Wait, is there a game this weekened? Like actual, meaningful Rams football? Who's their quarterback these days? Sorry, I live in a cave thousands of miles away from the nearest human, I don't enjoy regular contact with other people who speak a language, I'm blind and deaf and I've never heard of football or America and I think it's February, 1641. Oh, Sam Bradford? Really? I've heard he's pretty good.
Breakdown after the fold.
St. Louis Rams, 0-0, NFC West
Arizona Cardinals 0-0, NFC West
STL pass - N/A
ARI pass D - N/A
We'll be able to feel the eyes of St. Louis when Sam Bradford takes the field on Sunday. His success on Sunday, or lack thereof, still largely depends on who is able to make plays. Laurent Robinson, Danny Amendola, and the trio of Mark Clayton, Brandon Gibson and Mardy Gilyard will have their chances. The question is whether they'll be able to produce. If not, the "Draft a WR" club will soon be tripling in size. At least.
Meanwhile, one of the brighter overall developments of the preseason was Mike Hoomanawanui. Does his productive preseason turn into a rookie campaign worth remembering, or was it just good practice? Fells is a capable guy, but Hoomanawanui showed flashes of something special. And let's be honest, Fendi Onobun is not ready for a game as important as this. But is Hoomanawanui? And if not, what can Fells do for Bradford? After a college career in which his tight end, Jermaine Gresham, was often his go-to guy, few things would help Bradford establish a plus career than having a TE he can rely on. The job's yet to be earned.
Defensively, the Cardinals have a strong secondary, with DRC at the head corner spot, Adrian Wilson at SS and ex-Jet Kerry Rhodes, who replaces Antrel Rolle at the free safety position. It's not an easy trio to attack. If there is a spot that the Rams could take advantage of, its the other corner spot. For now, it's Greg Toler who will get the start, but that's the most identifiable weak spot on the surface. Keep an eye out in deep 3rd down situations, as the Cardinals have been willing to bring in Hamza Abdullah or Matt Ware to supplement their passing defense in spots. It's an interesting barometer for an untested unit.
STL run - N/A
ARI run D - N/A
Steven Jackson. That is all. If there's a question here, it's how much we'll see Kenneth Darby or Keith Toston now that the preseason's over. I wouldn't expect it often, since we'll likely need a strong rushing performance to stay in this one.
The Cards have some significant roster changes in terms of their LBs. Karlos Dansby, most notably, is now a Miami Dolphin. Rams fans might recognize the new Cardinal ILB: Paris Lenon, who was in St. Louis last season. He'll start alongside Joey Porter, who has to be motivated to show he can still play at 33. The duo of rookie TCU product Daryl Washington and Clark Hagans (who played with Porter for a half dozen seasons in Pittsburgh) will get the start on the weakside. Considering Arizona gave up 4.48 yards per rush last season, this is a good unit for the Rams to face in week 1 to help the rushing game take some pressure off of Bradford.
STL O-line - N/A
ARI D-line - N/A
As is almost always the case, this battle will likely define the war. The preseason showed us reasons to be optimistic, but we all saw plenty of the opposite as well. Personally, I'm most anxious to see Jason Smith. As a former #2 overall pick, he's got a lot to prove in 2010.
Arizona's 3-4 front will start with Bryan Robinson at the nose, but most concerning has to be Darnel Dockett, who plays more of a DT alongside Robinson. Dockett received a 4-year, $48m contract just weeks ago, but now for his notabel Tweets. He can play, and he'll give the strong side duo of Rodger Saffold and Jacob Bell plenty to deal with. Over on Jason Smith's side, Calais Campbell often slides inside as well, so the RG duo of Adam Goldberg and John Greco will have to be on their toes as well. It's a strong trio that could give the Rams' O-line fits.
ARI pass - N/A
STL pass D - N/A
Kurt Warner and Matt Leinart have been replaced with Derek Anderson and rookie Max Hall for 2010. Yikes. Sure, the Larry Fitzgerald-led WRs, including Steve Breaston and Early Doucet, offer plenty to worry about. But again, Derek Anderson. It should be an interesting matchup given the talent at WR and the lack thereof at QB, especially if the D-line can put much pressure on him.
The Rams secondary is a boat of question marks. There's youth in BradleyFletcherBradley, Jerome Murphy and Justin King, and the question of translating experience into production from Ron Bartell and Kevin Dockery. Nobody liked the answer to those questions last year, but every season is its own story. WIth any improvement from the D-line, Bartell should have an improved 2010 campaign, especially if BFB picks up where he left off in 2009. And of course, there's always OJ Atogwe. After signing a 1-year, $4.1m / 5-year, $31.5m deal, Togs has to show the money wasn't spent in vain like so many previous deals throughout the last six seasons. There's much to prove, here.
ARI run - N/A
STL run D - N/A
With Beanie Wells possibly set to miss this one after injuring his knee in the final preseason contest, Tim Hightower will get the starting nod at RB on Sunday. LaRod Stephens-Howling will probably back him up, though if Wells can go, he'll probably play more of a backup role to keep him from hurting his knee any worse than it already is. While he may not strike fear into the hearts of Ram fans, our own run defense sure did last year. It was awful far too often.
More than any other unit, the Rams' LB corps is radically different than in 2009. James Laurinaitis is looking to bulid on a widely underappreciated rookie season, but that's about all that remains from last season. Larry Grant has been promoted to the starting Sam spot while the weakside job is Na'il Diggs' to lose. Expect plenty of Ohio St. LB fluff in the months ahead. The selection calls into question the role David Vobora is expected to assume in 2010. If he can't factor in this season, it's likely his last in St. Louis.
ARI O-line - N/A
STL D-line - N/A
Much like the opposite line battle, this one should be fun to watch. LT Levi Brown moved over to the left side this year, and reportedly struggled in the preseason. Next to Brown, however, is perennial Pro Bowler Alan Faneca. On the right side, Brandon Keith has assumed the starting RT spot, creating a hell of a matchup between Keith and the revolving door of RDEs the Rams will roll out on Sunday. But back over to the weakside. There probably isn't a player who is more likely to have a breakout season than Chris Long. If he can get to Derek Anderson with any consistency, and I don't just mean sacks though those obviously get everyone's attention, he's going to change this game.
And to a degree, that's what this game boils down to. It's essentially a battle of quarterbacks and the lines protecting them. If Bradford gets time, I think we'd all say we're comfortable with his chances of making something out of our less than spectacular WR group. If not, it could be a career-opening game defined more by rookie mistakes than anything else. For the Cardinals, it's all Derek Anderson. If the Rams can force Anderson to work too quickly or at least operate in less than favorable circumstances more often than not, he's going to struggle. And if he does, it puts the entire season into question for the Cardinals thanks to the Leinart drama. I don't wish the Cardinals or their fans any ill will, but that's an outcome I wouldn't be disappointed by whatsoever.
This week's top 3 storylines brought to you by 2009 Cardinals who are not 2010 Cardinals:
1.) WR Anquan Boldin
With Boldin now in Baltimore, the question is how Arizona will do with a combination of Early Doucet and Steve Breaston in his stead. Larry Fitz is Larry Fitz. He can't really be stopped anyway. But to suggest Doucet or Breaston are anywhere near that level is crazy...snake-wrestling crazy.
2.) ILB Karlos Dansby
Dansby is the kind of player whose value you often underappreciate until he's gone. Something about love and whatnot. I'm not saying the Cardinals' defense is going to implode simply because he's gone. I'm just pointing out that the Rams' defense won't simply because James Laurinaitis isn't going anywhere. Bradford has gotten exponentially more coverage (and appreciation), but the argument is going to be made by someone somewhere that Laurinaitis is nearly as important to the Rams' defense as Bradford is to their offense. And they won't be horribly wrong.
3.) QBs Kurt Warner & Matt Leinart
We all know the top storyline for both the Rams and the Cards is the quarterbacks who will start the game: Sam Bradford and Derek Anderson. It also tells you something about the trajectory of the two franchises. Arizona sliced through the NFC in 2008 on the strength of their Warner-fed passing attack, despite having taken Matt Leinart 10th overall in the 2006 draft. Now, it's the Derek Anderson show, and that makes everyone (and I mean everyone, not just Cardinals fans) a bit queasy. Meanwhile, the Rams, whose offense went from bad to worse to OH GOD MY EYES! THEY'RE BURNING! THIS IS DISGUSTING - MAKE IT STOP, took Sam Bradford first overall and have committed their future to developing him and the tools around him to make him a successful steward of an NFL franchise. Nearly opposite situations. And if you believe that suggests the Rams are on the upswing and things will get better in the years to come, well, Arizona has a short window to hold on to things before they come apart at the seams.
Go Rams. Holler.