When the Arizona Cardinals take the field at the Edward Jones Dome to face the division rival St. Louis Rams, a 6-3 record and the possibility of going 3-1 in the division will be on the line. After nearly blowing another home game to the lowly Seattle Seahawks last week, the Cardinals know that they can't take any opponent for granted, no matter how bad their season has been. So far this year, the Cardinals haven't fell asleep on the road, starting 4-0. Let's take a look at the keys to the game.
1. Slow Steven Jackson: We all know that the Rams best player is running back Steven Jackson. He's currently third in the NFL with 915 rushing yards and has played even better the last few weeks. The one area the Cardinals have struggled at the last 3 weeks has been defending the run. They allowed a whopping 270 rushing yards to the Panthers, and 140 yards to the Seahawks - however, both games were at home. One important stat to take notice of, is that Jackson has only 2 rushing touchdowns on the year. He may get his usual yardage, but if the Cardinals can keep him out of the end zone they'll have a better chance of winning the game.
2. Get rid of them penalties!: The Cardinals committed 11 penalties against the Seahawks last week, for 136 yards, which was 12.3 yards per penalty. As we all know, penalties are drive-killers/momentum-killers. Ken Whisenhunt was on top of his team midway through last season, as the team cut down on committing them. This season is different, and the Cardinals will need to play smarter on Sunday, and for the remainder of the season.
3. Go for the kill: It may sound cliche, but the Cardinals typically keep games a lot closer then they should. Facing a team like the Rams is like corning an animal in desperation - they'll do anything they can to stay alive. The Cardinals need to keep their foot on the neck(not the elbow) and not let the Rams back into this game. And as a note for Ken Whisenhunt, please don't put Matt Leinart in unless the game is completely out of reach.
4. Solid play from secondary: The defensive backs have each had their issues this year, whether it be DRC early in the season, Wilson against Greg Olsen, or Bryant McFadden last week. On Sunday, they need to establish some consistency and not give up the big play. The Rams could use the same game plan the Seahawks used, and attack McFadden. He'll need to get back to what he does best, which is being a physical corner, and know where the ball is at all times. The Rams have burners at receiver, so the Cardinals must be ready.
5. Balance on offense: In the last two wins the Cardinals have relied heavily on their offense to win the games. Part of that has been possible because of the new found rushing attack. They've had over 100 yards rushing two straight games for the first time this year. The name "wear and tear", given to Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower by linebacker Clark Haggans has some meaning. Hightower opens the game and wears out the defense with his relentlessness, pass blocking, and receiving, while Wells comes in the game to tear through the defense as he did last week. With a running game in tact, the Cardinals can air it out to their receivers much more effectively.
If the Cardinals can make these keys to the game possible, they should win on Sunday against a weaker Rams squad. Winning Sunday will also keep them further away from the San Francisco 49ers, who play on the road as well against the Green Bay Packers. What are your keys to the game and why?