The Arizona Cardinals travel to St. Louis to take on the Rams for a second time this month. The two teams met Nov. 6 at University of Phoenix Stadium where they ended regulation all knotted up. It was Patrick Peterson's electrifying 99-yard punt return in overtime that gave the Cardinals the 19-13 win over the Rams.
This Sunday, the Cardinals will need to be hitting on all cylinders when they take the field in the Edward Jones Dome.
Between the offense, defense, special teams and, yes, even the cheerleaders, there are 10 keys to Arizona's success.
St. Louis Rams wide receiver Brandon Lloyd is pictured to the left holding up five fingers. Trust me, he is. Okay, for those of you with trust issues, go ahead, look again. If you looked again, then you're probably wearing a belt and suspenders. Major trust issues.
So, what do those five fingers mean to the Arizona Cardinals? That's the number of catches Lloyd had the last time these two teams played. Lloyd caught five passes for 80 yards. He accounted for almost one-third of quarterback Sam Bradford's passing yards.
With Mark Clayton headed to injured reserve, the Rams receiving corps aren't threatening, besides Lloyd. The Cardinals need to put bracket coverage on Lloyd to shut him down.
The Cardinals' cornerbacks have struggled this season covering wideouts, and Lloyd will be another significant test for the young group. With bracket coverage on Lloyd, Bradford will struggle to move the ball through the air.
There's running lanes and then there's running lanes. What the Arizona Cardinals provided Rams running back Steven Jackson during their previous game were running freeways. Take a look at the picture. A few running backs could've fit through that hole—at the same time.
Earlier this month, Jackson gashed the Cardinals for 130 yards on 29 carries, good for 4.5 yards per carry. That can't happen again.
What's worse, the Cardinals lost nose tackle Dan Williams for the remainder of the season. If you ask avid Bleacher Report commentator Travis McCollum, Williams' loss is actually a gain for Arizona. McCollum sees rookie replacement David Carter as an up and coming nose tackle that has already exceeded Williams' production as of late. Bang it here to read his comments.
Hopefully, McCollum's insight is accurate.
Either way, it will be incumbent upon the Cardinals to stack the box against the Rams' top offensive threat. If Arizona can slow Jackson down, a feat not easily done, then the Cards will leave St. Louis having swept the Rams.
St. Louis Rams right tackle Jason Smith suffered a concussion (his second in three seasons) and was placed on injured reserve. This move forced the Rams to play musical chairs with their offensive line.
Rams right guard Harvey Dahl will go from right guard to right tackle, center Jason Brown—who was just benched two weeks ago—will move to the right guard position and Adam Goldberg will protect Sam Bradford's blindside. Goldberg lost his job at right guard when the Rams signed Dahl in the offseason.
Perhaps St. Louis can find someone else on the way to the game to back up these backups.
Arizona defensive coordinator Ray Horton has utilized an aggressive pass rush this season. Of all games, this game is the one to dial up the pressure from start to finish.
Defensive ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett should record at least three to four sacks combined, along with several quarterback hits and even more pressures.
Horton may hear a who, but if he doesn't dial up the blitzes in this one, he may hear the boos.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is focused. Just look at the picture. The man is focused.
Whoever gets the start—Kevin Kolb or John Skelton—they need to put their focus on Fitzgerald. The other wide receivers just haven't gotten the job done this year. Fitz knows it, and so should the quarterbacks.
In their last meeting on Nov 6., Fitz caught just four passes against the Rams; one of those completions was for a touchdown. This time around, Fitz should be heavily targeted and double his receptions from the prior meeting.
With running back Beanie Wells clearly not at 100 percent, Arizona needs to turn to their most talented option on offense.
Since injuring his knee against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 8, running back Beanie Wells just hasn't ran the same. In both frequency and effectiveness, Wells has fallen off tremendously as compared to the beginning of the season.
In the past three weeks, Wells has toted the rock only 41 times and is averaging a meager 2.8 yards per carry.
The good news is that Wells hasn't lost any strength; it appears that his ability to bounce outside and make cuts is what's suffered.
That said, the Cardinals should utilize Wells so that he remains effective. That would be in short-yardage situations and in the red zone.
And, of course, if they are on the goal line, then just go ahead and let Wells take another guys' helmet right off as he pounds his way into the end zone.
The Cardinals offense has stalled this season. Whether it's Beanie Wells' injured knee, the merry-go-round of quarterbacks or the ineffective wide receivers not named Fitzgerald, the offense is anemic. It needs help.
Arizona has one of the most effective punt returners in the league in Patrick Peterson. An effective punt returner like Peterson can provide the Cardinals with excellent field position and, as shown above, a game-changing touchdown here and there.
While Peterson may not get a chance to duplicate his 99-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Rams, he should be able to put the ball in a workable position for the offense.
Putting points on the board is much easier starting from the 40-yard line rather than the 20-yard line. Jay Feely just has to punch them through the uprights—something he's having trouble doing this season. He's kicking at a career low 61.5 percent.
Arizona's special teams will be instrumental in this game, and it starts with Peterson and ends with Feely.
Arizona's weaknesses have been exposed this season. It starts with a leaky secondary. The young cornerbacks have been downright abused this season.
The picture in this slide is Santana Moss catching an 18-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-down play with 5:17 remaining in the game.
That kinda stuff can't happen.
The way to take the pressure off of the secondary is to get a strong pass rush on the quarterback. Getting pressure on Sam Bradford will disrupt the Rams' passing attack, which will de-emphasize the struggling Cardinal secondary.
Arizona's other weakness is the offensive line. There's no hope there unless the Cardinals can use two offensive lines. Then they may be able to protect the quarterback.
I would suggest screen passes and hot reads, but I don't have much confidence in either. The wide receivers have a hard time catching a cold. The only hope would be a few screens to Larry Fitzgerald, but the defense will catch on after a couple.
Expect Levi Brown and the rest of The Matadors to give up at least three sacks and cause a few three-and-outs. No way to de-emphasize the lack of talent that resides on the Cardinal offensive line.
Playing on the road is tough. Beating a team twice in the same season is tougher. Arizona will be faced with both of those challenges when they square off against the Rams on Nov. 27 in St. Louis.
The Cardinals beat the Rams 19-13 earlier in the month in dramatic fashion—Patrick Peterson's 99-yard punt return for a touchdown in overtime.
In order to repeat that performance, Arizona will need to keep this one close and hold off St. Louis in the first half of the game. If the Cardinals can take the home crowd out of the game in the first half, they stand to sweep the Rams this year.
If you made it this far, then you know that Arizona will struggle to move the ball on offense. The passing game is in question, as is Beanie Wells' knee. And let's not start with the offensive line again.
In order for the Cardinals to board the plane back to Arizona with a win, they will need to do it with their defense and special teams.
Arizona's front seven is a talented bunch that can created turnovers. The defensive line gets a nice pass rush, while the line backers are effective at stopping the run.
Patrick Peterson is as talented as they come in returning punts. His talents will need to be realized against the Rams if the Cardinals want to come away with a win.
Between the defense and special teams, Arizona can pull out their second victory in the NFC West and sweep the Rams.
Of course, we can't forget about the cheerleaders.
The Cardinals cheerleaders will be key. They have to make sure the team has a strong fanbase for the away game and get the Arizona fans pumped up.
Maybe they can come up with a cheer that will help Levi Brown block better.