson (#79) .......27 I Johnson               
CB......20 Joyner (#40)...............32 T Hill (#99)     
RCB...21 Sensabaugh (#91)......33 Gaines     
S........26 Barron (#63) ...............58 Littleton
FS......31 M Alexander (#9)........38 C Davis (#58)             
SS......25 McDonald (#10)

PFF Pos Rankings in Parentheses

Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Bills Pass Defense
When Palmer is relatively well-protected in the pocket, he can be deadly. But when under pressure, he tends to throw off his back foot and "steer" or "push" his passes. This tendency doesn't show up in sack stats, but (along with Carson's high interception rate of late) is a somewhat invisible outgrowth of what happens when pass blocking doesn't hold up.

Another way to put it is: Palmer is putting up decent numbers, but this is in spite of erratic pass blocking. Either pass pro has to improve or BA needs to mix in more quick (3 and 5-step) passes where Carson has the opportunity to step into his throws.

He's got the arsenal - with Fitz, Floyd, the Browns and David Johnson to throw to.

Rams are loaded on defense, with 5 of their 11 defensive starters ranked #10 or higher by PFF. Donald is the top-rated interior lineman in the NFL. Brocker's ranked #7.Their two safeties - Alexander and McDonald are ranked #9 and #10 respectively. Their MLB (Ogletree) is ranked #8).

The personality of this Ram team appears to blend a conservative offense that will take an occasional shot with a stingy playmaking defense. Card offense will have its hands full.

Although Donald isn't credited with a sack (yet), he leads the NFL with 17 QB pressures. most offenses scheme and use double-team to control Donald, but that's automatically opened things up for other pas rushers. There's enough depth and versatility on the Ram D-line to compensate for injuries that ate into their rotation in last week's win over TB. But the starting front 4 of Westbrooks, Donald, Brockers and Quinn is downright scary.

In the secondary, LA employs a funky six-man unit consisting of three safeties and three corners. Although 2 of their safeties - McDonald and Alexander are Top 10-ranked, their corners - while well-known - aren't ranked so highly. (Their highest ranked corner is Joyner (#40) followed by Trumaine Johnson (#79) and Sensabaugh (#91). Their otherr safety (Barron) is ranked #63.

Key Matchups: Iupati & Watford or Mathis vs. Donald and Brockers. Veldheer vs. Quinn. Humphries vs. Westbrooks or Hayes. If LA plays a lot of man-coverage: D Johnson and Fells vs. McDonald & Alexander. Fitz, Floyd and the Browns vs. Joyner, Sensabaugh and T Johnson. But quite possibly, the Rams will line up in a lot of zone or partially zone schemes.

Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Bills Run Defense
David Johnson is ranked by PFF #1 RB overall. Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington give the Cards arguably the best group of RB's of any team in the NFL

At guard, Mathis blocks for the run (#12) better than he does protect the passer (#49). His absence due to injury last week may have been the most underrated factor in the blowout by Buffalo. Iupati is the exact reverse of Mathis (#12 in pass pro /#39 as a run blocker). At tackle. Veldheer is just a so-so run blocker/Humphries ranks just #52. Shipley grades out surprisingly high at center.

The Cards couldn't run the ball in the 1H vs.Buffalo last week, but the run-game began to look the way we've expected it to in the final two quarters. D Johnson remains the bell cow. His strength appears to be more off tackle and around the flanks than it does between the tackles. (The lighter Chris Johnson is surprisingly more lethal between the tackles.

Cards will need to run the ball more than 40% of the time - if only to keep the Ram pass rushers honest. This may be one of those games where BA runs early to probe for weakness and then adapts "on the fly" depending on how we do.

BA may also attack the flanks more often in order to tie up edge rushers Quinn and Hayes or Westbrooks.

Key Matchup: D Johnson vs. Ogletree, Quinn and Westbrooks. Mathis, Shipley and Iupati vs. Donald and Brockers,

Special Teams

Rams

K          04 Zuerlein                         
P          06 Hekker                        
H          06 Hekker  
LS        44 McQuaide                              
KR       23 Cunningham                       
PR       11 Austin

Cardinals

K          07 Catanzaro                             
P          09 Quigley                                   
H          02 Butler                             
LS        46 Brewer                                 
KR       38 Ellington              
PR        12 Jn Brown

Matchup: Pats Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Cardinal kicking and punting game is in disarray - Errant long snapper (Canady) was cut - his replacement will be Aaron Brewer (5 year vet out of SD State) . Cards are keeping the injured Butler, but signed a second punter, Ryan Quigley. (Butler is expected to remain on the roster - & will continue to be Catanzaro's holder). Speaking of Catanzaro, we've become conditioned to expect him to shank at least one XP and one fg a game (although he did come near to breaking a franchise record last week by hitting a 60-yarder). Card return game improved somewhat with the presence of Smokey Brown, but both our KR and PR production leave much to be desired. Cardinal coverage units aren't as effective as they should be, although Bethel - back from injury - is slowly rounding into form

Zuerlein hasn't missed a FG attempt this year. Hekker is averaging 44.0 (gross) yards per punt. In Austin, the Rams have one of the most dangerous return men in the NFL.

Key matchups: Campbell and Bethel vs. Buffalo blockers. Reggie Bush vs. Cardinal coverage team.

Coaching
LA: Amidst rumors that Jeff Fisher is on the bubble (i.e. ownership may be interested in eventually hiring a more high-profile HC in order to win over the glitzy LA market), all he's done is graduallybuild a very solid defense while slowly putting together pieces of the offensive puzzle. True - Rams got blown out 28 - 0 by SF and then only scored 9 points in their win over Seattle, but they only gave up a FG to Seattle., found away to prevail over TB and are now 2 & 1.

AZ: Lots of heat on BA - no one saw coming our 1 & 2 record. Almost as bad as the two losses are the way the team played in both contests. I personally don't think there's any magic wand in the form of a sexy, new strategy or innovative scheme, that can turn things around. The team just has to execute better...and more consistently. That, boys & girls, will be BA's big challenge.

Last Word
Forget the hype - the Cards look like a .500 football team.
They shoulda beat NE. They beat TB. They got blown out in Buffalo. (Assuming they beat the Rams - which is far from a sure thing, that would make us .500). My reason for labeling them .500 is because they lose a game, then win a game and then lose a game. (That sure looks, walks and quacks like a .500 team).

Both players and coaches, as they should, believe the Cardinals are better than that...and still very much a playoff contender. To which I say: "Prove it." (i.e. play consistent winning football).


 
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