Cardinals face Rams, look to end NFC West drought
Sunday, December 8, 2013
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals have carved out a respectable record in Bruce Arians' first season as coach.
Wins in the NFC West, though, remain elusive.
The Cardinals (7-5) enter Sunday's game against St. Louis (5-7) on an eight-game losing streak against teams in their division. They haven't beaten an NFC West opponent since a victory over Seattle in the 2012 season opener and are 0-3 this year.
"It's been a point of emphasis," Arizona's seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.
After last Sunday's loss in Philadelphia, Arizona has an uphill fight to the postseason.
"We can't worry about the playoffs," Arians said. "They'll take care of themselves. For us, we have to win in the division. We have three out of four left in the division, and we have to make a statement we can play in the division."
The Rams are 1-3 against NFC West opponents, the only victory coming against the Cardinals 27-24 in their season opener, a game Arizona led by 11 entering the fourth quarter.
St. Louis has won three in a row over Arizona.
Here are five things to watch when the teams meet Sunday:
RAMS' PRESSURE: Arizona's offensive line has struggled at times protecting Carson Palmer, who needs to throw out of a clean pocket to be at his best.
In the season opener, Robert Quinn had three sacks, two forced fumbles and two quarterback hits.
"Nobody wants to see him — tackles, quarterbacks. He's got probably 15 sacks (actually 13) it seems like," Palmer said. "He's getting after the quarterback on film. He's gotten better in the run game, too. He's not a good matchup for anybody."
Quinn is second in the NFL in sacks and leads the league with four forced fumbles.
St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher said Quinn's success stems from the play of his teammates.
"What's helping him, obviously, is the push that we get inside," Fisher said.
AUSTIN'S ARRIVAL: Tavon Austin caught six passes for 41 yards against Arizona in the opener, with a long gain of 14 yards.
The eighth overall pick in this year's draft, Austin was supposed to provide the Rams with a big-play threat they sorely needed. On Nov. 10 in Indianapolis, he finally had that breakout game.
In that 38-8 victory, Austin returned a punt 98 yards for a touchdown and had TD receptions of 57 and 81 yards from Kellen Clemens.
The following week, in a 42-21 victory over Chicago, Austin scored on a 65-yard run.
"I always knew I had it in me," he said. "I just didn't know when."
CARDINALS' HEALTH: Two of Arizona's big-play threats, wide receiver Michael Floyd and running back Andre Ellington, are struggling with injuries.
Already bothered by a sore shoulder, Floyd injured an ankle against the Eagles. The second-year pro from Notre Dame has emerged as a big threat alongside Larry Fitzgerald. In the last three games, Floyd has 18 catches for 396 yards. In his last four games, all 20 of his receptions have gone for first downs.
Ellington, a rookie from Clemson, is averaging 6 yards per carry and has an 80-yard TD run, but he injured his left knee in practice last week and didn't play in Philadelphia. His absence removed one of Arizona's major big-play threats.
"He's special," Palmer said. "He does things that nobody else on the team can do and not a lot of people in the league can do."
Palmer also has a sore elbow.
FITZGERALD'S TDS: Fitzgerald caught four touchdown passes all of last season. He's got nine this year, third most in the league. A touchdown catch on Sunday would make him the ninth player in NFL history to have at least 10 TDs five times in his career. Another TD reception would give him 87 for his career, tying Andre Reed for ninth NFL all-time.
"If you told me to pick one out of yards, catches and touchdowns, it would be hands-down the touchdowns," Fitzgerald said. "That's essentially what you're paid to do is put points on the board."
CLEMENS' IMPACT: In the season opener, the Rams' Sam Bradford threw for 296 yards and two touchdowns. But Bradford has undergone season-ending knee surgery.
The Rams are 2-3 with Clemens as starter and have emphasized the run more with Bradford out.
Arians called Clemens "a really solid backup."
"Bright guy, doesn't make many mistakes, exactly what you're looking for when your No. 1 guy goes down," Arians said.
HOME ADVANTAGE: The Cardinals have been much more effective at home, going 5-1 with the only loss coming against Seattle.
Three of the victories came against teams that currently have a winning record: Detroit, Carolina and Indianapolis. In Arizona's most recent home game two weeks ago, the Cardinals routed the Colts 40-11.
The Rams clobbered the Colts 38-8 in Indianapolis on Nov. 10. It was St. Louis' only road win in six games this season.
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