The Los Angeles Rams are coming off their first road win of the season by narrowly defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 37-32 to put them atop of the NFC West standings.
Next on tap for Los Angeles lies a serious challenge in the defending division champion Arizona Cardinals, who are 1-2 through the first three games. The two losses that the Cardinals suffered were against formidable opponents in the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills.
Despite this slow start, Arizona is still an extremely talented team that could find themselves quickly back in the playoff picture. The bulk of their success over the last few years has been through the offense directed by Pro-Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer, who is coming off an MVP-caliber season in 2015 that saw him post career highs with 4,671 passing yards, 35 passing touchdowns, and a 104.6 passer rating.
That said, the 36-year-old is coming off a disappointing performance against the Buffalo Bills that saw him throw four interceptions while completing 26 of 50 passes for 271 with 5.74 yards per completion and a meager 13.4 quarterback rating. However, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher is well aware of what Palmer is capable of accomplishing on the field and isn't taking him lightly.
“I just have great respect for him, wherever he’s been. He had some great years there at Cincinnati," Fisher said. "There was that, ‘What if’ that was kind of that defining moment there on whether he was going to play or not, and then he got a chance to go to Oakland, and now he’s found a great home with (Head Coach) Bruce (Arians) there, and great people around him. He’s highly competitive, and every time we play them it’s quite a challenge.”
Palmer is the linchpin to the Cardinals' high-powered offense that last season led the league with 30.6 points per game while averaging an NFL-best 408.3 total offensive yards. Their passing attack was second in the NFL passing yards, first with 8.5 yards per completion, and second with 35 touchdown passes.
This featured Larry Fitzgerald experiencing a renaissance year finishing with a career-best 109 catches with 1,215 receiving yards and nine touchdowns that helped him earn his ninth career Pro Bowl selection. He also hauled in at least five catches in all but three games while posting more than 80 receiving yards on eight occasions, and had three games with at least eight catches and 100 receiving yards. He also in the midst of another productive campaign currently ranking fifth in the league with 20 catches for 218 yards and three touchdowns.
Running back David Johnson was also a huge surprise late last season rushing for three games with 90 or more rushing yards. The former fifth-round-pick started each of the last five weeks of the season. Johnson currently has 217 rushing yards on 47 carries with three touchdowns. All of this has made has made limiting the Cardinals' the offense the top priority for the Rams heading into Sunday's matchup.
“Any time you play an offense like this, it’s like the old Peyton Manning days. You have to take the approach that field goals are a win for your defense," Fisher said. "The ball is going to get pushed down the field, you got to keep them out of the end zone – a field goal is a win. So when you take that approach, you have to counter it with touchdowns to have a chance to beat them.”
It's an early-season that could put the Rams two games ahead of the Cardinals in the standings and possibly in sole possession first place in the NFC West.This is something that offensive coordinator Rob Boras sees as a prime opportunity for Los Angeles to gain much-needed separation it the division.
“Yeah, I think our guys are getting more confident right now. To start like that would be great, Boras said. "The thing is, as we all know, there was still a lot of things that we want to get better at and that’s the challenge. The new challenges are now we are playing the Arizona Cardinals, who are a really good football team. To get to 3-1, again, would be great, but we have to focus on playing the game and see what happens. Arizona is a very talented football team.”