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Key Matchups: Cardinals @ Rams
Cardinals Offense vs. Rams Defense
Derek Anderson takes over as the Cardinals' signal caller and should be licking his chops at the prospect of facing a St. Louis defense that surrendered nearly 373 yards and over 27 points per game in 2009. The Rams can put pressure on the quarterback with Chris Long but lack many playmakers other than him. LB James Laurinitis and S Oshiomogho Atogwe are tackling machines but the secondary is somewhat suspect.
With a healthy Larry Fitzgerald and an offensive line that looks to be coming together, Arizona should be able to move the ball down the field at will. Beanie Wells is questionable this week, but Tim Hightower has proven himself as a capable back and has experienced a couple huge games against St. Louis in his career. If Anderson avoids turnovers and the offensive line executes their assignments, the Cardinals' offense should fly high on Sunday.
Cardinals Defense vs. Rams Offense
Top pick Sam Bradford takes the ball and will look to get his NFL career started against Arizona's new-look defense. The Cardinals show five new starters in a unit many consider stronger than years past, but will need to prove it against a very talented back in Steven Jackson. Jackson is far and away the Rams' biggest offensive threat, but he also serves as a quality test for rookie LB Daryl Washington and a unit in need of experience playing together.
Bradford has shown flashes in the preseason, but a lack of experience on the offensive line and at wideout will hurt him. Arizona will need to get pressure early and force Bradford into making mistakes, but have the personnel and the pass rushers to make Bradford's debut a rough one.
Key Player: WR Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald has taken part in some monster games against St. Louis throughout his career and should be eager to get back on the field after missing most of the preseason with a knee sprain. Anderson has never had a receiver of Fitzgerald's caliber to throw to and, if he can put some air on his throws and get the ball in Fitzgerald's hands, his trend of big games against the Rams should continue.
St. Louis has the pieces in place to eventually pull out of the NFC West cellar, but that looks to be at least a year or two away. Few are giving the Cardinals a shot this season at a third-straight NFC West title and once again Arizona enters the 2010 campaign with something to prove.
Expect Anderson to utilize his talented wideouts and exploit a lack of playmakers in the Rams' secondary to set the tone on offense. Paced by a strong game from Tim Hightower, the Cards should control the line of scrimmage and have the potential to dominate the ground game. The Big Red's defense should get to Bradford early and often on Sunday, with hopes of forcing him into several errors. Steven Jackson might make the game interesting for awhile, but it should be all Cardinals when it's said and done .
Cardinals 31, Rams 13
Follow Ryan Knowles on Twitter: @RyKno52
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