When the Arizona Cardinals face off against the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night (8.25pm ET), not only will they be fighting to maintain their lead in the NFC West, but they will also be looking to become the NFL’s best team on the year with a 5-0 record.
The Rams on the other hand with be seeking out their third win with a chance to move up in the division. With the Cardinals off to such a quick start, the Rams will need this win to keep pace in the NFC West.
The Arizona Cardinals Are for Real
At first it was easy to chalk up the undefeated Cardinals as a fluke. After all, any team can get off to a good start. With their quarterback situation however, it was difficult to take this team as serious contenders, especially considering that they are in the same situation as the San Francisco 49ers.
From fluke, the Cardinals became the 2012 season’s biggest and best surprise. Their offense was performing well as Kevin Kolb really took over the starting quarterback job. After finding himself losing the starting job outright in the offseason to John Skelton, Kolb was thrust into the game after Skelton went down with an injury. Since then, he has really put up solid numbers including seven touchdowns to just two interceptions. He also has a 62.6 completion percentage.
With Kolb firmly in place as the Arizona QB, their offensive attack began to take shape. Led of course by Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals have managed to provide just enough offense to get them through games. They have not scored a lot on the season but they have scored timely.
Looking at the Cardinals offense, it is really quite surprising that they sit at 4-0 on the season. They are ranked just 25th in passing offense averaging just over 200 yards a game. Their rushing offense is even worse as running back Ryan Williams and the rest of the run game have managed just 68 yards a game. To this end, the Cardinals are ranked 16th in points with 22.8 and almost dead last at 31st in total yards with 271.
These are not the numbers you would expect to see from an undefeated team so the question is how are they getting it done?
Cardinals Keep Winning Close Games
After opening the season with a 20-16 win against the Seattle Seahawks, not much was made of it. The Cardinals defense forced two turnovers and sacked rookie QB Russell Wilson three times but no one considered this a big win because it was against Seattle.
Even though Seattle has proven themselves as a good team especially defensively, it wasn’t until the Cardinals absolutely shocked Tom Brady and the New England Patriots at home that the team started to get real respect. After beating the Patriots by way of a missed last second field goal, the Cardinals went on to dominate the 3-1 Philadelphia Eagles by a score of 27-6. Then the following week they defeated Miami Dolphins with a 24-21 score in overtime.
With the exception of the Eagles game, the Cardinals have not won a game by more than four points. This has been a testament to just how good the Cardinals defense has been this season.
Cardinals Hope to Prove Defense Wins Championships
Although the Cardinals offense has been improving each game, their offense alone is not good enough for them to be a 4-0 team. On the season, Arizona has yielded more first downs, more rushing and passing yards, more time of possession and nearly 400 more total yards to their opponents. Their defense however has limited the opponents to just four offensive touchdowns. They also have sacked opposing QBs sixteen times. Essentially, it has been this defense that has really been the Cardinals bread-and-butter.
In each of the team’s three close victories, the defense has halted the opposing team’s final drive. Against the Patriots, it was a key third down stop that forced the Patriots and kicker Stephen Gostkowski to attempt a long field goal. Although no Cardinal defender made contact with the ball, they did pressure the kick, potentially leading to the reason why Gostkowski missed the field goal, just his first in five attempts that game.
Not built overnight, this Arizona defense has been acquiring pieces each year through trades and the player draft. Led by defensive back and ball-hawk Patrick Peterson and safety Adrian Wilson, the fifth overall selection from last year’s draft, this Arizona team has limited opposing offenses to 256 passing yards a game. Headed by defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, they have been even better in stopping opposing running games as they are ranked 15th in the league, yielding just 101 yards a game. Against the Eagles and top ranked running back Lesean McCoy, the Cardinals allowed him just 70 yards on 13 carries.
Stopping the Three-Pronged Attack of the St. Louis Rams
Although the Cardinals are the favored team in this head-to-head, the St. Louis Rams aren’t necessary slouches either. They are coming off a six-point win against a Seattle team that earlier this year beat both the (2-2) Dallas Cowboys and (2-2) Green Bay Packers, both of which are better teams than their records show. The Rams also defeated an offensively talented Washington Redskins team earlier this year by a score of 31-28.
Overall, the Rams have started off pretty strongly considering last season they won just three games. Although their offense ranks just 28th in passing yards and 20th in rushing yards, the team still has a three pronged attack that the Cardinals might want to be on the lookout for.
RB Steven Jackson, QB Sam Bradford and WR Danny Amendola are not an equivalent to some of the best rushing and passing trios in the NFL but they can certainly hold their own. On the season Bradford, now in his third season with the team, has an overall rating of 80.1. He has thrown for 881 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions.
Catching most of Bradford’s throws this season has been reliable wide receiver Danny Amendola. Also in his third year with the team, he has caught 31 receptions for a total of 351 yards and two touchdowns. When the ball is not being thrown, the Rams offense is largely run through Pro-Bowl running back Steven Jackson. Although a groin injury has hampered Jackson this season he has still been active in the offense. He has carried the ball 59 times for 195 yards.
Cardinals v Rams Picks & Betting
The Cardinals are not a spectacular team and as the season goes on, I don’t expect they will do anything to wow viewers. That said, they are finding ways to win games and against the Rams, don’t expect this streak to end.
Arizona finds themselves one or two point favorites in this game, dependent on sportsbook. This preview’s pick is to take the Cardinals to beat the spread as they get their fifth win of the season:
- Bet on the Arizona Cardinals -1point @ -110 with BetOnline Sportsbook. It is currently the same odds with Bovada, but slightly less attractive at -2pts on the spread.
- Non-Americans can get -1.5pts with Bet365 at the equivalent 10/11 odds.