Gridiron Gab Week One Preview: Arizona at St.Louis

2009 Regular Season Records:

Cardinals: 10-6, NFC West Division Champions

Rams: 1-15, 4th in NFC West

Game time:

Sun., Sept. 12th, 4:15 p.m., ET., Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, MO

Background:

A new chapter in the Cardinals’ story begins this Sunday.  Despite winning back-to-back division titles, achieving 4 playoff victories in two seasons, an making a Super Bowl appearance, the Cardinals find themselves playing a familiar role; the disrespected underdog.  Luckily, it’s a role that’s relished by the Cardinals, something Ken Whisenhunt has skillfully utilized to his team’s advantage.  This year’s Cinderella campaign starts in St. Louis against an opponent the Cardinals have dominated over the past four seasons; the Rams.

A weak week one opponent or not, Arizona suffered a devastating off-season, a point that has been emphasized by every media outlet.  Yes, the Cards lost a number of high-caliber players on both sides of the ball through retirement and some drawn out, long awaited free agent departures.  A large chunk of the 2008 Super Bowl team is gone including Warner, Boldin, Rolle,  and Dansby, a fact that has many analysts gifting the division to the 49ers by default.  Warner, Boldin, and Dansby were great team leaders and the 2010 Cardinals are understandably still searching for their identity without those three.

Like the off-season, the pre-season matched the rocky terrain of the Arizona desert the Cardinals call home.  Ken Whisenhunt found his team right in the middle of a red-hot quarterback controversy that made headlines all over the nation.  Derek Anderson, of the 2007, 10-6 Browns fame, is now the Cardinals starting quarterback.  Matt Leinart, of the Heisman trophy winning, two-time college national championship fame, is a lowly third-stringer for the Houston Texans.  The Cards’ new sensation Max Hall, an undrafted rookie out of BYU is now the second string quarterback, but poised to step in if Anderson falters.  Finally, the Cardinals’ fifth-round selection, John Skelton, is third on the depth chart.

All this quarterback shuffling didn’t happen overnight, though.  Leinart and Anderson traded ineffective performances for the first two weeks of the pre-season.  Along with the quarterbacks, the offense struggled mightily, but the team split the first two games with a victory over the Texans and a loss to the Titans.  After Ken Whisenhunt benched Leinart in favor of Anderson against Chicago, the gears started to lock into place and the offense showed modest improvements, winning the last two pre-season games against Chicago and Washington.  The change in the team is reflected no so much in numbers and stats, but in a change of attitude.  When Leinart was benched and ultimately released, it seemed like the Cardinals breathed a sigh of relieve, as if having ridden themselves of an ill-favored house guest who’d long outstayed his welcome.

As the offense cleared it’s throat during the pre-season, the defense quietly played solid ball.  The first team unit only gave up handful of points.  The leaders on the defensive line, Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell have each recorded a sack and both look poised for a big 2010 campaign.  Rookie LB Daryl Washington has played his way into a starting role, and veteran Joey Porter doesn’t appear to have lost much (if anything) in the way of intensity and aggression.  Finally, Greg Toler has taken his place opposite Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and has played consistently thus far, recording an interception in week 3 against the Bears.

There are, however, good reasons why the Cardinals are doubted this year.  They lost a lot of talent that made them winners over the last two years.  Derek Anderson’s lone bright spot was in 2007; he’s played terribly since then.  Only two offensive lineman are playing the same position as last year and Brandon Keith has never started an NFL game.  Larry Fitzgerald has missed the last three games of the pre-season with a sprained MCL.  Beanie Wells’ knee is not 100%.  The inside linebackers are questionable with Paris Lenon starting and Daryl Washington making his NFL debut.  An aging Bryan Robinson must hold down the nose tackle position until Dan Williams is ready to step in.  If the Cardinals are going to win their third consecutive division title, they are going to have to overcome these immediate hurdles and whatever obstacles are sure to present themselves along their path this year.  Right now, though, the Cardinals are full of potential and undefeated.  Let’s take a look at some things that will help keep them that way.

Cardinals’ Week 1 Depth Chart:

Offense:

WR1 – *Larry Fitzgerald (MCL sprain, definite), S. Williams, Max Komar

LT – Levi Brown, Jeremy Bridges

LG – Alan Faneca, Rex Hadnot

C – Lyle Sendlein, Ben Claxton, Rex Hadnot

RG – Deuce Lutui, Rex Hadnot

RT – Brandon Keith, Jeremy Bridges

TE – Ben Patrick, Stephen Spach, Jim Dray

WR2 – Steve Breaston, Early Doucet, Andre Roberts

QB – Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton

RB – T. Hightower, *B. Wells (right knee, probable), J. Wright, L. S.-Howling

FB – Jerome Johnson

Defense: 3-4 Base

DE – Calais Campbell, Kenny Iwebema

NT – Bryan Robinson, Gabe Watson, Dan Williams

DT – Darnell Dockett, Alan Branch

ROLB – Joey Porter, Cyril Obiozor

RILB – Paris Lenon, Reggie Walker

LILB – Daryl Washington, Reggie Walker

LOLB – Clark Haggans, Will Davis

RCB – Greg Toler, Trumaine McBride, A.J. Jefferson

LCB – Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Michael Adams, Brandon McDonald

SS – Adrian Wilson, Matt Ware, Hamza Abdullah

FS – Kerry Rhodes, Rashad Johnson

Rams’ Week 1 Depth Chart:

Offense:

WR1 – Laurent Robinson, Mark Clayton, Marty Gilyard

LT – Rodger Saffold, Renardo Foster

LG – Jacob Bell

C – Jason Brown, Hank Fraley

RG – Adam Goldberg, John Greco

RT – Jason Smith

TE – Billy Bajema, Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui

WR2 – Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Dominique Curry

QB – Sam Bradford, A.J. Felly, Thaddeus Lewis

RB – Steven Jackson, Kenneth Darby, Keith Toston

FB – Mike Karney

Defense: 4-3 Base

LE – Chris Long, C.J. Ah You

LDT – Fred Robbins, Gary Gibson

RDT – Clifton Ryan, Darell Scott, Jermelle Cudio

RDE – James Hall, Geroge Selvie, Eugene Sims

SSLB – Na’il Diggs

MLB – James Laurinaitis, David Vobora, Josh Hull

WILB – Larry Grant, Chris Chamberlain

LCB – Ron Bartell, Jerome Murphy

RCB – Justin King

FS – Oshiomagho Atogwe

SS – Craig Dahl, James Butler, Darian Stewart

Keys to a Cardinals Victory:

Offense:

  • Protect the ball and execute: Derek Anderson and the rest of the ball carriers have to protect the ball; no interceptions and no fumbles.  The Rams, who are coming off their worst year in franchise history, are going to have trouble on both sides of the ball.  They have a very hyped rookie quarterback making his first NFL start and a defense that’s still missing most pieces of the puzzle.  As a result, the Cardinals must make sure they don’t help the Rams by turning the ball over and not executing plays.  Even a poor team can take advantage of mistakes from time to time.
  • Attack the Rams’ CBs: Anderson and the Cardinals should have a big day passing.  The Rams have a pitiful set of starting CBs in Ron Bartell and Justin King.  Any one of the talented Cardinals’ receivers (Fitzgerald, Breaston, or Doucet) could easily devour these sub-par defenders in 1-on-1 coverage.  Even a marginal running game combined with an aggressive down field air attack should be more than the Rams defense can handle.  The Cardinals shouldn’t have much trouble moving the ball against the Rams.  If they do, it’s not a good omen for the Cards.
  • Neutralize Chris Long: With the losses of DE Leonard Little and DT Adam Carriker, DE Chris Long represents the last real pass rush threat for the Rams.  As a result, the Cardinals should focus on keeping Long away from Anderson.  The Rams just don’t have a credible interior pass rush anymore.  If they manage to stop Long on the edge, the Rams will have to rely solely on blitzing, which will leave an already poor secondary very exposed.

Defense:

  • Stop Steven Jackson: It’s really that simple.  The Cards have to make Sam Bradford beat them, which at this point in Bradford’s career and with the Rams supporting cast shouldn’t happen.  Amazingly, Jackson continues to be a top flight running back with one of the worst offenses in the NFL.  Imagine what Steven Jackson would be like on a team with even a mediocre offensive line, let along a good or great line.  That, however, is a fantasy and the Cardinals will be in great shape if they shut down the Rams’ running game.
  • Pressure Sam Bradford: With Jackson hopefully neutralized, the Cardinals need to bring the heat on defense.  Defensive coordinator Bill Davis will hopefully blitz Bradford early and often, stressing a broken offensive line and forcing the rookie to make quick decisions, which may turn into bad decisions and points for the Cardinals.  Again, make Bradford beat the Cardinals.
  • Intensity from the start: Any fan of the Cardinals knows that this team occasionally comes out flat and without the proper intensity and focus.  This flaw usually manifests itself against lesser opponents and they don’t get much “lesser” than the Rams.  A week 1 upset to a, let’s face it, pushover division foe would be devastating to the Cardinals.  Arizona should head into town focused and ready to snatch up an easy, but all important week 1 road victory.

AccuScore Projection:

Cardinals 64% favorite to the Rams 36% underdog.

Average scores: Cardinals – 23.3, Rams – 18.4

Head to Head Since 2006: Cardinals have a 7-1 record.

  • Dec. 27, 2009: ARI 31 @ STL 10
  • Nov. 22, 2009: STL 13 @ ARI 21
  • Dec. 7, 2008: ARI 34 @ STL 10
  • Nov. 2, 2008:  STL 13 @ ARI 34
  • Dec. 30, 2007: ARI 48 @ STL 19
  • Oct. 7, 2007: STL 31 @ ARI 34
  • Dec. 3, 2006: STL 20 @ ARI 34
  • Sept. 14, 2006: ARI 14 @ STL 16

St. Louis Rams Key Losses:

  • Marc Bulger, QB
  • Leonard Little, DE
  • Adam Carriker, DT
  • Alex Barron, OT

St. Louis Rams Key Returning Personnel:

  • Steven Jackson, RB
  • James Laurinaitis, LB
  • *Donnie Avery, WR (ACL tear, injury reserve)
  • Oshiomogho Atogwe, FS
  • Chris Long, DE
  • Danny Amendola, WR

St. Louis Rams Key Additions

  • Sam Bradford (rookie)
  • Mark Clayton, WR
  • Na’il Diggs, LB
  • A.J. Feely, QB
  • Chris Hovan, DT
  • Fred Robbins, DT
  • Bobby Carpenter, LB
  • Roger Saffold (rookie), OL
  • Marty Gilyard (rookie), WR

Rams vs. Cardinals 2009 Regular Season Rankings:

Rams:

  • Passing Yards: 28th (167.9 yards/game)
  • Rushing Yards: 20th (111.5 yards/game
  • Passing Defense: 25th (235.3 yards allowed/game)
  • Rushing Defense: 27th (137.6 yards allowed/game)

Cardinals:

  • Passing Yards: 12th (251.0 yards/game)
  • Rushing Yards: 28th (93.4 yards/game)
  • Passing Defense: 23rd (233.7 yards allowed/game)
  • Rushing Defense: 17th (112.8 yards allowed/game)

Rams vs. Cardinals 2009 Season Leaders:

Rams:

  • Passing: Marc Bulger – 140/247, 1469 yds, 5 TDs
  • Rushing: Steven Jackson – 324 carries, 1416 yds, 4 TDs
  • Receiving: Donnie Avery – 47 rec, 589 yds, 5 TDs

Cardinals:

  • Passing: Kurt Warner – 339/513, 3753 yds, 26 TDs
  • Rushing: Beanie Wells – 176 car, 793 yds, 7 TDs
  • Receiving: Larry Fitzgerald – 97 rec, 1092 yds, 13 TDs

Rams 2010 Season Outlook:

The outlook doesn’t look good.  The Rams terrible offensive line is probably going to get worse without any significant help.  Left tackle Alex Barron was traded to the Dallas Cowboys and 2009 draft pick Jason Smith will take his place.  Rodger Saffold, the Rams’ 2010 second-round selection will step in as a starter.  Adam Goldberg, Jason Brown, and Jacob Bell round out a well below average offensive line, which should ensure that the Rams won’t do much this year, besides get Bradford pounded.  Add to that the loss of Donnie Avery from an already pedestrian receiving core comprised of Laurent Robinson, recent addition Mark Clayton (from the Ravens), Danny Amendola, and rookie Marty Gilyard, and you’ve got a recipe for another frustrating season in the cellar of the NFL.  The hopes, once again, fall on the shoulders of Steven Jackson, but not even he can save this woeful offense by himself.  Sam Bradford absolutely looks like the real deal so far, but he’s in for a rough season behind that line.

The defensive side of the ball doesn’t look much better.  The Rams have a non-existent interior pass rush, which will get worse since DT Adam Carriker is gone.  Also, the Rams lost a large chunk of their rush on the edge in Leonard Little, though Chris Long can still put pressure on opposing QBs.  Second-year pro LB James Laurinaitis, had a great rookie season, but there isn’t enough talent around him.  The only bright spots in the Rams secondary are their two safeties Dahl and Atogwe, but they won’t be enough to overcome the deficiency created by their atrocious CBs, Bartell and King.  The Rams seem to be moving in the right direction is some regards, but they are a long way away from contention or even mediocrity.

Week 1 Prediction: Cardinals win 27-13.

Fitzgerald has 11 touchdown catches in his last 11 games against the Rams.


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2 Responses to “Gridiron Gab Week One Preview: Arizona at St.Louis”

  1. NY Giants says:

    It will be interesting to see how the Cardinals look without Warner and with Derek Anderson at the helm. I wasn’t a Leinart fan but he had studied and played in that system for 3 years plus.

  2. Will Brodsky says:

    That will be really interesting.

    I was totally wrong in that I didn’t see them benching or even releasing Leinart, but I think Leinart really shot himself in the foot with his remarks after the benching. Leinart’s pre-season numbers really weren’t too bad at all, but the team pretty much wanted him gone it seems.

    I think the Cardinals have a higher ceiling with Anderson than with Leinart. Anderson’s rocket arm deep to Breaston or Fitz could look really nice or his inaccuracy on wide open TD layups could be really awful. We’ll see.