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Arizona Cardinals Vs. St. Louis Rams Preview

December 7th, 2013 at 6:35 AM
By Steve Smith

The Arizona Cardinals return home to face NFC West division rival St. Louis Sunday afternoon at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. To say this is a huge game for the Red Birds is an understatement as they battle for a wild card berth.

Let's take a look at their matchup:

'Rams' photo (c) 2008, bk1bennett - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

St. Louis (5-7)

The Rams defeated the Cardinals in the season opener, 27-24 in St. Louis. With quarterback Sam Bradford out for the season, the Rams have been going with Kellen Clemens as their signal-caller for the last six games. Clemens leads a squad that ranks just 25th in the league in passing offense with 209.8 yards per game. The University of Oregon product has five TD passes and three interceptions and will try and get the ball to the lightning-fast Tavon Austin, the rookie from West Virginia. Austin can take a short pass to the house (as he did against the Colts earlier this season for 57 and 81 yards, respectively) and is also a very dangerous punt returner.

The running game of the Rams is keyed by Zac Stacy, who paces the team in rushing with 696 yards and four touchdowns. Yards might be hard to come by because the Cards have the fourth best rushing defense in the league (83.2 YPG).

Arizona must also be aware of Rams tight end Jared Cook – Cook has 40 catches for 557 yards and four touchdowns. The Cardinals have been poor against the TE position this season so Cook could give them trouble down the seam or in the red zone. He'll be Clemens' safety valve.

'University of Phoenix Stadium, Home of the Arizona Cardinals (2)' photo (c) 2009, Ken Lund - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Arizona (7-5)

The Cardinals need to win a divisional game – they've dropped eight in a row, including a 0-3 mark this season. They are 5-1 at home though and you know the crowd at University of Phoenix Stadium will be pumped for this one.

Quarterback Carson Palmer injured his right elbow against Philadelphia last week and will be a game-time decision . The USC product was sacked four times against St. Louis in the season opener and five times last week against the Eagles. If he plays, the Cardinals must do a better job of protecting him. The USC product was limited in practice this week. Drew Stanton will start if Palmer is not able to play.

"If it comes to that, Drew will do a hell of a job," Arizona head coach Bruce Arians told cbssports.com. "There is no doubt in my mind."

Andre Ellington, who has been battling a sore left knee, should be able to play against the Rams. He was not able to play last week against the Eagles. Rashard Mendenhall led the Cards with 76 rushing yards in that game but Ellington's big play potential was missed. The Clemson product leads Arizona with 441 yards rushing and two touchdowns while catching 28 passes for 247 yards and a score.

"He's special," Palmer said. "He does things that nobody else on the team can do and not a lot of people in the league can do."

A key to the game will be how much pressure the Cardinals can put on Clemens. They rank 11th in the league with 34 sacks but seem to really dial heat up at home before a loud crowd. Arizona also is tied for third in the NFL with 15 interceptions so getting turnovers and a short field will be paramount.

Prediction: Palmer's injury is coming at the worst time. Stanton has not thrown a pass since 2010 when he was with the Lions. Ellington's return is huge though and expect Larry Fitzgerald, Rob Housler and Michael Floyd to have solid games here. Cardinals win a squeeker. Arizona 17, Rams 16.

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Tags: Andre Ellington, Arizona, Arizona Cardinals, Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Football, Jared Cook, Kellen Clemens, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, NFL, Rashard Mendenhall, Tavon Austin, Zac Stacy

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