NFL Preview - St. Louis (3-5) at Arizona (7-1)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Winning is becoming the norm in Arizona. That's why the Cardinals have the best record in the NFL.
The red-hot Cardinals look to keep their winning ways alive when they host the NFC West-rival St. Louis Rams Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, the site of this year's Super Bowl.
Arizona is on the right path to have another home game for all the marbles in February and made it four straight wins with Sunday's 28-17 road victory over the Dallas Cowboys. The win lifted the Cardinals to 7-1 on the season, tying the best start to a season in franchise history.
The NFC West-leading Cardinals started 7-1 in 1974, 1948, 1947, 1925 and 1923, and ended a 14-game regular season losing streak in Big D. After the Cowboys got off to a 10-0 lead, the Cardinals took care of business over the final three quarters to improve to 14-3 in the last 17 games.
This is the first time since 1966 that the Cardinals franchise has sole possession of the league's top record this late into a season.
Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer threw for 249 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Palmer, who suffered a nerve injury in his shoulder at the start of the season, has thrown at least two TD passes in every game this season (11 total) to just two INTs. He didn't have any long scoring strikes like he did in the previous win over Philadelphia, but has the Cardinals on the verge of winning five in a row since a six-game run back in 1977.
"The confidence in this locker room right now is through the roof," Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "No matter who we step in the field with, no matter what the scenario is, we feel we are the best team on the football field."
Arizona was playing against a Cowboys team without QB Tony Romo. Peterson didn't care and was happy with the end result.
"That's probably going to be a topic of discussion, 'Oh, they didn't have Tony Romo,'" Peterson said. "That's not our problem. We came here to win a ballgame and that's what we did."
The Cardinals can only control what they do on the field. Now they're back at home, where they have a 4-0 record this season and are 10-2 under head coach Bruce Arians. Arians is 17-7 as head coach of Arizona, which hasn't tasted defeat since Oct. 5 at Denver, a 41-20 loss. The Cardinals haven't given up more than 20 points in a game since then and are fifth in points allowed this season, permitting 19.5 ppg.
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray entered Sunday's game as the NFL's leading rusher and finished with 79 yards on 19 carries. He had more than 100 yards rushing in each of the first eight games and ran into an Arizona defense that is third against the rush (79.6 ypg).
"We knew they had been running the ball very well week in and week out," Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell said. "We took it as a challenge. Against a good team like this that runs the ball so well, we wanted to go out there and shut him down. We did a pretty good job. There were some runs where he had too many yards, but he's a great back. He's having a great year. They made a lot of plays, but we responded."
The Cardinals will try not to have a letdown with St. Louis in town.
St. Louis will play its third straight game on the road Sunday and got by the San Francisco 49ers, 13-10, on Sunday. Twice in the game's final seconds, the 49ers were within inches of victory. But Michael Crabtree rolled out-of-bounds inside the 1-yard line and Colin Kaepernick fumbled on the goal line.
Either way, the Rams will take it.
"We gotta take this as a positive and move on," Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said. "A lot of good things happened. We didn't play our best game. Obviously I have a lot of concerns about the last drive but we were playing an explosive offense."
Rams running back Tre Mason had 65 yards on 19 carries and did enough for the offense despite a so-so performance from quarterback Austin Davis. Davis completed 13-of-24 passes for 105 yards with a TD and two INTs.
St. Louis has won two of its last three games since a three-game skid. The Rams lead the all-time series with the Cardinals, 35-34-2, and is 3-1 in the past four meetings between the teams. Arizona ended a three-game slide in the series with a 30-10 victory last Dec. 8, as Palmer passed for 269 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.
Andre Ellington ran for 46 yards and a score, and Larry Fitzgerald caught 12 passes for 96 yards and a TD in that one. Fitzgerald has 16 TDs in his career against the Rams.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Speaking of Ellington, he outplayed Murray with 95 yards on 21 carries and caught four passes for 39 yards, including a one-yard score during the fourth quarter. Ellington leads the Cardinals with 559 yards rushing and has carried the ball more than 20 times in each of the previous three games. He has rushed for more than 70 yards in that span.
Ellington will face a St. Louis defense that is 29th in rushing yards allowed with 136.2 ypg. The Rams are 17th in total yards allowed with 361.5 ypg. He is on pace to join Ottis Anderson (1984) as the only players in team history to record at least 1,000 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards in the same season.
The Rams are decent against the pass, sitting eighth in the league in yards allowed through the air (225.2). They'll have to stop Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown, who leads the Cardinals with four receiving scores. Fitzgerald, who has a reception in 157 straight games, Floyd and Ellington all have two receiving TDs.
Rams defensive back Trumaine Johnson could start this week against the Cardinals. He saw action at the position in San Francisco and on special teams. Also, newcomer Mark Barron is expected to work in on some defensive packages this week. Barron was acquired from Tampa Bay last week.
"I went to Mark before the game as we were trying to sort out the inactives," Fisher said. "The way it went, I talked to Mark about playing some special teams and I think he told someone he hadn't played special teams since peewee football. He did a really nice job on our kickoff return and kickoff coverage."
St. Louis is 27th in points allowed (27.5). The team has allowed more than 30 points in each of the five losses this season, an average of 33.4 ppg. The Rams have given up exactly 34 points four times.
Sunday's win over the 49ers proved the Rams can get it together.
"That's the team that we've built," Rams LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. "We're going to run the ball efficiently, we're going to stop the run, and we're going to play good defense on the back end. So as long as we're doing that, we'll be in games and we'll have a chance to win games."
The Rams would have a better chance to win games if their passing game was better. Brian Quick is the leading receiver with just 375 yards and has four TDs. Quick, though, hasn't scored in the last three games. Tight end Lance Kendricks leads the team with four TDs. Kendricks had a touchdown in three straight games until last week, catching one pass for seven yards.
Rams DE Robert Quinn has five sacks in last three games after posting none in the first five games. He is on pace for his third consecutive season with at least 10 sacks and racked up 19.0 last season. Quinn has eight sacks and three forced fumbles in six meetings with Arizona.
Arians has been pushing all the right buttons. Palmer has been throwing all the right passes. The two seem to go hand-in-hand and will for an 8-1 start Sunday versus the Rams.
The Cardinals rarely lose at home under Arians. There's no way that's going to stop now with an inferior St. Louis team heading into enemy territory.
Palmer should have at least three touchdown passes in an easy win and is 12-2 in his last 14 starts. Those are good numbers to roll the dice on.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Cardinals 27, Rams 13
11/09 11:01:27 ET