One week on from their worst performance in recent memory the Arizona Cardinals will be looking to get rid of the bitter taste in their mouth and get back on a winning note as they take on divisional rivals the St Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome in St Louis. Just three weeks removed from their streak snapping overtime victory they will be looking to do the double over the Rams, this time hopefully more convincingly, but against a divisional rival it is not going to be easy. Whoever takes the field at quarterback for the Cardinals be it Skelton or Kolb they are going to need to perform in some key areas, read on to find out what they are.
1 - Convert Third Downs - Currently on the season the Cardinals are converting just 30% of the third downs that they face. That ranks in the bottom third of the NFL and is not conducive to scoring points or winning football games. If the Cardinals want to have success against the Rams on Sunday they need to make sure that their offensive unit is able to sustain drives and build momentum, this also serves the dual purposes of taking the crowd out of the game and giving your defense more rest between drives. Convert 50%+ of all third down chances in this game and the Cardinals should come away on the right side of the scoreboard.
2 - Take away the short passing routes - Sam Bradford is a QB who relies on timing and ball placement to move his offense down the field, he operates mostly within 10 yards of the LOS. Arizona needs to limit the amount of passes that the Rams can complete in that area, flood it with zone coverage from linebackers and maybe a safety and force Bradford to throw over the underneath coverage to complete passes. So far this season when he has been asked to throw over 10 yards in the air Bradford is completing just 32.9% of his passes. If you can force Bradford to make the longer throws that he has struggled to make all season, you create three and outs and get your offense the ball back in good field position, or Bradford will challenge the tight underneath windows creating chances for turnovers. Either way it benefits the Cardinals.
3 - Blitz and confuse the Rams OL - The Rams have been hit bit the injury big hard this season, especially along the offensive line. The five men slated to start on the offensive front for the Rams on Sunday have not played a game together this season. Jason Smith has been put on IR and they are down to their third string left tackle. The Cardinals need to get creative with their pressure that will allow them to collapse the pocket and put pressure on Bradford. Use a lot of stunts and twists that will require the offensive line to communicate and pass off assignments, create overload blitzes so protection changes need to be made. Force the Rams to make a mistake in their protection and take advantage of it. The Rams are the lowest scoring team in the NFL this season and their inability to protect the passer is a big reason for this, time for Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield to step up and show us what they can do on the NFL level.
4 - Get Early involved - Early Doucet has been somewhat of an unsung hero on the Cardinals offense this season, he has provided all three men who have lined up at QB with a reliable target, a guy who can attack the middle of the field and create yards after the catch, however it seems that it is not until later in the game that the Cardinals tend to look to him to make an impact. With teams still shading coverage over Larry Fitzgerald the Cardinals need to make it known that if you take away Larry our #2 and #3 receivers will beat you. Early Doucet will face a lot of single man coverage and whoever is at QB needs to get the ball into his hands and allow him to make a play. If the Cardinals can create a couple of long scoring drives based mainly from the ground game and getting Doucet and Roberts the ball in the passing game teams will begin to remove some coverage from Fitzgerald which then opens them up for the big play. Get Early involved on first downs and on early drives, force the Rams hand, either devote more coverage to Doucet, or let him beat you all day.
5 - Protect the QB from inside pressure - It is an element of the game that is intrinsic to any offensive success. You do no protect your passer well, you are not going to score many points and in turn you are not going to win many games. For as long as Ken Whisenhunt has been around the offensive line has been an issue for the Cardinals, but mainly at tackle, and even early this season the Cards had a fair amount of success with their interior trio of Daryn Colledge, Lyle Sendlein and Rex Hadnot in the passing game. However over the past couple of weeks teams have been attacking successfully up the middle against the Cardinals passing attack. If a quarterback has no pocket to step into his throws are going to be less accurate, have less velocity and have a higher chance of ending in the opposition's hands. Outside pressure can be avoided by stepping up into the pocket, but if the Cardinals cannot protect the inside of the line and provide a pocket to step up into it is going to be a long hard day for the offense.