An in-depth preview of the Cardinals' divisional matchup against the St. Louis Rams.
Cards vs. Rams: Who Has the Advantage?
The Redbirds' offense has struggled to get into any kind of rhythm all season. The unit has been ineffective in every facet, but several players, including Tim Hightower and Larry Fitzgerald, have had success against St. Louis in their careers. The burden now falls to Derek Anderson and the offensive line to string first downs together, create opportunities and take pressure off the defense.
For the Rams, defensive end Chris Long has been a game-changer, leading the league in QB hurries along with 6.5 sacks. On the other side of the line, James Hall is a force as well, collecting 7.5 sacks and 36 tackles. Pair St. Louis' formidable pass rush with aggressive playmakers James Laurinaitis, Bradley Fletcher and O.J. Atogwe and the Rams' defense is a much better unit than last year. The Big Red's offense will need to play disciplined, mistake-free football to put points on the board.
Cardinals Defense vs. Rams Offense
Arizona's defense has drawn comparisons to a freeway: too many lanes and unresponsive when needed. The Cardinals rank near the bottom in nearly every major defensive category, struggling to make plays and create pressure on opposing offenses. To make matters worse, starting corner Greg Toler and defensive end Calais Campbell could miss Sunday's game with injuries. Veteran Adrian Wilson must lead a defense up against rookie Sam Bradford, who's thrown for 2,446 yards and 17 touchdowns. Bradford is also aided by the hard running of Steven Jackson (883 yards, 3 TDs), making the Rams' attack more well-rounded and difficult to gameplan around. Shutting down Jackson is easier said than done, but if the Cards' front-seven can make St. Louis more one-dimensional, they could have a chance.
Player to Watch: LaRod Stephens-Howling
You probably will not see the "Hyphen" much on offense, but Stephens-Howling has been an impact player in the return game this season. And the Big Red will need his skills to give a boost to the offense and control the field position. St. Louis is not known for their kickoff coverage, so one big special teams' play could be all the Cards need to inch ahead on Sunday.
In what has become a very frustrating season, the Cardinals are in desperate need of a solid performance to gain confidence, especially for the younger players. Matching up with a team they have dominated in recent years is an ideal opportunity to get back on track. However, this is not the same Rams' team that was locked in the NFC West basement in recent years.
Bradford is likely to continue his improvement, throwing for a couple scores but Darnell Dockett and the Cardinals' line will make him work for everything and contain Jackson to less than 75 yards. Hightower will continue his stellar play against St. Louis with some nice runs and Anderson will utilize the play-action to find Fitzgerald for some sizable gains.
A Stephens-Howling return or big defensive play will be the difference in this one as the Cardinals utilize the home crowd of their 51st straight sellout and snap their losing streak.
Cardinals 28, Rams 24
Follow Ryan Knowles on Twitter: @RyKno52
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