Arizona Cardinals vs. St. Louis Rams: Full St. Louis Game Preview

Steven Gerwel@Steve_GerFeatured Columnist IVDecember 3, 2015

Arizona Cardinals vs. St. Louis Rams: Full St. Louis Game Preview

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The St. Louis Rams (4-7) are set to host the Arizona Cardinals (9-2) at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on Sunday. The game will be a hard-fought rematch between two NFC West rivals. 

    The Rams went on the road and beat the Cardinals in Week 4—easily St. Louis' signature win of 2015—but things have changed drastically since then. St. Louis is in a steep downward spiral, while the confident Cardinals are just inches away from a first-round bye in the playoffs. 

    Arizona has been able to retain its competitive edge since that Week 4 meeting. St. Louis, however, has not. The Rams have devolved into what can only be described as a limping race horse just waiting to be put out of its misery. 

    Still, if the Jeff Fisher-led Rams are good at one thing, it's making divisional games interesting. That alone should be a reason to watch—at least until things get out of control. 

    For more on this game, including the latest headlines, matchup analysis and more, read on.

News and Notes

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Bruce Arians Voices His Dislike for the Rams

    Divisional games are always heated, and emotions run high. However, it seems that Arizona head coach Bruce Arians has a particular dislike for the Rams.

    According to Nick Wagoner of ESPN, via Twitter, Arians stated the following of the Rams:

    “I’ll have dinner with them, but I ain’t liking them. I ain’t drinking with them.”

    This isn’t the first time Arians has voiced his disdain for St. Louis. Last season, when the Rams entered their Week 15 home contest against Arizona as the favorites—a game St. Louis ultimately lost—Arians used the postgame conference as an opportunity to rub salt in the wound, per CBS Sports:

    "I love it when nobody says you have a chance to win. There is an 11-3 team and a team that is always 8-8," Arians said. "You figure it out."

    The Rams might be virtually out of the 2015 playoff hunt, but silencing one of the team’s most outspoken critics could be a silver lining. If the Rams can use Arians’ comments as motivation, it could work to their advantage.

    NFLPA Wants Rams Fined for Case Keenum Incident

    Two weeks ago, during the Rams’ road loss to Baltimore, Rams quarterback Case Keenum took a vicious hit to the head that dropped him to the turf and forced the trainers to come onto the field.

    Shockingly, Fisher did not pull Keenum from the game, and St. Louis took plenty of heat. According to Tom Pelissero of USA Today, Keenum indeed suffered a concussion, and Eric Winston of the NFL Players Association wants the franchise fined:

    Complete failure to adhere to the protocol. Show me someone that says, "No, the Rams did exactly the right thing." They didn't. Everybody knows they didn't. So, there has to be discipline then, right? Because when a player doesn't do something that he's supposed to do, he gets fined for that when it comes to health and safety.

    Surely, the league will take a closer look at the incident. If there was any negligence—intentional or not—the team certainly deserves a fine.

Latest Injury News

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    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    DE Robert Quinn (Hip) 

    Rams star defensive end Robert Quinn has missed three of the last four games, including the last two. Quinn has been suffering from a hip injury and missed Wednesday's practice, per Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com, via Twitter

    It's tough to say if Quinn will be ready to suit up against Arizona. The St. Louis defense has not been the same without Quinn, who is clearly one of the few elite players on St. Louis' roster. Until he's back on the field, the Rams will be vulnerable. 

    QB Case Keenum (Concussion)

    As mentioned in the previous slide, Keenum is still dealing with a concussion he sustained in the game against Baltimore. 

    Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Wednesday that Keenum has been limited in practice and has not yet cleared the concussion protocol. 

    According to Wagoner (h/t RotoWire via CBS Sports), Keenum will resume as the team's starter once he's cleared. 

    K Greg Zuerlein (Groin)

    Greg Zuerlein missed the team's contest against Cincinnati last week. According to the team roster, rookie Zach Hocker is listed as the team's kicker for the time being. 

    According to Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Zuerlein missed Wednesday's practice with a groin injury. The official ESPN injury report lists him as questionable for this Sunday.

Top Matchups

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    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    Aaron Donald vs. Ted Larsen

    During the Week 4 contest between the Rams and Cardinals, Arizona’s Jonathan Cooper did a decent job keeping Aaron Donald at bay. Donald was still disruptive at the line, but he was limited to zero sacks and only two tackles.

    The matchup will not be as favorable for Arizona this time around. According to Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com, Cooper suffered a Week 10 knee injury against Seattle. He has been replaced in the lineup by sixth-year veteran Ted Larsen.

    Larsen ranks just 62nd among 81 offensive guards, according to Pro Football Focus. He has an ugly overall grade of -9.6, including a pass-blocking grade of just minus-3.5. That doesn’t bode well for this week’s matchup, as he’ll be facing perhaps the most dominant defensive tackle in the game.

    The Rams desperately need Donald to blow Larsen out of the water. If Donald has his number all game long, it’ll disrupt the Arizona ground game and throw the passing game out of sync.

    If the Rams somehow pull of a victory, a huge part of that will be due to this favorable matchup.  

    Greg Robinson vs. Dwight Freeney

    Former No. 2 overall draft pick Greg Robinson has been a disaster for the Rams this season. According to Pro Football Focus, Robinson has been penalized 12 times—tied for the most among all offensive players in the NFL—and he ranks 77th out of 78 tackles with an overall grade of minus-30.3. 

    The Rams invested a premium pick to obtain Robinson in the 2014 draft. The expectation was he would lock down the blind side for the next decade. Instead, his play has made Justin Smith—the No. 2 overall pick from 2009 and another bust tackle for St. Louis—look like Orlando Pace.

    Clearly, the league has to be aware of Robinson’s shortcomings, which means Arizona will test him with everything in its arsenal. In particular, the Cardinals will occupy Robinson with their best pass-rusher—Dwight Freeney.

    The 35-year-old Freeney has lost a step, but he still leads his team in sacks (three) and remains a productive player. He will be a handful for the struggling Robinson.

    Robinson cannot continue to be a monumental disappointment on a weekly basis. At some point, he needs to man up, use his natural athletic gifts and become a competent player.

    Luckily, St. Louis’ Week 4 contest against Arizona was one of Robinson’s better games. His run blocking was a huge part of Todd Gurley’s 146-yard rushing performance. If Robinson can have a similar game, the Rams will be in decent shape.

Matchup X-Factors

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Can Todd Gurley and Tavon Austin Repeat Their Big Performances?

    One major reason St. Louis pulled off a victory over Arizona in Week 4 is the fact that Gurley and Tavon Austin stepped up in a big way.

    During that game, Gurley had 161 yards from scrimmage and appeared completely unstoppable. Meanwhile, Austin produced 116 yards from scrimmage, including 96 receiving yards, and caught two touchdown passes.

    The Rams must set up their two young playmakers for success, by any means necessary.

    Last week, Gurley was held to just 30 yards from scrimmage, including 19 rushing yards. He failed to punch in a touchdown for the first time since Week 5. When a great player has such an anemic performance, it’s clear that the offensive support is lacking.

    From now on, the Rams must do whatever necessary to open the run lanes. That might require some creativity, but that’s better than doing nothing. We need to see more packages featuring a lead-blocking fullback. Additionally, it’d be nice to see instances where the Rams include a sixth offensive lineman.

    As for Austin, it’s simply a matter of getting him touches. He’s been held to 10 touches or fewer in each of the last three games, which is simply unacceptable. Besides Gurley, he’s the only St. Louis offensive weapon worth mentioning, but that means nothing if he can’t get the football.

    Getting Gurley and Austin the ball and setting them up for success should be the primary goal in this game.

    Can the Rams Repeat Their Aerial Success Against Arizona? 

    Arizona has one of the league's most talented secondaries. However, the Rams had decent success passing the ball the last time these teams faced off. They clearly did something right.

    In that game, Foles was held to a modest 171 yards. Even so, he managed to complete 66.6 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and zero picks. It was Foles’ only multi-touchdown game of the season. With only seven touchdowns on the year, his performance against Arizona accounts for nearly half of his passing touchdowns in 2015.

    Whoever is under center, whether it’s Foles or Keenum, we need to see a similar performance. The Rams must use some creativity to overcome the tough Arizona secondary—a unit that ranks second in the NFL with 15 picks.

    During the last game, we saw the Rams use packages we seldom see, such as bunch packages with three wide receivers. If St. Louis has anything similar up its sleeve, now is the time to use it.

    If St. Louis can get anything going through the air—anything whatsoever—it will open things up for Gurley and provide a huge boost for the offense.

Prediction: Cardinals 31, Rams 10

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Rams took down the Cardinals in a 24-22 road victory in Week 4, but so what? That was a long time ago, and given how poorly St. Louis has played as of late, does that past win really mean anything at this point?

    Absolutely not. The NFL is a short-term-memory league. All that matters is what you've done lately. For the Rams, they've done nothing good. 

    The current four-game losing streak is the longest of Fisher's career in St. Louis. Morale appears to be at an all-time low and this isn't something the team can simply bounce back from. The only thing that can help the team at this point is a fresh season and leadership restructuring. 

    The Rams do play better against NFC West teams. However, given the circumstances, it's clear that things could get ugly.

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