Rams-Cardinals: Revisiting our Prediction

As we gear up for Thanksgiving week, it seems appropriate for the Rams to dip back into the dysfunctional family known as the NFC West. Currently sitting at the head of the table, sharpening their carving knives, are these Arizona Cardinals. While the Rams, after being outscored 63-0 in their two conference contests so far, are fighting the family dog for scraps.

Gone are the days when you could write 10 losses in pen for the Birds, and pencil in three or four more before each and every season — no, through a slow process of talent rebuilding and the good fortune of the resurrected career of Kurt Warner, they are a semi-legitimate NFL team now, and as such, are miles ahead of the Rams. On paper.

But the horned ones nearly took down a formidable titan last week, at home against New Orleans, can they turn that effort into a surprise victory here? History does not bode well. Last year, the Rams came off a “should have won” game against the Patriots to host the Cardinals, and got embarrassed, 34-13.

Looking back at our preseason prediction (which we are 5-2 on, so far), our chances of success depended on whether Kurt Warner could extend his career-long streak of consecutive games started. The injury gods have not helped us in that regards (or any other), so it looks as though our Rams are on their own.

Week 11: Re-Return of the Prodigal Son

Week Date Opponent LY: Record LY: Points 3Y: Record 3Y: Points
11 Nov 22 vs Arizona Cardinals 9-7 427/426 22-26 1145/1214
Rams games vs opponent, last three seasons:
Week 3, 2006: Won 16-14 at Arizona
Week 13, 2006: Lost 34-20 at home
Week 5, 2007: Rams lose 34-31 at home
Week 17, 2007: Lost 48-19 at Arizona
Week 9, 2008: Lost 34-13 at home
Week 14, 2008: Lost 34-10 at Arizona

Steve Breaston, Larry Fitzgerald

Thanksgiving week should be a homecoming, and this game counts: you’ve got the old football Redbirds for all the Jackie Smith old-timers, Kurt Warner for the Greatest Show generation, and three of the top receivers in football for your fantasy footballers and out-of-towners. Oh yeah, and the Rams.

This rivalry once was one that the Rams dominated — now they find themselves under the Cardinals’ bootheels. The good news is that the Rams have had time to gel as a team before re-opening this rivalry. The bad news is that, if Kurt Warner is still healthy by this time in the season, it won’t matter much. And that’s the big “if.”

Basically, this game comes down to the old maxim of the Greatest Show era — put more weapons on the field than the defense can contain. And matching up Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, and Anquan Boldin against our best three defensive backs creates mismatches all over the field. Ron Bartell is our best cover corner, and actually does a pretty good job on Fitzgerald — “holding” him to six catches and less than 100 yards receiving in each of last season’s games — but he can’t be everywhere. And Warner has a way of finding the Jonathan Wades and Tye Hills in the opposing defense.

However, if Warner can’t go — and it’s been 27 consecutive starts for #13, more than he’s had ever in the NFL — that makes Matt Leinert the distributor cap for this high-powered engine. And that gives the Rams a fighting chance.

Last year’s Arizona defense was particularly susceptible to power-running teams — until they got to the playoffs that is. Clancy Pendergast was fired, and linebackers coach Bill Smith takes the reins … but is not likely to bring a lot of new ideas.

The Rams’ beefed up run offense should make them about 10 points better in this matchup, but if Warner is a go, the Cards win 34-24. If not… well, let’s cross that bridge if we come to it.

Subtract Tye Hill and insert Craig Dahl, the reclaimed safety who has been seeing the field a lot in uncomfortable coverage situations, as in trying to match up against Reggie Bush last week. Meanwhile, the network should keep a camera isolated on the physical matchup between Quincy Butler and Anquan Boldin … that could be a spectacular jousting match. The other factor for the Rams to deal with is the suddenly emergent running game of Beanie Wells. A lot of pressure will be on James Laurinaitis, to shed more blocks and get in on more stops than he has the last few weeks.

However, the one factor that these Cardinals lack that nearly every other of our opponents has had is a true receiving threat at Tight End. Their primary starter at the position is Anthony Becht, the aged “blocking specialist” who was eagerly let go by the Rams this offseason. (In the list of difficult decisions during our official rebuilding movement, with Orlando Pace a “7” and Torry Holt a “10,” this one ranked a “0.”) But even he sees the field less than half the time, as the Cardinals invite opposing defenses to pin their ears back and come after the passer, counting on Warner’s quick release to win that gamble more often than not.

This means that James Hall, Leonard Little, and the suddenly functional motor of Chris Long might have a significant say in the outcome of this game.

On the offensive side for the Rams, they badly need to continue their success in the passing game, to keep defenses honest and provide scoring punch in the red zone. And this means Brandon Gibson has to turn in as strong an encore as his debut, and prove to be a determined factor in the passing game. If his shoetop grab on fourth down was any indication, this might be the least of our worries.