In some ways this is a tough game to forecast because of a couple of x-factors. Which Adrian Peterson is the real AP--the sullen has-been he seemed to be with the Saints, or the rejuvenated Hall of Fame player who tore up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week? The other unknown, of course, is the effect of a long trip to merry old England to play a game thousands of miles from home. You could argue the Rams should be used to these London games by now, but really, who knows? This, by the way, will be Peterson's second London game this season, having made the journey while still a member of the New Orlean Saints earlier this season.
Rams Offense Vs Cardinals Defense
The last time I checked it looked like Cardinals all-world cornerback Patrick Peterson would play in this game, which is good news for Arizona. They certainly need him, with a pass-defense that has been giving up an average of 251 yards per game. But good as he is, Peterson can't cover everyone at once, and the Rams have a lot of receiving weapons to work with. Of course, the Rams offense has mostly run through Todd Gurley this season. Gurley is a major weapon both as a runner and receiver, and getting him going seems to be the key to the whole offense. The Arizona rush defense is decent, giving up an average of 91 yards per game, ninth in the league. If they can shut down the Rams ground game and make Los Angeles one-dimensional they might have a chance. Overall though, I like this match up for the Rams.
Rams Defense vs Arizona Offense
In my opinion, the number one key to this game (aside from turnovers) is whether the Cardinals can run the ball suucessfully. That was the case last week, as Peterson ran for 134 yards in a romp over Tampa Bay. If the Cardinals can run the ball, eat up the clock and play good defense they can win this game. The running game is especially important because the last thing they want is to have Carson Palmer have to throw the ball 40 plus times. Carson Palmer, meet Aaron Donald. Palmer--to be kind--is not the most mobile quarterback, and the Cardinals O-line has mostly been pretty bad this season. They did get tackle D.J. Humphries back last week. That's good news, but it may not be enough. A strong running game would go a long way towards cancelling the Rams pass rush. But if that doesn't materialize, this could get ugly, and not in a good way for the Cardinals. The Rams getting out to a big early lead could be trouble for the same reasons.
This unit came up big for the Rams last week, with Cory Littleton blocking a punt and Pharoh Cooper running the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. Yes, Cooper did muff a punt, but fortunately was able to recover it. While the fumbled punts seem to be an on-going concern, you have to think problems with such a basic skill are correctable. At least they should be. But aside from that issue the Rams may well have the best special teams in the league. Johnny Hekker is the best punter on the planet, and placekicker Greg Zuerlein is a threat any time the Rams can move the ball much past mid-field. Assuming punt fumble-itis doesn't rear it's ugly head again, this is a big strength for the Rams.
Despite my giving the Rams the advantage in all three phases of the game, this one is NOT a slam dunk for Los Angeles. A resurgent Adrian Peterson, the perils and distractions of playing in London, and the ever-present threat of turnovers could all come up big for Arizona. But assuming none of those issues play a big role in this game, I just think the Rams are a better team right now.
Rams 34 Cardinals 24
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