It’s a rematch from the Week 7 blowout in London which the Rams won 33-0, one that leaves that game far back in the memory. Since enjoying the bye a week later, both teams have found themselves on divergent paths. The Rams are ramping up for their first playoff push since the 2010 season while enjoying their first season without a losing record since 2006 while the Cards are looking at the end of an era as QB Carson Palmer and WR Larry Fitzgerald are in the twilight of their careers as Arizona yet again sits near the .500 mark looking for a way to start their next generation of football.
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.
So it's been more than a month since the Rams and Cardinals faced off in London. What's the major differences between the Week 7 and Week 13 Cardinals (and you have to provide more than a two-word answer consisting of "Blaine Gabbert") (or you don't have to if you don't want to)?
I wrote about it the other day, but in my opinion, Bruce Arians has done his best coaching job since the Palmer injury. Sure they're 2-2, but they are struggling to get stops on defense, which is another story, not make plays on offense. In fact, outside of the Seattle game, they've held leads going into the fourth quarter of the other three games. That's on Arians game planning well and putting the onus on his defense.
They faltered at the hands of Tom Savage, which honestly almost broke the will of the fanbase for this year, and almost gave up a 13 point lead to Blake Bortles, but they found a way.
That’s the biggest difference thus far, that Arians is having to change who he is and what he does and through four weeks, it has worked… Sort of.
How is the offense looking overall? Obviously you guys have had to remake things on the fly. What was supposed to be a Carson Palmer-David Johnson QB-RB combo has morphed into something entirely different. What will you guys be taking from this offense into 2018?
It's completely different. When you are not playing well, you grasp at positives, the positives right now are that Blaine Gabbert looks like a passable NFL quarterback, the offense is different, much more quick passing, short, get the backs and tight ends involved and they are doing enough offensively to win games… unfortunately there is another side of the ball.
The whole game plan is modeled around the idea of not asking Blaine Gabbert to win you the game.
They've done that and it's worked. In the fourth quarter against the Texans when they needed a drive to tie or win, Gabbert threw two interceptions. Last week, he found a way to make a couple good throws and get them in field goal range, an aside, is 57 yards really field goal range or is it more a field goal prayer? Anyways, we haven't had to see the Cardinals play from a big early deficit this season. That's really the key so far.
What's right with the defense and what's wrong? I know you didn't think they'd struggle as much as they have, but is there a glaring soft spot or technical issue that has to be resolved for you guys moving forward?
Honestly, I am not sure they're built the right way. They've invested in a lot of safeties and inside linebackers. They were savvy enough to trade for Chandler Jones, but look at the defensive line. Their highest paid player is former first round pick Robert Nkemdiche. They do a nice job against the run, but they don't get consistent pressure from anyone but Chandler Jones (who would be and should be a DPOY candidate) unless they blitz.
Then, of course, you have the curse of the not Patrick Peterson cornerback, although Tramon Williams has played well.
They gave up 31 points to Tom Savage and 17 (7 was the Jags defense) to Blake Bortles in back to back weeks. They have to probably be closer to that 17 number if they want to hang with LA.
I think, outside of Jones, the one great thing over the last two weeks is watching Budda Baker and Tyrann Mathieu, Budda Badger, play together. They've played so, so well together and they can disguise what they're doing now because they have both players.
When Tyrann Mathieu and Budda Baker start making plays together... pic.twitter.com/pcxuJNxqPu— Seth (@SCoxFB) April 30, 2017
How have the rookies done to this point in the season? Who's performing above expectations?
Rookie? Outside of Budda Baker the last two weeks, the rookie impact has been negligible at best. Haason Reddick is down to about 30% of the snaps, even when Deone Bucannon went down with an injury early against the Jags, it was Josh Bynes that got the call.
Budda Baker has played 98% of the snaps the last two games and this isn't hyperbole… He looks like 2015 Tyrann Mathieu. He's incredible, all over the field, wreaking havoc. It's thoroughly enjoyable to watch and also maddening that it took until game nine of the season for him to get on the field more than eight defensive snaps… Yes, that is accurate, Budda Baker did not play more than eight defensive snaps until week 10 of the 2017 NFL season. It's honestly negligence.
Rudy Ford gets some special teams burn and Chad Williams played 29 snaps last week, his first action since week three. This class hasn't had much impact, but Baker is worth the price of admission.
When we last met, I asked you about the trajectory of the team for 2017 and the franchise as a whole looking at an NFL landscape post-Larry Fitzgerald and post-Carson Palmer. Has the feeling on that front changed much? Is the thought of a Cardinals team not coached by Bruce Arians something to take seriously yet?
Well, Larry Fitzgerald signed a one-year extension through 2018, not that it means he's coming back, but it gives the look that next year may be the swan song of that trio.
The offense is a bit of a mess, they don't have any receivers outside of Fitz and the offensive line is a question mark, but they seem to like Blaine Gabbert… I know, I know.
Defensively, they have young talent at all three levels, let me rephrase that, they have invested on all three levels, but they don't seem to put it altogether as much as you'd like.
I don't think anyone is looking forward to what's next, because there are too many questions. Coach? Quarterback? Offensive weapons not named David Johnson? I think the biggest thing is, they don't have an identity outside of Arians/Palmer/Fitz. They need to fix that, but it may be 2019 before that happens.
Thanks to Seth for the time.