This Week 1 rematch between NFC West rivals St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals could feature the Rams knocking the Cards out of the Wild Card race. St. Louis escaped with a big win in Week 1 that had Rams fans with high hopes for the 2013 season. That hype was short-lived as the next few weeks proved to be too difficult for the Rams to handle. St. Louis was yet to find their offensive identity and a running back who could carry the load.
Now that there is indeed a feature back who can pound out solid yards on the ground, the Rams have shown what they can do with a run-first attack. Zac Stacy has become the focus of the offensive scheme allowing OC Brian Schottenheimer to open the rest of the playbook up with trick plays. Last week’s dismal display of offense lays mostly on dropped catches against a superior team.
The Cardinals have struggled against tight ends all season long after surrendering two TDs, seven catches and 141 yards to Jared Cook in Week 1. They have allowed 14 TD passes to opposing tight ends this season, so there is an obvious weakness that the Rams need to attack with Cook. However, as much as they tend to struggle against tight ends, the Cardinals haven’t allowed a TD pass to a wide receiver since Week 10. Even more impressive is the fact that they haven’t given up a catch-and-run TD since Week 2.
St. Louis will have to play it smart when throwing to receivers, especially when its on Patrick Peterson‘s side of the field. He has been a Ram killer since he was drafted. Establishing Stacy early will be the only way to take pressure off of Kellen Clemens and give him time to hit receivers or tight ends for big plays. If Stacy can handle the workload, he will be looking at 20-plus carries in an attempt to keep superstar Larry Fitzgerald and the pass-heavy Cardinals’ offense off of the field. The power running of Stacy and Benny Cunnigham should be used early and often, especially in the red zone where Peterson can end a drive on a poorly-executed pass. If the Rams opt to pass in the red zone, they should stick to big bodies like Brian Quick, Austin Pettis and Cook, who can shield off defenders.
On defense, the Rams will have to put pressure on Carson Palmer, who can be an interception machine. The Rams’ front four did just that against him in Week 1 as All-Pro hopeful Robert Quinn logged three sacks and two forced fumbles. Still, Palmer threw for over 300 yards and two TDs while St. Louis had six total QB hits. Palmer has thrown at least one interception per game when facing an NFC opponent.
In the secondary, the soft zone coverage scheme that has been used all season won’t work against Fitzgerald. He is a zone defense destroyer and can find space against any coverage, but giving him space to catch and run will lead to a long day for the defense. His eight catches and two touchdowns in Week 1 should have served as a warning to the secondary and coaches that the soft zone defense isn’t the most effective scheme, especially when it comes to defending an elite pass catcher. Add in Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd‘s combined 12 catches for 179 yards and it just shows how bad the secondary can be and has been all year.
St. Louis will have to shut down the passing attack of the Cardinals to steal a win. Leaning on the run and letting Quinn loose will make it a much easier task to play spoiler. If the secondary can limit Fitzgerald’s catches and prevent big plays by the younger receivers, it will be a run away victory, but that will be a tough task as the secondary is facing injuries and hasn’t lived up to last year’s hype.