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Front and back, revamped Rams defense will challenge Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Sam Bradford (9) throws against the Washington Redskins during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The three starting defensive linemen for the Los Angeles Rams own nine Pro Bowl appearances between them. The one who accounts for none of those accolades, Michael Brockers, is plenty established himself having missed just five games in six prior NFL seasons with the Rams.

Los Angeles’ cornerbacks, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, own seven Pro Bowls combined.

The Rams’ most productive player on paper so far this year, Cory Littleton, led the team with an interception and 13 tackles in a Week 1 win over the Oakland Raiders on Monday.

Suffice to say, an Arizona Cardinals offense that struggled in a loss to the Washington Redskins to open the year has its work cut out for a Week 2 road game on Sunday.

“We got Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers, and Talib and Marcus Peters,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “They’re a great team. Not too often you see a defense re-tool to the level they’ve retooled. (Linebacker Alec) Ogletree’s gone, (linebacker Mark) Barron’s down, two brand new corners. It’s completely revamped but they’re talented guys.”

Los Angeles signed Suh, the nose tackle, to a one-year deal in March to join Brockers (end) and Donald (tackle). It locked down Donald on a six-year, $135 million extension that is the richest contract given to a defensive player in NFL history. The Rams also traded for cornerbacks Talib and Peters.

On paper, it looks good.

In practice, it got off to a good start. The Rams allowed 303 passing yards Monday to Oakland’s Derek Carr — 235 of them went to tight end Jared Cook and running back Jalen Richards — but the quarterback also threw three interceptions with no touchdowns.

“You saw Marcus Peters last week with a pick-six,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s just the type of player he is, capable of changing the complexity of the game at any moment. You can tell they do a lot of homework, a lot of studying on receivers and their tendencies.

“We got to be precise with our routes, our timing, our depth, can’t be giving those guys any indicators in terms of raising or drop on stops.”

Meanwhile, the Raiders only rushed for 95 yards on the Rams, though on 4.1 yards per carry.

Los Angeles got three quarterback hits on Carr, plus one sack.

Arizona, on the other hand, snapped the ball just 13 times in the first half of its 24-6 loss to Washington.

Head coach Steve Wilks called the offensive line play “inconsistent.” Though he, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, and the rest of the Cardinals have explained away a quiet night for its receivers around Larry Fitzgerald, the passing attack led by quarterback Sam Bradford surely must be more productive.

“I thought we did a good job coming off the ball in the run game, trying to get to the second level, creating holes for the running backs,” Wilks said of the offensive line’s performance last Sunday. “But we need to make sure we do a great job of really, in the pocket, protecting the quarterback, winning the one-on-ones, which we’re going to get a lot this week.”

McCoy knows that winning one-on-ones against the likes of Donald, Suh and Brockers amounts to quite the challenge.

Mixing up the protections will help keep the Rams off balance. Better yet, the Cardinals will need to run the football, something they abandoned last week after falling behind 21-0 in the first half. Johnson finished with just nine carries for 37 yards.

In short, the Cardinals must play better against what appears to be one of the NFL’s more talented defensive units.

“Coach Phillips has been coaching in the National Football League for about 75 years,” Fitzgerald joked about Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips on Thursday. “There’s nothing he hasn’t seen, nothing he hasn’t prepared for. Offensively, we got to be kicking on all cylinders.”

EXTRA POINTS

– Cardinals defensive coordinator Al Holcomb on what defensive end Markus Golden (ACL) can bring when he returns: “It’s definitely going to give us a boost. He’s a dynamic player, he brings a lot of energy, he brings a lot of juice. He has the ability to hold up and set the edge and also rush the passer, so can’t wait for him to get back.”

– Holcomb on where second-year linebacker Haason Reddick fits in: “At this point, we’re just trying to find the right niche for him in terms of what his fit is in our defense. Sometimes it’s coming off the edge, somethings it’s playing at the second level.

“He is adapting every day. It’s a learning process. This young man played with his hand in the dirt for the last four years. This is almost like his rookie year again so he’s learning. He’s doing a good job. He’s growing up.”

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