NFL Preview - St. Louis (5-6) at Arizona (3-8)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - A six-game losing streak was finally enough to send Arizona quarterback Derek Anderson over the edge. St. Louis has had no such problems, as its rookie quarterback continues to play like a seasoned veteran.
Sam Bradford will try to guide the first-place Rams to consecutive road wins for the first time in over three years, while the Cards hope to get back on track by posting a ninth straight victory over their NFC West rivals this Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Winners of the past two NFC West titles, the Cardinals are on their longest losing streak since dropping eight in a row during Dennis Green's final season as head coach in 2006. The skid has dropped Arizona to 3-8 on the season and into last place in the division, a game back of San Francisco after the 49ers dealt Arizona its latest loss on Monday night.
Despite being five games under .500 after the 27-6 setback to the Niners, the Cardinals are just two games back of the NFC West co-leading Rams and Seattle Seahawks. Still, there isn't a single player on the Cards roster who is happy with how the team is playing, though Anderson inadvertently put the spotlight solely on himself after Monday's loss.
With his club down 18 points, Anderson was caught on camera smiling with offensive guard Deuce Lutui on the sidelines and after telling reporters what he and his lineman were talking about was nobody's business, he grew louder and angrier following repeated questions about the incident.
"I wasn't laughing," he furiously retorted in his postgame press conference. "You think this is funny and I take this (expletive) serious. Real serious. I put my heart and soul into this (expletive) every single week.
"Every single week I put my freaking heart and soul into this. I study my (backside) off. I don't go and laugh. It's not funny. Nothing's funny to me. I don't want to go out and get embarrassed on 'Monday Night Football' in front of everybody."
Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt will stick with Anderson this weekend despite his quarterback's troubles on and off the field and for his part, Anderson did apologize for his outburst on Wednesday.
"There's a more professional manner that I could have handled that," said Anderson. "I wasn't raised that way. My mom and my dad didn't raise me to act like that in times of adversity. Obviously I was very frustrated by what had happened during the game and I let my emotions get the best of me."
While Anderson struggled with the pressure of being an NFL quarterback on Monday, the 23-year-old Bradford has had no such issues since being taken with the top overall pick of the 2010 draft out of Oklahoma. Bradford helped the Rams snap a seven-game road skid on Sunday with a 36-33 victory, one the defense nearly gave away.
After falling behind 10-0, the Bradford-led offense put up 33 of the game's next 36 points before the Broncos rallied to get within three. However, the defense finally came up with a late stand, forcing a turnover on downs with under a minute to play.
"Anytime you can get a win on the road in this league, it's big," said Bradford after St. Louis posted a season-best 431 yards. "It's tough to do that, especially for us. We've had our struggles this year on the road, so to be able to clear that hump and get that victory today was a great feeling."
St. Louis picked up its first road win since Nov. 1 of last year and has been victorious just twice in its last 18 games away from the Gateway City. However, the 36 points scored on Sunday were a season high and the most the Rams have scored since a 37-29 victory at New Orleans on Nov. 11, 2007.
Incidentally, that victory was the first of back-to-back road wins for the Rams, who won in San Francisco seven days later but haven't won consecutive road games since.
St. Louis opened a three-game road trip with last weekend's win and will visit New Orleans next weekend, while Arizona is playing the second of three in a row at home.
Though the Cardinals hold only a 31-30-2 in their all-time regular-season series with the Rams, they've registered eight consecutive wins over their NFC West rival and bested St. Louis by a 17-13 score on the road in this year's season opener. Arizona has swept home-and-home sets from the Rams in each of the previous three seasons, and St. Louis hasn't defeated the Cardinals since a 16-14 decision at University of Phoenix Stadium in 2006. Arizona produced a 31-10 home win over the Rams during Week 16 of the 2009 campaign.
With their Week 1 triumph, the Cardinals -- who were based in St. Louis from 1960-1987 -- have taken their first advantage in the all-time series, which dates back to 1937, since 1965.
The only postseason meeting between the two occurred in 1975, when the then- Los Angeles Rams pulled out a 35-23 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in an NFC Divisional Playoff.
Whisenhunt owns a perfect 7-0 record against the Rams since taking over as the Cardinals' head coach in 2007, while St. Louis' Steve Spagnuolo has yet to defeat either Whisenhunt or Arizona in three career tries.
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
Though the Rams still rank just 26th in the NFL in points per game (19.4) and total offense (317.1 ypg), Bradford (2466 passing yards, 17 TD, 9 INT) continues to grow each week. The youngster set career highs with 308 passing yards, three touchdown strikes and a 113.3 quarterback rating versus Denver and became the first rookie signal-caller in NFL history to pass for throw for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns without a pick on the road. In fact, Bradford has just one interception in his last six games and the Rams have just two giveaways over that span. All three of Bradford's touchdown passes versus Denver went to tight ends, as Billy Bajema caught the first two of his NFL career and Michael Hoomanawanui added a 36-yard scoring reception before suffering a high ankle sprain that will sideline him for the next four-to-six weeks. Wide receivers Danny Amendola (64 receptions, 3 TD), Laurent Robinson (23 receptions, 1 TD) and Danario Alexander all had four catches and combined for 194 yards, with Alexander finishing with a game-best 95 yards. Running back Steven Jackson (883 rushing yards, 3 TD) was limited to 72 yards on 29 carries by the Broncos, but is still closing in on extending his club-record string of consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to six.
While it was Bradford leading the Rams last weekend, the Cardinals could get a large helping of Jackson, seeing as they are just 31st in the NFL against the run (146.5 ypg). Arizona is also 31st in scoring defense, yielding 29.0 points per game. Despite the 49ers losing Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore in the first quarter, the Cardinals still gave up a season-worst 261 rushing yards on Monday, with backup Brian Westbrook tagging Arizona for 136 of those. San Francisco ran the ball 47 times to just 23 pass attempts, and St. Louis could follow the same plan in this one. Linebacker Paris Lenon (84 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT) is Arizona's leading tackler and will lead the pursuit of Jackson, with help from fellow inside mate Gerald Hayes (27 tackles), while nose tackle Bryan Robinson (17 tackles) will try to clog the middle. Pressure on Bradford will also help, but Arizona is tied for just 20th in the NFL with 21 sacks and got just one from linebacker Clark Haggans (33 tackles, 3 sacks) versus the 49ers. Lenon led the team with 10 tackles, while cornerback Michael Adams (36 tackles) and safety Adrian Wilson (56 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT) had nine each. Adams also came away with Arizona's lone turnover, recording his first interception of the season, while cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (34 tackles, 2 INT) blocked a third-quarter field goal try.
WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL
It is no wonder why Anderson (1972 passing yards, 7 TD, 9 INT) was frustrated following Monday's loss to the Niners. He completed just 16-of-35 pass attempts for 196 yards and was sacked once while throwing an interception and failing to lead a single touchdown drive. Instead, Arizona settled for two field goals from Jay Feely while posting just 203 yards of offense. Anderson was also credited with a fumble on a failed handoff attempt to running back Beanie Wells (283 rushing yards, 2 TD), who had five of Arizona's 11 run attempts for just 13 yards. The Cardinals rank 31st in both total (269.1 ypg) and rushing (78.0 ypg) offense and are 30th in passing with just 191.1 yards per game. Wide receiver Early Doucet (22 receptions, 1 TD) led Arizona with five catches for 60 yards against San Francisco, while top target Larry Fitzgerald (59 receptions, 5 TD) was held to four receptions for 37 yards. Fitzgerald had 97 receptions and a career-high 13 touchdowns last season, but has scored just once in his last four games. Running back Tim Hightower (438 rushing yards, 3 TD) was also a non-factor on Monday, rushing five times for zero yards.
All the hard work of Bradford and company nearly went out the window last weekend after the St. Louis defense allowed 20 fourth-quarter points, yielding touchdown passes of 41, 16 and five yards to Kyle Orton as the Denver quarterback finished with 347 passing yards. The Broncos added another 119 yards on the ground. Still, the Rams did post three sacks in the game, including one by defensive end Chris Long (23 tackles, 6.5 sacks) on Denver's final drive of the contest. Lineman C.J. Ah You (16 tackles, 4 sacks) and Fred Robbins (19 tackles, 3 sacks) also got to the quarterback, while safeties Craig Dahl (62 tackles) and Oshiomogho Atogwe (49 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT) led the way with six tackles each. Atogwe also forced a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Na'il Diggs (31 tackles). St. Louis is tied for fifth in the NFL with 31 sacks, but its eight interceptions on the season ranks just 27th. Defending the pass has been an issue despite the high sack total, as the Rams rank 21st (239.5 ypg) in that category and are tied for 18th in total defense (342.9 ypg). Linebacker James Laurinaitis (73 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT) leads the Rams in tackles, but had just three versus Denver, while cornerbacks Ron Bartell (43 tackles) and Bradley Fletcher (52 tackles, 2 INT) must improve off last week's performance.
While Bradford has emerged as a solid fantasy contributor, Jackson figures to be in line for the big game this weekend and is a must-start. Bradford is still an option for those without a top-tier quarterback, but the way he spreads the ball out makes it tough to start any individual Rams receiver. St. Louis' defense draws a solid matchup and could put up decent numbers, while kicker Josh Brown hit three field goals last weekend, though he did miss an extra point for the first time this season. He should get plenty of looks in this game.
Arizona offers almost no fantasy value outside of Fitzgerald, and even his expectations need to be lowered at this point. Anderson will see a lot of pressure, but if you need to find a silver lining, it is that he is playing with a chip on his shoulder. Wells is probably the better play over Hightower, but don't expect much out of either. Avoid Arizona's defense, though Feely is worth a look given the Cardinals' red-zone troubles.
Bradford's accelerated growth certainly has finally shortened the rebuilding process out in St. Louis. The Rams got over one big hump when they picked up its first road victory in over a year last weekend and should have increased confidence, which is something that is completely void in the Arizona locker room right now. While it won't be an outright passing of the torch, the Rams will prove to the rest of the NFC West that they are a serious challenger in the wide-open division with a win over the two-time defending NFC West champion Cardinals.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rams 27, Cardinals 16
12/02 19:40:20 ET