It seems like just a couple of days ago the Rams and Cardinals played at University of Phoenix Stadium.
In fact, it was only about 19 days ago when Arizona emerged with a stunning overtime victory on Patrick Peterson’s 99-yard punt return for a touchdown.
For two teams that already know each other well, that familiarity has never been fresher on their minds than it will be Sunday when they square off at noon at the Edward Jones Dome.
“The challenges that presents itself are both teams know each other really well,” running back
The question this week will come down to which team can adjust to what it saw in the first meeting and come up with some adjustments to help account for anything that might not have gone its way the first time around.
Both teams have spent plenty of time this week evaluating the tape from the first meeting and looking for any clues that might swing the advantage to its favor this week.
“It was an up and down game, just getting through the way that game went,” Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “Going back and analyzing the plays, the mistakes, trying to correct them. It’s funny because when you go to do your breakdown, there are only two games, so not a tremendous amount has changed from a personnel standpoint, from a scheme standpoint. I don’t know that I’ve played a team this quickly after having played them before, even though we do it again here in two weeks. It’s different.”
For his part, Whisenhunt and the Cardinals know that every team makes adjustments week to week but having such a short period between meetings with a divisional opponent presents a bit of a unique challenge.
“You expect that every week, really,” Whisenhunt said. “You prepare for what you think your opponent is going to do, but when you’ve played an opponent so many times, there’s always going to be something different, because they know you better than other teams do.”
In that first meeting, the Rams controlled the action for much of the day, getting a dominant defensive performance and owning the battle of special teams and field position.
But Arizona was able to come up with a late drive and the Rams offense was unable to generate the points to put the Cardinals away.
Those offensive struggles carried over in the past two weeks and the Rams will need to make marked improvements in putting points on the board to get a win.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said that his group will likely again lean on Jackson, who rushed for over 130 yards in the first meeting, and hopes to get quarterback
The short turnaround gives McDaniels plenty to think about as well.
“There’s a lot of ways to think about that,” McDaniels said. “I think if you become predictable that can be a bad thing. If you try to do too much scheme that can also be a bad thing. I think the best thing we’re going to try to do is find that happy medium between out-scheming ourselves, and out-scheming the opponent. Certainly, you want to give our guys a great chance to be successful by giving them some things that you feel like would give us a schematic advantage. And at the same time, you have to play fast every week – there’s no question about that. If we don’t play fast, there’s no team that has a chance to play well if you’re not playing fast and you’re playing slow in this league. We’re going to try to do the best combination of both that we can.”
Bradford, who hasn’t been able to get the passing game going as hoped, says he believes the offense is on the verge of a breakout and hopes that his familiarity with Arizona’s personality will help that happen.
“Obviously only playing them a couple weeks ago we’re still fairly familiar with their schemes and what they’re going to try to present to us on defense, but at the same time you’re not really sure if they’re going to try to change it up because they’re still fresh with what we did and what we were effective with,” Bradford said. “It is a little bit of a cat and mouse game and we’ve just got to try to come out on top.”
Bradford is hopeful that his team will be the cat this week after a few weeks of offensive struggles.
“Yeah, no doubt,” Bradford said. “I go into every game thinking that this is going to be the week for our offense to break out. I believe in our schemes, I believe in what we’re doing. I think that’s why it’s so frustrating, so disappointing for me when it doesn’t work out because I believe we have good stuff. I believe in everyone on the field. I think that when we go out there every Sunday that we are going to win and that we are going to put up big numbers. That hasn’t changed. I’m going to approach it that way every week, including this Sunday.”
On the other side of the ball, it appears Arizona will again rely on John Skelton at quarterback. Skelton didn’t have a ton of success in the first meeting but made some big plays with his legs to generate offense when the Cardinals needed it most.
The Rams had great success stopping running back Beanie Wells and fared well for the most part against dynamic receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
While the Rams will look for that kind of defensive performance again this week, it could be tougher with the short turnaround according to defensive coordinator Ken Flajole.
“Well, you find out a little bit of the things that hurt you in the game and see what you can correct,” Flajole said. “You know, they had some answers for some of the things that we did and we’ll have some answers for them. There’s some things that you can carry over and there’s some that just can’t stay the same because the things that caused them problems, I’m sure they’re going to sit there and digest and see if they can attack it a different way. There will be a few things that we’ll have differently as I’m sure they’ll have a few things different for us as well.”