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A different kind of measuring stick awaits Arizona Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. — As far as “measuring stick” games go, the Arizona Cardinals’ contest with the St. Louis Rams this Sunday would generally be pretty far down the list.

At 5-7, the Rams are two games worse than the Cardinals in the standings, and the game is at University of Phoenix Stadium, so there is no aura of learning to win on the road.

However, the Cardinals will get a chance to see how they measure up simply because this will be the second time they’ve played the Rams, with the first coming in a 24-21 Week 1 loss.

“It’s funny to watch them on film today,” quarterback Carson Palmer said Wednesday. “It seems like so long ago.”

“They’re playing very good football right now.”

Exactly three months will have passed between meetings, and much has changed for both teams.

In St. Louis, quarterback Sam Bradford is out after tearing his ACL in late October, though the offense has remained productive as running back Zac Stacy and receiver Tavon Austin have emerged as viable threats.

“Their receivers, they have speed outside, and they have a good running game,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “They’re like they were the first game.”

In Arizona, the hope is the offense has grown enough to where the struggles it had in the first meeting, when it turned the ball over twice, allowed four sacks of Palmer, gained four fourth-quarter first downs and coughed up a late 11-point lead, are in the past.

“Offense in that game we did some great things, we just didn’t close out the game offensively,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said Thursday, adding that a similar issue popped up in the team’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday. “I think the offense has come along great and hopefully we keep climbing and getting better each day.”

For a while, it appeared the Cardinals were doing just that. They reached the 27-point mark in three consecutive games before scoring 40 against the Indianapolis Colts, and the team had done a better job of protecting the football, going two straight games without a turnover.

But Palmer was picked off twice by the Eagles while also losing a fumble, and he was sacked five times.

The hope for the Cardinals is that what happened in Philadelphia was the exception rather than the rule, and they’ll have a chance Sunday to show just how far they’ve come against the team with whom it all started.

“We use it as a measuring stick,” said running back Rashard Mendenhall, who gained 60 yards on 16 carries against the Rams. “But we know each Sunday is its own, and we’ve changed some things since then, they’ve grown some since then, so we just prepare ourselves to do the best we can on Sunday.”