The St. Louis Rams, coming off their stunning upset win over the New Orleans Saints this past Sunday, travel to University of Phoenix Stadium for an NFC West matchup with the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday. Game time is slated for 4:15 PM, and the early football betting lines favor the home-standing Cardinals by -4 1/2 points.
Playing without their starting QB, coming in with an 0-6 record, featuring an offense that ranks among the bottom in virtually every category, and to add icing to the proverbial cake, facing a New Orleans team that had just scored 62 points (the highest scoring NFL team last week) and was averaging 34 points per contest, the Rams would have been excused for not expecting much. So, what happened? St. Louis shocked everyone, including themselves, by defeating the Saints, 31-21, for their first victory of the 2011 season.
With Sam Bradford sidelined (ankle sprain), veteran journeyman QB A.J. Feeley took the reins and performed almost flawlessly, completing 20 of 37 for 175 yards and a score, while RB Steven Jackson had his first 100 yards-plus in 3 seasons, also scoring 2 TDs. Everything seemed to work offensively for the Rams, and newly-acquired WR Brandon Lloyd also contributed, grabbing 6 passes for 53 yards and his first TD as a Ram. Remarkably, St. Louis outgained the Saints, 323 to 283, something many observers felt was statistically impossible.
On defense, the fired-up Rams held New Orleans scoreless in the first half for the first time since 2007, limiting Drew Brees and his arsenal of weapons to just 94 yards of offense. St. Louis sacked Brees 6 times, led by Chris Long with 3, while Darian Stewart's 27-yard interception return for a score with 2:51 remaining sealed the improbable victory.
The Cardinals nearly pulled off a stunning upset of their own, scoring 3 TDs in a 5-minute stretch of the second quarter to take a 24-3 lead, only to fall flat in the second half and losing a heartbreaker to Baltimore on the road, 30-27, on a Billy Cundiff 25-yard field goal as time expired. It was a familiar ending for Arizona, as four of their six losses in 2011 have been by 4 points or less.
Arizona, now 1-6 after an opening day victory over Carolina, appeared to have the game under control coming out for the second half, only to find themselves unable to slow down RB Ray Rice and being victimized by some timely passing from QB Joe Flacco. Cards QB Kevin Kolb wasn't sharp (10 of 21 passes, 153 yards, 1 score), but the Ravens, coming off a Monday night upset at Jacksonville, appeared to be trying to give Arizona the game, repeatedly making costly mental errors and giving up a punt return for a TD by Cards rookie, Patrick Peterson, his second of the year. RB Beanie Wells played well, picking up 83 yards on 22 carries, while Allpro WR Larry Fitzgerald, although kept out of the end zone, hauled in 3 balls for 98 yards.
After a sterling first half defensive performance, the Cardinals fell victim after intermission to Baltimore's pounding ground game, while former Cardinal WR Anquan Boldin wasn't hospitable at all to his former team, latching onto 7 passes for 145 yards, several of them in clutch situations. Second half penalties also worked against the Cards, and for the game, they were flagged 11 times for 99 yards.
Bradford is still being listed as day-to-day, but Feeley is smart and experienced, and as he displayed on Sunday, he won't do anything foolish or put his team in bad positioning. This game will probably fall into the "who cares" category this week, but nevertheless should be an entertaining, offensive contest. Both teams have much work to do before they can be labeled "contenders," but there is more than sufficient talent to hurt some "better" teams before the season is complete. Just ask New Orleans.
|NFL OFFENSIVE RANKINGS||TOTAL||Passing||Rushing|
|ST LOUIS RAMS||28||304.3||26||198.4||20||105.9|
|NFL DEFENSIVE RANKINGS||TOTAL||Passing||Rushing|
|ST LOUIS RAMS||30||392.1||15||226.6||32||165.6|