John: It's week five in the NFL season. We're here to preview this week's Thursday night game as my favorite team, the much improved St. Louis Rams take on the undefeated Arizona Cardinals.
The Rams don't get many primetime games with good reason considering they went 15-65 in the last five years, so it will be nice to see them get more exposure although the Thursday night games are not at the level of night games on a Sunday or Monday obviously. Still, it's better than nothing.
Standings after Week 4 (Straight Up)
John 39-24 (Last Week 12-3)
Mike 37-26 (9-6)
Bret 35-28 (9-6)
As always I'm joined by Bret Clev and Mike Maloney to break down tonight's game.
Arizona (4-0) at St. Louis (2-2) 8:20 PM
Bret: Lots of people will be picking this as their ZOMG UPSET SPECIAL, but if you look t the actual play of the two teams over the past few weeks, they're not that far apart. Arizona is the most inexplicable 4-0 team since I-Don't-Know-When. They're just not very good. Especially offensively. Unfortunately, neither are the Rams. I expect this game to be an almost carbon copy of last week's Arizona/Miami game - except St. Louis doesn't have the ability to run with the rhythm Miami did last week and has a far inferior line. This game may feature a combined 15 sacks. In a pass rush dominated game, I'll take the Cardinals to eek out another one with a bland offense and attacking defense. Arizona 24 - St. Louis 20
Mike: This game reminds me of looking into a foggy mirror. The Cardinals are a team that is built on its superior defense. They're at their best when they have a lead, able to use that defense to control the game, take the focus and pressure away from the offense, and force their opponents into mistakes. On the other side of the ball, their offense is very average at best. They have one elite player in Larry Fitzgerald, but an average QB (Kevin Kolb) and a fairly ineffective running game behind second year player Ryan Williams and the oft-injured Beanie Wells.
Then you take a look at the Rams and...it's almost the same thing, right? A team with a strong defense (how great of a pickup has Cortland Finnegan been?) that is effective in playing with a lead. But again, you look at their offense, and they have one (maybe not anymore) elite player on offense, Stephen Jackson. After that you have Sam Bradford, the much heralded QB coming out of college but thus far partially due to injuries hasn't really lived up to his draft status. And at receiver you have Danny Amendola and a bunch of other average players.
So for both teams there is a sense of urgency to get the lead early, because neither one is going to feel comfortable playing from behind nor are they built for it. I think it's fair to expect this to be a low scoring game, especially with it being on Thursday night, which thus far this year has produced some fairly ugly contests. I know St. Louis isn't really known for its home field advantage, but I think Arizona is getting a little too much credit being favored here. It's possible that Kevin Kolb is ready to start playing like the QB Arizona expected when they signed him to his contract, but I'm not on board yet, and I'm just not sure that there's really that much of a difference between these two teams. I think it'll be a pretty close game, and because it's in St. Louis and because I just can't fathom the idea of the Cardinals being 5-0, I'm taking the Rams. St. Louis 20 Arizona 16
John: If you haven't seen the Rams play much this year (and I don't blame you for that) then I can assure you they are not an exciting team to watch. Offensively they are pretty conservative with a lot of quick passes. They do like to run the ball with RB Steven Jackson, their best offensive player, but he has been limited with a sore groin so the offense is far from perfect. What has surprised me is the play off the offensive line, which is without two key starters and still did a great job last week against a Seahawks defense that terrorized the Packers the week before in the infamous "Fail Mary" game.
The Rams defense is what has carried them to two of their wins and really it should be three because they outplayed the Lions in week one. Against the Bears they got their ass kicked and deserved to lose. The defense has been stout though, especially against the pass. The additions of top CB Cortland Finnegan and second round rookie Janoris Jenkins have solidified the CB position. They Rams are second in the league in interceptions with 8 (Finnegan has 3) and they do get a good pass rush with their front four. The issue on the defense is the running game, but thankfully the Cardinals are one of the worst rushing offenses in the game (only 68 YPG). I think the Rams defense will be effective in terms of shutting them down. Ryan Williams? He's not going to do too much.
I respect the Cards for winning four straight, but let's not pretend like these were dominant wins. They barely got past the Seahawks and Patriots (the officials were awful in that game by the way) and they stomped the Eagles. Last week I saw the end of their win against the Cardinals where they got a TD pass on a 4th and 10 to send it into overtime. I give them credit for showing a lot of heart, never giving up and finding ways to win late in games. Keep in mind that three of those wins were at home except for that miraculous win in New England. It's going to be tough to have the same magic on the road. However, that's going to end. And it will end in The Lou. Can I call it "The Lou?" I just did.
I'm expecting a big game from Sam Bradford. I think the Dolphins exposed the Cardinals defense by spreading the ball around. They completed a lot of big throws, but also throws over the middle that allowed their WRs to run in open spaces. The Cards play tight defense, which exposes them to those big gaps in the secondary. I doubt the Rams will be able to run that well, but I expect the passing game to be effective enough leading to some scores. If they're not touchdowns don't worry because the kicker Greg "The Leg" Zuerlein is a beast with four field goals made over 50 yards already this year. Yes I mentioned a kicker. Deal with it.
I have to go with my Rams here. They're not much of an underdog since the Cardinals are favored by one point. Arizona has dominated the series in the last five years, but like I said earlier who hasn't beat the Rams in that period? It's a different team with a new coach and over 60% of the roster wasn't even there last year. While it may be difficult for the Rams to make the playoffs (I think they're a year away), I feel confident in them winning at home. Want a relevant stat? The NFC West is 8-0 at home this year. The Rams will make it 9-0 in a low scoring game. Rams 20-13
Thanks for reading. We'll see you again on Friday for the rest of week five.
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