Rams, Cardinals Face Off in NFC West Showdown
The Los Angeles Rams (2-1) will visit the Arizona Cardinals (1-2). The series was split last season between these two teams with the Rams winning in Arizona last year (also Todd Gurley's first start) 24-22. The Cardinals won the following matchup in St. Louis 27-3.
How the Cardinals win: Stacking the box. Todd Gurley had his coming out party last season in Arizona. He tore up an otherwise great Cardinals run defense for 146 yards off 19 carries. The Cardinals simply cannot let that happen again. Luckily for them, they can shift their focus to Gurley without having to worry too much about the passing game. The Cardinals have played Jimmy Garoppolo, Jameis Winston and Tyrod Taylor this year, forcing five interceptions to just two touchdowns and an opposing passer rating of 62.2. The Rams pass offense isn't much of a threat, so the Cardinals can shift their attention to Todd Gurley. That's all it takes to shut down the Rams offense. Without Gurley, the Rams offense is barely competitive. Without a running game, the Rams stellar defense is on the field too often. When the Rams defense is on the field too often, the Cardinals win. This will be a tough task as the Cardinals' run defense has been largely ineffective this season.
How the Rams win: Setting up for Todd Gurley. Someone needs to tell the Rams that Gurley can't do it on his own. The one game in which the Rams' pass offense wasn't hideous was the same game Gurley set his season high for rushing yards, 85, and scored two touchdowns. It's a concept the Rams may have yet to grasp, but one they need to desperately. If the Rams want to win, they have to have Case Keenum and one of his targets, whether it be Tavon Austin or the recently activated Nelson Spruce and Pharoh Cooper, it doesn't matter who. The Rams don't need an extraordinary game from their passing offense they just need a mediocre performance, just to show the defense that it is possible for them to make plays through the air and draw some players out of the box.
Cardinals to Watch: Carson Palmer. Palmer had an MVP caliber season a year ago, now age looks to be catching up with the 36 year old. He hasn't been terrible so far, he just hasn't been too good. His 80.2 passer rating is pedestrian at best and his 5-4 touchdown to interception ratio is less than impressive. That being said, Palmer is going up against a Rams pass defense that has allowed opposing quarterbacks (Blaine Gabbert, Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston) to post a passer rating of 88.2. This could be a return to form for Palmer.
Rams to Watch: Todd Gurley. As the season progresses, more and more will the Rams rely on Gurley to win them games. Through two games against Arizona last season, he has 28 carries for 194 yards giving him a 6.9 average. That said, this is all dependant on whether or not the Rams can establish another offensive threat to allow the defense to take some of their attention away from Gurley. If he can continue what he did last year to the Cardinals, then he alone will be able to carry the Rams to victory.
Prediction: Cardinals 24 Rams 14
This game can go either way. It's difficult to predict simply because it's tough to know what team this Rams team is. Last week's offensive explosion is an anomaly when to compared to the first two games of the season. Due to this, it's safer to say that the Cardinals will get their act together and begin to look more like the team many expected them to be before the season began.
Jamey is a staff writer for Pro Football Spot. He talks music and football on Twitter so feel free to give him a follow @JamesBurkySpot