Key matchup: Cardinals secondary vs. Rams receivers

Dan Arkush
Key matchup: Cardinals secondary vs. Rams receivers

Cardinals secondary vs. Rams receiving corps

Ideally, the Rams would prefer to establish a strong running attack and take control of the clock Thursday night against the Cardinals rather than depend on their 28th-ranked passing offense. But after the Rams failed to mount much of a ground game in their Week Four 19-13 victory over the Seahawks (St. Louis was outgained 179-75 on the ground), QB Sam Bradford was able to cobble together a 221-yard passing attack that had its moments operating against a very highly regarded Seattle secondary.

Facing a Cardinals run defense Thursday night that is also rock-solid, the Rams might opt for a similar offensive approach, especially considering the way Dolphins rookie QB Ryan Tannehill shredded Arizona’s secondary in the Cardinals’ Week Four overtime victory (431 passing yards) with passes mostly to WRs Davone Bess and Brian Hartline (combined 376 receiving yards).

Expecting a more run-oriented attack, the Cardinals' "D" was caught off guard by Miami’s hurry-up offense, and the Rams might consider a similar up-tempo style Thursday evening. The Dolphins also had great success working against Cardinals RCB William Gay, who was replaced in the base defense in the second half by Greg Toler. Don’t be surprised if Toler, who has been hampered by knee issues, starts against the Rams, with Gay moving to the slot in three-wide sets like he did in the second half last Sunday.

On the left side, 2011 first-round pick Patrick Peterson continues to make progress but still has a long way to go before reaching the elite level the Cardinals envision. A gifted athlete, Peterson might be the Cardinals’ fastest player, and his lower body is freakishly strong. In addition to having great speed, he has outstanding lateral quickness and locates the ball extremely well. Peterson does have a tendency to put his hands on a receiver when the ball is in the air, which leads to penalties.

Cardinals safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes are both off to strong starts. Wilson had 10 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble and three pass breakups in the win over Miami. Rhodes broke up a two-point conversion attempt in the stunning Week Two upset of the Patriots that would have tied game in the final minute. Against the Eagles, he saved a TD with a tackle, then forced a fumble that the Cards turned into a TD.

Reserve CB Jamell Fleming, a third-round draft pick whose playing time got cut way down vs. Miami, and feisty veteran CB Michael Adams will figure in the mix when the Rams go to multi-WR sets along with S James Sanders, who had a huge fumble return for a TD vs. Philadelphia.

The Cardinals’ secondary will have one major goal Thursday night: to stop Danny Amendola from finding seams in the middle of the field. The NFL’s second-leading pass-catcher behind the Giants’ Victor Cruz, with 31 catches for 351 yards (11.3 ypc), Amendola is by far the Rams’ most dangerous and reliable receiving weapon, having established a tremendous rapport with Bradford. In the Seattle game, he had six catches (10 targets) for 55 yards and a TD catch off a nifty fake field goal. Seven other Rams receivers caught passes in the game, but none of them had more than two catches.   

Resilient starter Brandon Gibson, who did not practice Monday (knee), has been starting opposite Amendola. Gibson lacks breakaway speed but can make tough catches.

Keep a close eye on TE Lance Kendricks (2-22 last week). He got behind the Seahawks’ D for a big 26-yard gain in Week Four, and the Rams are striving to capitalize on his speed and size and make him a bigger part of the offense.

The same goes for rookie WRs Chris Givens, whose 52-yard catch last week was the Rams’ second-longest pass play so far this season, and Brian Quick, whose 19-yard catch over the middle last week was his first at the pro level.