Is it just me, or does it seem like there are NFL games going on just about every night in a 2012 campaign that is already making the quarter-pole turn?
With every week getting off to an earlier start with a full slate of Thursday-night games this season, I’m guessing that many of you reading this rant share this feeling.
Just wait until they start playing games on Saturdays again, which will be happening before we know it.
Not that I’m complaining, mind you.
The more the merrier, I say, especially when intriguing Thursday-night matchups are on the docket like the NFC West matchup between the undefeated Cardinals and the upstart Rams.
What makes this game especially intriguing is the sudden emergence of the NFC West — the division I cover for PFW — as the strongest division in the league, sporting a combined 9-3 mark in games outside the division.
The Cardinals enter Edward Jones Dome having never lost a game there under the direction of head coach Ken Whisenhunt. Don’t look now, but despite an offense with its fair share of issues, Arizona has the best record in the NFL over the past 13 games dating back to last season (11-2).
The Rams, meanwhile, have wasted no time under new head coach Jeff Fisher becoming the toughest of outs. With a victory over the Cardinals, they could move a game out of first place in the division at 3-2 and surpass their entire 2011 win total.
While both teams figure to be breathing heavily from beginning to end in playing their second game in four days, the stage is set for a surprisingly compelling start to Week Five in the NFL.
Here are five quick reasons why I believe tonight’s game is worthy of your undivided attention:
(5) Cardinals veteran SS Adrian Wilson — Coming off a tremendous effort last week in the win over Miami (10 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble and three pass breakups), Wilson is an established pain in the Rams’ butt. In his last six games against St. Louis, Wilson has four interceptions. Moving all over the field, he has been consistently disruptive, and the odds are strong that he again will make his presence felt in a very intimidating manner.
(4) Rams CB Cortland Finnegan — Fisher made Finnegan the Rams’ top free-agent target this offseason as much as anything because of the nasty, physical edge he has always brought to the table, sometimes to an extreme. Put simply, he is one prickly dude on the football field who thrives on ruffling his opponents’ feathers. With three interceptions (one in each of the first three games), he spearheads a Rams secondary that has made huge strides.
(3) Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald — Forget his subpar numbers up to now. Fitzgerald remains arguably the league’s best receiver, and it should be lots of fun watching him operate against Finnegan and rookie CB Janoris Jenkins. With his first catch Thursday, the six-time Pro Bowler will set a franchise record for consecutive games with at least one reception (122). I can’t help but also mention how classy the winner of the 2012 Arthur S. Arkush Humanitarian of the Year Award is off the field, and I look very forward to the strong likelihood of that natural class being featured in the NFL Network’s TV coverage this evening. They say good things happen to good people, and they just don’t make them any better than Fitzgerald.
(2) Cardinals special teams — Start with CB-RS Patrick Peterson, who broke the Rams' backs twice last season with a 99-yard punt return for a TD that won the first game and an 80-yard punt return for a TD in the second game. Peterson has yet to really break loose on any kick returns this season, but there’s no doubt he’d love to do so on a national stage this season. I also would be remiss in not mentioning the Cardinals’ impressive propensity for blocking kicks, thanks in great part to the towering presence of 6-foot-8 Calais Campbell, who also wreaks havoc as the starting right end.
(1) Rams special teams — Under the direction of John “Bones” Fassel, the Rams’ special teams have done a dramatic about-face primarily because of the efforts of rookies Greg Zuerlein and Johnny Hekker, who have both done stellar work placekicking and punting, respectively. Zuerlein, in particular, has become a “must see” attraction. Earning different cool nicknames with every crushing boot (“Greg the Leg,” “Legatron," "Young GZ"), he is a perfect 12-for-12 on FG attempts, including a pair of record-breaking connections in Week Four (a 58-yarder followed a bit later by a 60-yarder).
Something tells me Thursday-night football watchers far and wide could get a real kick out of this game.
Bring it on, baby.
- Cortland Finnegan