By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) – Winning is becoming the norm in Arizona. That’s why the
Cardinals have the best record in the NFL.
The red-hot Cardinals look to keep their winning ways alive when they host
the NFC West-rival St. Louis Rams Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, the
site of this year’s Super Bowl.
Arizona is on the right path to have another home game for all the marbles in
February and made it four straight wins with Sunday’s 28-17 road victory over
the Dallas Cowboys. The win lifted the Cardinals to 7-1 on the season, tying
the best start to a season in franchise history.
The NFC West-leading Cardinals started 7-1 in 1974, 1948, 1947, 1925 and 1923,
and ended a 14-game regular season losing streak in Big D. After the Cowboys
got off to a 10-0 lead, the Cardinals took care of business over the final
three quarters to improve to 14-3 in the last 17 games.
This is the first time since 1966 that the Cardinals franchise has sole
possession of the league’s top record this late into a season.
Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer threw for 249 yards with three touchdowns
and one interception. Palmer, who suffered a nerve injury in his shoulder at
the start of the season, has thrown at least two TD passes in every game this
season (11 total) to just two INTs. He didn’t have any long scoring strikes
like he did in the previous win over Philadelphia, but has the Cardinals on
the verge of winning five in a row since a six-game run back in 1977.
“The confidence in this locker room right now is through the roof,” Arizona
cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “No matter who we step in the field with, no
matter what the scenario is, we feel we are the best team on the football
Arizona was playing against a Cowboys team without QB Tony Romo. Peterson
didn’t care and was happy with the end result.
“That’s probably going to be a topic of discussion, ‘Oh, they didn’t have Tony
Romo,'” Peterson said. “That’s not our problem. We came here to win a ballgame
and that’s what we did.”
The Cardinals can only control what they do on the field. Now they’re back at
home, where they have a 4-0 record this season and are 10-2 under head coach
Bruce Arians. Arians is 17-7 as head coach of Arizona, which hasn’t tasted
defeat since Oct. 5 at Denver, a 41-20 loss. The Cardinals haven’t given up
more than 20 points in a game since then and are fifth in points allowed this
season, permitting 19.5 ppg.
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray entered Sunday’s game as the NFL’s leading
rusher and finished with 79 yards on 19 carries. He had more than 100 yards
rushing in each of the first eight games and ran into an Arizona defense that
is third against the rush (79.6 ypg).
“We knew they had been running the ball very well week in and week out,”
Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell said. “We took it as a challenge.
Against a good team like this that runs the ball so well, we wanted to go out
there and shut him down. We did a pretty good job. There were some runs where
he had too many yards, but he’s a great back. He’s having a great year. They
made a lot of plays, but we responded.”
The Cardinals will try not to have a letdown with St. Louis in town.
St. Louis will play its third straight game on the road Sunday and got by the
San Francisco 49ers, 13-10, on Sunday. Twice in the game’s final seconds, the
49ers were within inches of victory. But Michael Crabtree rolled out-of-bounds
inside the 1-yard line and Colin Kaepernick fumbled on the goal line.
Either way, the Rams will take it.
“We gotta take this as a positive and move on,” Rams head coach Jeff Fisher
said. “A lot of good things happened. We didn’t play our best game. Obviously
I have a lot of concerns about the last drive but we were playing an explosive
Rams running back Tre Mason had 65 yards on 19 carries and did enough for the
offense despite a so-so performance from quarterback Austin Davis. Davis
completed 13-of-24 passes for 105 yards with a TD and two INTs.
St. Louis has won two of its last three games since a three-game skid. The
Rams lead the all-time series with the Cardinals, 35-34-2, and is 3-1 in the
past four meetings between the teams. Arizona ended a three-game slide in the
series with a 30-10 victory last Dec. 8, as Palmer passed for 269 yards with a
touchdown and no interceptions.
Andre Ellington ran for 46 yards and a score, and Larry Fitzgerald caught 12
passes for 96 yards and a TD in that one. Fitzgerald has 16 TDs in his career
against the Rams.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Speaking of Ellington, he outplayed Murray with 95 yards on 21 carries and
caught four passes for 39 yards, including a one-yard score during the fourth
quarter. Ellington leads the Cardinals with 559 yards rushing and has carried
the ball more than 20 times in each of the previous three games. He has rushed
for more than 70 yards in that span.
Ellington will face a St. Louis defense that is 29th in rushing yards allowed
with 136.2 ypg. The Rams are 17th in total yards allowed with 361.5 ypg. He is
on pace to join Ottis Anderson (1984) as the only players in team history to
record at least 1,000 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards in the same
The Rams are decent against the pass, sitting eighth in the league in yards
allowed through the air (225.2). They’ll have to stop Fitzgerald, Michael
Floyd and John Brown, who leads the Cardinals with four receiving scores.
Fitzgerald, who has a reception in 157 straight games, Floyd and Ellington all
have two receiving TDs.
Rams defensive back Trumaine Johnson could start this week against the
Cardinals. He saw action at the position in San Francisco and on special
teams. Also, newcomer Mark Barron is expected to work in on some defensive
packages this week. Barron was acquired from Tampa Bay last week.
“I went to Mark before the game as we were trying to sort out the inactives,”
Fisher said. “The way it went, I talked to Mark about playing some special
teams and I think he told someone he hadn’t played special teams since peewee
football. He did a really nice job on our kickoff return and kickoff
St. Louis is 27th in points allowed (27.5). The team has allowed more than 30
points in each of the five losses this season, an average of 33.4 ppg. The
Rams have given up exactly 34 points four times.
Sunday’s win over the 49ers proved the Rams can get it together.
“That’s the team that we’ve built,” Rams LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. “We’re going
to run the ball efficiently, we’re going to stop the run, and we’re going to
play good defense on the back end. So as long as we’re doing that, we’ll be in
games and we’ll have a chance to win games.”
The Rams would have a better chance to win games if their passing game was
better. Brian Quick is the leading receiver with just 375 yards and has four
TDs. Quick, though, hasn’t scored in the last three games. Tight end Lance
Kendricks leads the team with four TDs. Kendricks had a touchdown in three
straight games until last week, catching one pass for seven yards.
Rams DE Robert Quinn has five sacks in last three games after posting none in
the first five games. He is on pace for his third consecutive season with at
least 10 sacks and racked up 19.0 last season. Quinn has eight sacks and three
forced fumbles in six meetings with Arizona.
Arians has been pushing all the right buttons. Palmer has been throwing all
the right passes. The two seem to go hand-in-hand and will for an 8-1 start
Sunday versus the Rams.
The Cardinals rarely lose at home under Arians. There’s no way that’s going to
stop now with an inferior St. Louis team heading into enemy territory.
Palmer should have at least three touchdown passes in an easy win and is 12-2
in his last 14 starts. Those are good numbers to roll the dice on.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Cardinals 27, Rams 13