KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural grass
TV: FOX, Chris Myers, Kurt Warner, Nischelle Turner
PREDICTION: Cardinals 29-23
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Rams lack explosiveness on offense, but they are protecting the ball (plus-four turnover margin) and QB Sam Bradford is moving the chains against defenses that load up against RB Steven Jackson. The Cardinals' defensive line was pushed around by San Francisco last week and the pass rush has been abysmal most of the season. Arizona is sticking with QB Derek Anderson, who is under constant pressure off the edges and staring down his receivers. Arizona must get more production out of its 31st-ranked ground game.
FAST FACTS: Jackson needs 117 rushing yards to become the first Ram with six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. ... The Cardinals have won the past eight meetings.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Wide receiver Laurent Robinson has been a different player since the Rams' bye Nov. 7. Robinson was off to a string start in 2009 when he suffered a fractured fibula in the third game of the season.
He missed the remainder of the year, but worked hard to be ready for training camp. He was, but lingering issues with his ankle, and then his foot affected his production. After catching four passes for 22 yards in the first two games, he was inactive for two games. In his next four games before the bye, he had eight catches for a mere 53 yards.
Then came the bye, and Robinson seemed to return with a spring in his step.
In the three games since the bye, Robinson has 11 receptions for 137 yards (12.5-yard average), and had four catches for 58 yards (14.5 average) Sunday against Denver.
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur pointed to the bye week as the turning point.
"I think having a little bit of time off after a long stretch helped his foot. Then he got some catches and some opportunities and he made the best of them. We're hoping that he'll continue with that. But I think the bye week and you just trigger a little different routine for a couple of days and you're not getting the pounding, and I think that helped him."
Quarterback Sam Bradford believes consistency and being together for most of the season has resulted in his increased efficiency in the passing game with Robinson and all of his receivers.
Said Bradford, "I think just the fact that now it seems like we've settled on our wide receiving corps. It's been really consistent with the guys we've had in there. They've played the same positions for the past several weeks, so I think we're all just starting to get in a rhythm and get in a groove with each other."
Asked about the rapport Bradford has built with the group, Shurmur said, "Timing in the passing game is very, very important, and the longer you work with someone, the more you get to understand the little nuances of the routes they run. On paper, all the routes are exactly the same depth and they're supposed to be run exactly the same way, but certain guys get open subtly different, and I think that's where guys working together can make the difference in another completion or two during the game."
In addition to Robinson, Brandon Gibson has also become more consistent, minimizing drops and making plays. Bothered by a hamstring injury in the offseason and during training camp, Gibson was inactive for the first two games of the season. He played in the next five games, catching 12 passes. In his last four games, he has 22.
"I think confidence is important for athletes," Shurmur said of Gibson. "You feel like you're going to make the play as opposed to worrying that you're not. So once you have a little bit of success, that kind of breeds more success. We're hoping that'll continue."
Finally, Bradford said, "I think really now any of our wide receivers could tell me before the snap who they think is getting the ball, and they're probably right. Just based on the looks we're getting when we started to rep plays, and we've run them I don't know how many times now over the course of the season. So I think everyone is starting to get on the same page as far as where we're going to go with the ball in certain plays."
Said running back Steven Jackson, "I'm very impressed, not only with the play of Sam, which has been phenomenal, but our young guys, our young receivers. Some guys have stepped up in a major way and it has allowed (Sam) to have weapons down the field. So we can show teams that we have a threat - we can stretch the field a little bit."
Sometimes it's not a matter of a team not having an identity, but a team not wanting to believe what it is. At 3-8, the Cardinals aren't enjoying looking in the mirror.
If the Cardinals know what's gone wrong in the last six weeks, they aren't saying.
Ask the players and mostly you get vague generalities, like how good practice habits are not translating to playing well on Sundays. After 11 games, however, everyone else has come to the conclusion that the Cardinals' talent might have been vastly overrated.
That's not a revolutionary opinion, given the team's 3-8 record and six-game losing streak.
On defense, the biggest problem appears to be motivation. While not an overly-talented unit, the Cardinals have enough proven players that they should be closer to respectable.
The unit is 31st in points allowed and 29th in total defense. The front seven is getting annihilated and the secondary is busting coverage.
Complicating matters is that no one can see a way out of the downward spiral. The best players are already playing, meaning changing personnel isn't the answer. Coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't going to make changes on his coach staff, not during the season.
There are leaders on the defensive side of the ball, but they haven't been able to motivate this group. That might be because the leaders aren't playing that well themselves.
End Darnell Dockett is struggling through a neck stinger. Strong safety Adrian Wilson has been a liability in coverage. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has just nine passes defensed, even though no one is shying away from throwing at him.
Outside linebacker Joey Porter is providing very limited pass rush.
--FB Mike Karney, who was inactive for Sunday's game against Denver, did very little in practice Wednesday because of a groin issue. RB Steven Jackson said it was "very disappointing" when Karney wasn't active Sunday.
--CB Jerome Murphy tweaked his hamstring during special teams work in practice Thursday and it is unknown whether he will be able to practice Friday.
--CB Quincy Butler could see action Sunday against Arizona Sunday if Jerome Murphy is affected by a hamstring injury. Depth is needed in the secondary with the amount of three- and four-receiver sets the Cardinals use.
--DT Darell Scott remains "a bit gimpy," according to coach Steve Spagnuolo because of a foot injury, and had limited participation in practice Thursday.
--TE Derek Schouman is a candidate to be active for Sunday's game against Arizona. Schouman was signed on Nov. 17 after TE Fendi Onobun was placed on injured reserve because of a back injury. The Rams are down to two tight ends with Michael Hoomanawanui out because of an ankle injury. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said TE coach Frank Leonard has Schouman "up to speed" in terms or preparedness.
--QB Derek Anderson held on to his starting job but it's a week-to-week proposition. If the Cardinals keep losing, it will be rookies Max Hall or John Skelton getting auditions.
--QB Max Hall could get another start this season if the offense continues to struggles. That might not come, however, until the last couple games.
--RB Tim Hightower continues to start ahead of Beanie Wells but the club has had struggled to stick with the run because it's fallen behind in games.
--RB Beanie Wells wants more carries but is doing nothing to convince coaches he deserves them. Wells fumbled the first handoff last week against the 49ers.
--RB LaRod Stephens-Howling returned after missing a game with a hamstring strain.
--RB Jason Wright returned after missing a game with a concussion.
--WR Steve Breaston continues to be the team's biggest downfield threat. Breaston has the speed to stretch the field and runs well after the catch.
--WR Early Doucet is playing the third receiver role but has done little this year. He rarely seems open and he's not doing anything with the ball after the catch.
--WR Larry Fitzgerald needs five catches to pass Anquan Boldin on the team's all-time reception list. He needs three touchdowns to pass Roy Green for the No. 1 spot in team history.
--TE Stephen Spach is mainly a blocker and will rarely be a target in the passing game.
--TE Jim Dray has moved ahead of Ben Patrick as the backup tight end. Dray isn't much of a receiving threat.
--K Jay Feely has a strong leg and his only miss this season in 14 attempts was from 54 yards.
The Breakdown: Cardinals vs. Rams
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