Tonight, the St. Louis Rams face the biggest game on their schedule in the first half. This game, more than any other, has the potential to set a tone of this season. If the Rams win at home against the hated Arizona Cardinals, look out for the next home game; the Edward Jones dome will be crazy. I am still holding out hope that the Ed will be rocking tonight. Looking at past history, the game plan should be simple. Arizona can't run the ball (29th in the league) and they gave up 8 sacks last game. Thus, on the defensive side, you would think we protect against the pass first and blitz the heck out of Kolb.
Again, looking at history, the previously exalted Arizona defense, has sunk to 17th position in overall defense. They are decent against the rush (14th) and not quite as good against the pass (21st). Furthermore, Miami just torched Arizona for 400 plus passing yards. Thus, you would expect our passing game to be featured, and it would be complemented with an attempt to run the ball from time to time.
However, the above stats are a bit misleading. The Arizona game against Miami skewed the stats. Additionally, this is the NFL, which stands for "Not For Long". While that phrase was intended to refer to player longevity, it also applies with game plans from week to week. Seattle had 8 sacks against Greenbay in week 3 and came into the Rams game licking their chops. The Rams showed pass protection problems the week before giving up 6 sacks to Chicago. Somehow, the Rams only gave up 2 sacks to Seattle.
The point? Arizona's coaches will learn from mistakes in the last game and make adjustments. Thus, I do not expect a 400 plus yard performance by the Rams passing offense. Looking at how Arizona has performed in all games this season, this is what I think the Rams need to do to win the game:
1. STOP THE RUN. PERIOD.
There is no excuse in this game for the defense.They have to stop the run.
Arizona has 272 rushing yards total for the season. They average 2.7 yards per carry. They have not had a 100 yard rusher in any game. In fact, they have not had 100 yards total rushing in any game. In the last game, they only had 25 net rushing yards. One might expect that Arizona will ignore the run and focus on the pass. I think differently. I think NFL coaches will look at the Rams defense and decide to focus on the run. Additionally, Arizona has a huge issue at right tackle, and they gave up 8 sacks last week. Therefore, I expect to see 20 to 25 runs from the Cardinals because it makes strategic sense and because they can't let Chris Long bang Kevin Kolb around all day long. The Rams must keep Arizona below 100 yards total rushing. In fact, I am setting a target of 80 net rushing yards.
2. PATIENCE WILL PAY OFF - PART I
The defense and the Rams' fans should prepare for Kevin Kolb to have some success in this game. I watched most of throws prior to writing this preview and Mr. Kolb is hot and cold with no warning. Overall, his stats look pretty good. He has a 97.6 passer rating and a 63% completion rate. He has 7 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions. He also has 10 rushing attempts for 32 yards. However, he will make some bad throws. It is a given. Thus, the game plan on defense should be: focus on the run to set up difficult third downs and blitz like crazy on obvious passing downs hoping to encourage the bad throw. If you don't get a bad throw, Kolb will at least throw the ball away or take the sack. It is obvious that he has been told to protect the ball and he is fighting himself to do so. Additionally, do not get deflated if Arizona makes some plays. Kolb is not faking his stats. Sometimes, he is quite good. This may end up being a bend don't break game on defense.
3. PATIENCE WILL PAY OFF - PART II
On offense, we have seen this game before. If Dockett is back, we should expect Sam Bradford to be under tremendous pressure all day long. This is the strength of the Arizona defense. They lead the league with 16 sacks for the year. They also are one of only six teams to hold the other team to a less than 75% passer rating. We all know what Adrian Wilson has done to the Rams before. The short passing game which worked wonderfully against the Redskins should be in play again. Additionally, if there is any way to get some EFFECTIVE rushing we can slow down the pass rush. I hope to see a slow methodical approach to offense. Unlike Seattle, this team will blitz and blitz often. If we become pass happy, or decide to consistently attack deep (a la McDaniels), we are asking for trouble.
4. DO NOT SPREAD THE BALL
This may sound strange because you often hear about the benefits of spreading the ball around in the passing game. Nevertheless, I believe Arizona has a true weakness in the secondary. Of course that weakness is not Patrick Peterson. Also, Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes are excellent safeties. On the other hand, William Gay has been a problem at CB all year for Arizona. He was even replaced last week. His back up, Greg Toler was not much better. I see no reason to spread the ball around. I propose that we attack the weakness. When we pass, we need to go after William Gay/Greg Toler. Moreover, if we attack the weak CBs, it will force Arizona to double with more safety help. Anything we can do to get Adrian Wilson out of the box is a plus. If we lose because William Gay beats us, I can live with that.
5. THE RETURN OF SJ39
Groin or no groin, it is time for Steven Jackson to lead this team. If his groin is not healthy enough to run well, then he should not be playing. I apologize to @SJ39. I realize he has many things stacked against him. We have three backups on the offensive line. His groin is problematic. He is older, and there is no doubt that he has lost a step. Unfortunately, there are no excuses in the NFL. We need more production from our running game. We watched Marshawn Lynch take hit after hit after hit last week and still keep moving forward. We need this from Steven Jackson. Keep your balance and move forward.