The Los Angeles Rams are facing Arizona Cardinals in Week 7 in London. In a crucial NFC West battle overseas, the Rams are going up against a pretty interesting Cardinals team that is as experienced as they are yet undefined.
So to get a better understanding of what we’re facing, I linked up with Seth Cox from Revenge Of The Birds, the SB Nation community for Cardinals fans.
Let's start on offense. There are two key aspects of yalls O I'm most intrigued in. One is just age. You guys have six starters who are 30-years old or older on offense. We have three...on our entire roster. How much concern do you have just in the ability to get through the season with these guys avoiding breaking down either in the form of injury or just with age accelerating their individual decline?
The Cardinals offense was supposed to be based around a mix of young and old and now it is a mix of D.J. Humphries as the young and Carson Palmer, Adrian Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald as the old. It has been a shift that was largely due to injuries. First, Humphries was injured in game one, followed by David Johnson, then John Brown continued to have issues being available. All of a sudden, it was all about finding healthy bodies that could consistently contribute. Well, two of those were on the roster, Palmer and Fitz, and again became the focal point of the offense. Then, in a swing for the fences type of move, the Cardinals brought in Adrian Peterson. Now, the offense is really old, but through one game, balanced and looks talented. Now, obviously it is one game, but if Peterson can do similar to last game, maybe 20 carries for 70-90 yards a game (wide range but 3.5-4.5 yards per carry) then you just have to hope that the offensive line can continue to keep Palmer healthy.
It is just one of those situations where, in a juxtaposition to LA, you have to assume that these guys can play one more year of talented ball, as opposed to what LA was hoping coming into the year, is that their young guys each took the next step. Can they last the season? I think for Peterson, it is about lasting until Thanksgiving when David Johnson is scheduled to come back, and if he survives, it will keep the pressure off of Palmer, which in turn keeps the pressure off Fitzgerald.
Secondly, you guys have the worst rushing offense in the NFL. Or at least had. Five horrible showings followed by last week's revival performance from RB Adrian Peterson. How much of that was just the Tampa Bay Buccaneers being ill-prepared to defend your new running back or not respecting the ground game in general versus a legitimate new look rushing O for you guys?
I think you are selling short just how bad the run game was before last week. It was on a historically awful pace, like to the point that it couldn’t have possibly kept being as bad as it was. Now, the arrival of Peterson clearly helped, but the return of Humphries and Alex Boone (who was hurt immediately following his first game) and the removal of Evan Boehm, who was basically awful at right guard with Earl Watford, who has always been good enough in the run game.
I think turning over 3/5 of the offensive line has as much to do with the run game improvements as the addition of Peterson. However, the addition of a runner that doesn’t go down on first contact is important.
Defensively, it's a bit of the same story. Stingy in defending the run with issues in pass coverage. How would you explain the Cardinals' defense to Rams fans through six games?
The Cardinals pass defense struggles because they lack someone across from Patrick Peterson who can consistently cover, while having only Chandler Jones who can rush the passer. Meaning if Jones doesn’t disrupt the quarterback, only Peterson can cover long enough to make a difference. It is a less than optimal defensive strategy at this point.
In the run game, they just have three consistent defensive lineman who do their job and allow the linebackers to make plays cleanly. Corey Peters has been slightly banged up, but he is a staunch nose tackle, while Frostee Rucker is a savvy veteran that knows how to play the game. They’ll hold the point of attack consistently, they just are not going to make very many plays behind the line of scrimmage. Which at this point hasn’t hurt them in the run game.
Trajectory-wise, how do you feel about this team for 2017 in and of itself? Obviously the early injuries have thrown things awry a bit, but you guys get the bye after our jaunt to London. What's the confidence level at getting things headed at another NFC West crown?
I think most people have a “wait and see” approach right now. They beat bad teams and lose to average to good teams. Now they get an average to good team with a strong offense. If it is close it’ll be a shootout, if it is not close, I assume it will be because the Cardinals offense can’t keep pace with the Rams new and improved offense.
If they lose this game, you have to think it is over at this point, because they then have to travel to San Francisco following the bye then get Seattle on a short week. They have to come out of this three-game stretch winning two of three, and in my opinion, that means winning the first two games and knowing that the Seattle game, on a short week, is just gravy.
If they do that… and then get David Johnson back, it will be a different feeling than it is right now.
Big picture...where is this franchise headed? This year really feels like we're turning a corner. The old NFL of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and Drew Brees (and Carson Palmer?) seems to be coming to a pretty full end. Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles are 5-1. The Jacksonville Jaguars look like legitimate contenders in spite of QB Blake Bortles. The Cleveland Browns...ok, the Browns are still the Browns, but hey the Rams don't look bad! It feels like there's a new era of the NFL emerging. Where are the Cardinals headed to fit in to it? What do you guys need to do to set up for the post-Palmer, post-Fitzgerald Cardinals?
You have to wonder if this iteration of the Cardinals has already lost their place as contenders in the league and I think it is a fair question to ask. Was 2015 the mountain top for this group? If so, does continuing to ride out the string do anything? This game, this stretch of games will tell us a lot of where the Cardinals are in the scope of not just the NFC West, but what looks like an NFL that is very winnable at the moment. Can they keep up with the youth field Eagles, Rams and Cowboys? Are they as talented as older teams like the Patriots, Chiefs and Falcons?
I don’t know, that is the truth. If you asked me two weeks ago I would say it was all over. Now, maybe they can squeeze some more water out of this old stone. Or maybe, continuing to try makes it worse… We will soon find out.
Thanks to Seth for the time.