St. Louis Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals: Breaking Down St. Louis' Game Plan

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St. Louis Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals: Breaking Down St. Louis' Game Plan
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There can be no repeat of this in Week 14.

Fourteen.

That's how many touchdowns the 7-5 Arizona Cardinals have allowed to tight ends this season. No other team in the NFL has allowed more than nine to the position (Washington and the Minnesota Vikings). They're also the only team to allow more than 75 catches and 1,000 yards to tight ends.

Tight ends have caught 79 passes for 1,042 yards and 14 touchdowns on 124 targets in 2013. All of those marks are league-highs. Tight ends have been productive, and Arizona's opponents know it.

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Cook can fly, too!

Naturally, the St. Louis Rams should look to their tight ends for production against the Arizona defense—especially since Jared Cook opened its floodgates in the first place. In Week 1, the former Tennessee Titan poured on a season-high seven catches, 141 yards and two touchdowns at home.

He very well may have had three, if not for a heroic effort by one Tyrann Mathieu. Ball security, therefore, should be an especially pertinent point of emphasis for St. Louis.

Cook now leads the team in catches (40), yards (557) and scores (four) on the year. He should add to all three categories against a Cardinals defense that has surrendered eight scores to tight ends in its last seven games, including six in its last four and three last week.

Conversely, the Cardinals have kept opposing wide receivers out of the end zone for three straight weeks, and no Rams wideout scored on them in Week 1. Andre Johnson was the last to do it as he double-tapped them in Week 10.

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Both were on Patrick Peterson in the back of the end zone. Both were acrobatic, I'm-the-best-in-the-business grabs. Each was near a sideline.

As a matter of fact, Arizona hasn't allowed a catch-and-run score to a receiver since Calvin Johnson ran one in from 72 yards out in Week 2. That's its only TD grab allowed to a wideout that wasn't falling into or already in the end zone this season.

What that means is the Rams will probably need to use a big-bodied receiver like Brian Quick or Austin Pettis to score on Arizona if Tavon Austin and Chris Givens can't simply burn the Cardinals deep (Peterson is fast, but he can only cover one of them at a time).

Perhaps that's why it's the tight ends that do most of the damage against them in the first place.

Even without Jo-Lonn Dunbar, the Rams did a good job of stopping the run in their first meeting with Arizona, allowing 86 yards on 26 carries (3.3 yards per attempt) with a long of 11 yards. The Rams need to keep the run game bottled up and turn the Cardinals into a one-dimensional, passing offense.

Arizona's trio of wide receivers, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd, however, were a problem.

Fitz led the team in catches (eight) and touchdowns (two); Roberts paced it in catches (eight) and yards (97); and Floyd (four grabs for 82 yards) had the longest reception of the day, 44 yards.

St. Louis has been dealing with injuries to its defensive backs nearly all season, so it has to discourage Carson Palmer from taking deep shots to anyone—especially Floyd and Fitzgerald—by hitting him repeatedly with its front four.

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Robert Quinn notched three sacks in his season debut while William Hayes added another one for four of St. Louis' six QB hits in Week 1. If Quinn can drag Palmer down once or twice more and Chris Long gets in on the party to make it a long day for the Cardinals passer, the Rams will be in a good position to snag their third road win of the season.

With less soft-zone coverage (which would allow the Arizona wideouts to box out St. Louis' DBs), double-teams on Fitzgerald and close man-to-man attention to Floyd, the Rams have a good chance to force Palmer into some turnovers.

The former Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders QB has thrown at least one pick in every game he's played against an NFC opponent this season.

 

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