In the 13 weeks that have passed since the Rams defeated Arizona 27-24 in the season opener, the Rams’ evolution has been rather significant, though this week’s opponent has also done its share of shape-shifting.
“Dramatically (different) I think,” Cardinals first-year head coach Bruce Arians said at his Wednesday conference call with St. Louis media. “We’ve had some injuries and changes in positions like everyone else coming down the stretch, but I think we’ve gradually gotten better. We’ve run the ball a bit better and stopped the run a bit better.”
Under Arians, the Cardinals have been led by the league’s seventh-ranked defensive unit to a 7-5 record and a potential playoff spot. They have been particularly effective at home, posting a 5-1 record in games played at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals’ success has come largely in the second half of the season, as the team’s only loss since Week 7 was on the road to the NFC-leading Philadelphia Eagles last week.
Despite being in postseason contention, the Cardinals are still in search of their first NFC West victory of the year. The Rams have won the last three meetings between the two teams.
Veteran DE Calais Campbell, one of the few holdovers remaining from Arizona’s Super Bowl appearance in 2009, believes the team’s resurgence has simply been a matter of time under Arians.
“I feel like any time you have a new system, it really is buying into it and trusting the system,” Campbell said. “It usually takes the guys a few weeks to really buy in and trust what the coaches want to do. I felt like we started buying in to what our coaches are preaching and it’s just worked for us. It really took us to another level.”
The Cardinals’ ascension has been duly noted by Rams QB
“I think they’ve found a little bit of a groove, obviously,” QB Kellen Clemens said during his Wednesday press conference. “They gotten an opportunity to get up on some opponents offensively and then turn the dogs loose on the defense. They’re playing good football and it’s going to be a good test.”
In that season-opening victory, the Rams employed a pass-heavy attack that saw a season-best performance from veteran tight end
Since the first four games of the year, the Rams’ offensive attack has taken on a much more run-based approach, as they’ve averaged 147.3 rushing yards per game since Week 5, a rate that dwarfs the 67 yards they posted on the ground in their last meeting with Arizona. The new-look Rams offense will provide a worthy opponent for an Arizona defense that has allowed its opponents 100 yards on the ground in only three of 12 games this year.
“The running back (Zac) Stacy, he’s a lot more elusive it seems like,” Campbell said. “He has really good vision, and I feel like he’s really running the ball better than we’ve seen lately.”