Dissecting Best Individual Matchups to Watch in the Cardinals' Week 1 Action
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
We'll take a look at three critical individual matchups to watch in the first game of the season. Before we do, let's take a look back at the last time these two met in St. Louis. The Rams won 17-3 and it was a rough game for quarterback Kevin Kolb. Kolb might have felt like Ferris Bueller after the game.
How many times was Kolb sacked?
This time around it's Carson Palmer under center and the offensive line needs to play well in order to keep him upright. That's where two of the best individual matchups lie.
St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn vs. Arizona left tackle Levi Brown
Quinn registered 10.5 sacks last season and will be a tough test for Levi Brown to handle. Brown has struggled in pass and run blocking in the preseason. Let's take a look at three plays against San Diego in Arizona's third preseason game to illustrate this point.
In the first play, the Cardinals are lined up with one tight end on the right end of the line and running back Rashard Mendenhall in the backfield. Dwight Freeney (yellow circle) will rush towards the backfield. Brown (red circle) is on the left side of the line.
Freeney blows past Brown like he's standing still. Freeney is six yards downfield, while Brown has barely turned around. Mendenhall winds up taking a two-yard loss on the play, but it easily could have been five yards.
Later in the first quarter, Brown takes a holding penalty after getting beaten. The Cardinals have two tight ends on the right side of the formation (marked by black Xs). It wipes out a 15-yard completion from Palmer to Larry Fitzgerald. San Diego linebacker Larry English (yellow circle) comes straight at Brown.
As we can see, English drives straight into Brown and knocks him backward with a bull rush. All of the other linemen are holding their blocks (shown with black X's). Instead, Brown takes it on the chin from English and winds up committing the penalty at Palmer's feet.
Brown is at his worst against Freeney in the closing minute of the first half.
Before the snap, Brown is on the left side of the formation with a running back four yards directly behind him (black box). Freeney (yellow circle) opposes him again.
Freeney makes a spin move, and we see the results. Palmer gets sacked for a nine-yard loss, and Brown is on his backside. Stepfan Taylor (black circle) went out for a short pass and couldn't get back in time to help Brown.
It was a rough day for Levi Brown. The Cardinals can't afford to have him perform like that against the Rams.
St. Louis defensive end Chris Long vs. Arizona right tackle Eric Winston
Long is going to be a challenge for Winston to contain. Last season, Long racked up 11.5 sacks as a defensive end. He posted 13 sacks in 2011, so Winston will have to do his best to keep the pressure off of Palmer.
Brown has shown that he can be beaten easily on the rush with simple moves. Winston needs to keep Long as far away from Palmer as possible. If Brown falters on the left side of the line, Palmer will have to roll right to avoid the pressure. Long knows how to find his way to the quarterback, and Palmer isn't known for being very mobile.
Additional complications can also arise on the offensive line.
Guard Daryn Colledge has been pressed into service at the left guard spot. Normally, Colledge plays right guard, but a season-ending leg injury to Jonathan Cooper forced him to move. There's going to be some adjusting for him to make, going from the right side to the left side.
The other complication is that Paul Fanaika will be the starting right guard. He has played three games in his NFL career and never made a start. Fanaika is going from being out of the league last year to starting for Arizona this year.
The Rams could see that as a point of potential weakness and attack that during Sunday's game.
The Arizona offensive line might be vulnerable to stunts and twists by the St. Louis defense. Hopefully the Cardinals are able to withstand the pressure. If not, it could be a repeat of last year's parade to the quarterback.
You can see all nine sacks in this Youtube video. We recommend turning down the sound. Notice how they came from different players and different angles.
The third matchup to watch focuses on the running game. The Rams were vulnerable on the ground as they gave up 18 rushing touchdowns last season. That was tied for the third-worst performance in the league with New Orleans and Oakland, according to ESPN stats.
St. Louis middle linebacker James Laurinaitis vs. Arizona running back Rashard Mendenhall
Mendenhall is the lead back according to the Arizona depth chart on the team's official site. While he has the opportunity to perform, James Laurinaitis will be standing in his way.
Last season, Laurinaitis led his team with 142 total tackles.
He has a nose for finding the football and will zero in on Mendenhall on Sunday. Arizona could try to establish the running game to keep Palmer save from the potent pass rush the Rams have.
Mendenhall will have to be aware of where Laurinaitis is and do his best to steer away from him. If he doesn't, Mendenhall will start the season with a poor performance.
Who will win this game?
These three battles will play a big role in determining the outcome of this Week 1 game. Vote in our poll below, and tell us who you think will win.
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