Wednesday, October 3, 2012


What once might have been a total stinker for Thursday night prime time action finds two teams headed in positive directions after the first quarter of the NFL season. The Rams are 2-2, and under Jeff Fisher have found some discipline and direction. The Cardinals are 4-0, winning with good defense and a rejuvenated Kevin Kolb, whose QB rating of 97.6 ranks him fifth in the NFC, better than Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning and Drew Brees for the moment. The Cardinals have won ten of the last 11 meetings against St. Louis dating back to 2006. They swept last year's season series, including a 23-20 victory in St. Louis. Two key match-ups will be the focus of this game. The first one is Arizona's top wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald going up against Rams CB Cortland Finnegan.

Cortland Finnegan has give Jeff Fisher reason
to smile.
Finnegan is having a Pro Bowl caliber start to 2012 since he rejoined Fisher. He already has three interceptions this year, to go along with six passes defensed and 26 tackles. So far the 5'10" corner has faced the likes of Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Sidney Rice, and none have scored. He'll have to keep Fitzgerald from affecting the outcome of this one. The second important matchup pits the St. Louis offensive line against the opportunistic pass rush of the Cardinals. It was Arizona's Daryl Washington coming on a center blitz that dislodged the ball from Miami QB Ryan Tannehill and turned the tide of last Sunday's meeting. It was the seventh such fumble this defense has caused and the sixth they've recovered.  The Rams left tackle position is compromised due to knee injuries to starter Roger Saffold and his backup Wayne Hunter, both questionable for Thursday's contest.  This means QB Sam Bradford could face blind side pressure all day long, as Arizona has 16 sacks on the year, the second best tally in the NFL.  Seattle had success against the Rams on the ground, so it's likely Ken Whisenhunt will once again try to get RB Ryan Williams going early to alleviate pressure on Kevin Kolb.  The Arizona line has only been able to assist their runners to just 2.7 yards per carry average, but against St. Louis, should do a little better and find the end zone. Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson might fare a little better with their yards per carry, but the Cardinals have given up one touchdown on the ground this year, so don't expect any big points from them.  Though Cortland Finnegan kept Calvin Johnson out of the end zone, he couldn't stop the 6'5" receiver from a 100-yard day.  He will have his hands full ceding almost half a foot to Fitzgerald, who will put up at least 75 yards and a score.  Arizona's pass defense dropped from ninth to 21st after Miami's Brian Hartline ate them for over 250 yards receiving. Thus, even with Bradford's mediocre weapons, if he can hang in under pressure he can find open targets. Danny Amendola will have another 6-7 grabs for 70 yards or so. Brandon Gibson could finally play a key role for the Rams with a deep ball touchdown as the Cardinals have given up three plays greater than 40 yards. However, I'd rather have his counterpart from the Cardinals, Andre Roberts, who should continue his strong season matched up Thursday against Janoris Jenkins. I also like Rams TE Lance Kendricks is to get his first touchdown, as Arizona has given up two of their three passing TDs across the short middle of the field, but that doesn't mean I'd start him over a set of more consistent hands. In the end, the Cardinals should be able to generate enough of a pass rush to disturb Bradford and his limited arsenal. St. Louis' only real hope is to run the ball well, control the tempo and put up points. Considering the Arizona defense only allows opponents to score on drives a league low 44% of the time, I don't see it happening.