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Cardinals ready for ‘phenomenal’ St. Louis Rams defense

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) is hit by St. Louis Rams free safety Rodney McLeod during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE  — Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he nearly threw up when he saw Ben Roethlisberger go down with a knee injury last Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

Imagine what would happen if his own quarterback, Carson Palmer, suffered a similar fate this Sunday against the Rams.

It’s not actually too far fetched, unfortunately, as it was against the Rams at University of Phoenix Stadium last year when Palmer suffered a torn ACL, ending his season in Week 10.

“What happened last time we played them,” a sarcastic Palmer said when asked if he has any extra feelings about facing the Rams again. “No, there’s not. I am looking forward to playing this game because it’s a great challenge for us offensively. It’s a phenomenal defense, one of the best combinations of great personnel on the back end, on the front end. They have a really good system and a really good scheme.

“What happened last year is what happened last year, and I am looking forward to this challenge for the offense to really kind of go out there and play against one of the best defenses in the league and seeing how we stack up against those guys.”

A challenge, it will be.

Heading into Week 4 the Rams were tied for the NFL lead with 13 sacks, with the majority of the damage coming courtesy of defensive linemen Aaron Donald (3.5) and Robert Quinn (3.0). Along with those two, the Rams feature Chris Long (1.0) and Michael Brockers along the line. All four were first-round picks.

“Oh it’s a challenge,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “To me, this is probably one of the best front fours — there’s a couple first-round picks, I don’t know how many — but at least four or five first-round picks on their defense, on the defensive line.

“And it’s going to be a hell of a challenge.”

Right tackle Bobby Massie, who called the Rams’ D-line one of the best in the league, said the Rams’ line is so good because “each guy can do a lot of different things.”

Along with their talent alone, the Rams present an interesting dynamic for an offensive line that has allowed just one sack this season. With defensive coordinator Gregg Williams calling the shots, St. Louis has a penetrating 4-3 style that the Cardinals have not yet faced this season.

Arians said it will be a “totally different challenge” for his team.

So, how do the Cardinals handle it?

“There are a lot of things,” Palmer said. “Communication is probably the most important thing. Fundamentals and footwork and hand placement and timing and all those things, getting the ball out quick. Seeing the hots and sights and making the right adjustments. There are a number of things that you have to do.”

Much of it will fall on the offensive line, yes. The running game, too, will play a role in slowing down the Rams’ ferocious rush. And the receivers? Well, they know their quarterback may not have all day to throw.

“The pressure that they bring, we’ll have to run our routes full speed, we can’t hesitate, you’ve got to get open quick,” John Brown said. “Those guys bring great pressure and with those guys having 13 sacks in just three games, that’s incredible.

“We have to do what we’ve got to do to get the ball out.”

But make no mistake, the Cardinals are not going to change what they do offensively to try to counteract what the Rams may do to try and stop them. Goodwin said there may be a few small differences but otherwise you can expect the Cardinals to empty the backfield while still taking shots down the field.

Max protect will not really be a thing, which is fine with the guy who it would be designed to keep upright.

“No I mean it’s not a lot of who we are,” Palmer said of having more blockers. “We get into big personnel groups to run the ball, not to try and fake you out and take shots with one or two receivers. We will take shots with five receivers in the game. For the most part, we want to be a physical run team, and you have to be in this division. It’s not the mindset of our play caller or what we are doing.”

Fair enough. Still, it’s hard to imagine there aren’t a little nerves going into this game based on what transpired last year with the Cardinals and last week for the Steelers.

The Rams have spent considerable amount of time and resources to create a dominant front, and they have clearly succeeded in that regard. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging that, which guard Jonathan Cooper did in saying the Cardinals’ Week 4 opponent has speed, quickness, moves and depth up front before noting, “they’re a strong group of guys.”

Yet, understanding what their opponent can do is not at all the same as being fearful of what they could do.

“Honestly, it’s a thing of not letting how good they are really get to us before we play the game,” Cooper said. “We have to play the game, regardless of who they are, we have to play the game.

“That’s continuously what you hear, ‘that D-line, D-line, D-line,’ we can’t let that get to us. We’re going to show up, play the game no matter who’s there, and I know they’re going  to come and bring their best so we’re going to do the same.”

Some stories for pre-game reading

As Craig Grialou points out, takeaways equal points for the Cardinals so far in 2015.

Another Steve Keim free agent find? The Cardinals feel fortunate that Chris Johnson “fell into our lap.”

AZCardinals.com’s Darren Urban notes that revitalized Larry Fitzgerald creates a positive vibe around the entire organization.

It would be fair to say Larry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson have had some success when playing the Rams.

The Cardinals are confident and not at all surprised by their 3-0 start to the season.

The University of Phoenix Stadium turf was voted as the best playing surface in the NFL.

ESPN’s Jim Trotter was not high on the Cardinals going into the season, but now says, “I don’t know what there’s not to like” about the team.

Miscellany

-While the Rams have one of the league’s best defenses, entering Sunday they have the NFL’s worst offense, at least in terms of yards. They’re 28th in the league in average points per game, too, but Patrick Peterson says there is no underestimating what St. Louis brings to the table.

“These guys definitely have the talent that can put points on the board at any given time,” he said. “Despite their record, this is a very talented football team, a very dangerous football team, and a team that we have to make sure that we don’t take lightly.

“We’re definitely not taking this team lightly, but this is the type of team you can’t take lightly.”

– Receiver John Brown appeared on the injury report this week with a shoulder injury, but he said it is something he has dealt with ever since college that just got re-aggravated last Sunday against the 49ers.

-If the Cardinals rush for at least 115 yards this week it will be the first time since 1988 they reached that mark in each of the first four games of a season.

-Larry Fitzgerald is one touchdown catch Sunday away from tying a franchise record for TD catches in the first four games of a season. Of course, that would also mean he would set a franchise record with two TD grabs against the Rams.

-If he throws two touchdown passes Sunday Palmer will tie Charley Johnson for the most TD  passes through four games in franchise history. He would also become the first player in team history to toss multiple TD strikes in each of the season’s first four games. And with a victory, Palmer would become the first Cardinals QB to win 10 consecutive starts since Ray Mallouf, who reached that mark in 1948.

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