Linebacker Sam Acho (94) and nose tackle David Carter (79) are among the young pieces that have helped the Cards' defense move forward.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton said it crossed his mind Friday morning, just how much more the Cards can add to the playbook on his side of the ball.
The defense is playing better. Horton would like more turnovers, but the Cards are third in the NFL in third-down defense (34.8 percent, behind only the Lions, Jets, Ravens and Texans) and have cut down on the big plays.
The full base package has been at the Cards' disposal, but Horton said that at this point, the defense is still only using about 50 percent of the playbook on third downs.
"Where I catch myself (with it) is during the week," Horton said. "I want to add some stuff and the first time we make a small mistake, I don't feel comfortable with it. You'd like to do a couple of things, but no.
"We don't have the package to come after people yet."
Regardless, there is a confidence with which the defense is now playing that wasn't there earlier in the season, and comparing how the unit feels now compared to previous brought a shake of the head from defensive tackle Darnell Dockett.
"Oh God," Dockett said. "Earlier in the season it was complicated. Trying to learn the calls and trying to learn the signals. It is one thing to play in the preseason, to play a quarter and then come out without a lot put in. Then the first game of the season comes and you have a dictionary full of plays to learn. It was complicated.
"Right now, we are getting better. We see the mistakes and we can correct them. Our communication is there."
KOLB QUESTIONABLE, SKELTON READY
There were no announcements on the Cards' starting quarterback for Sunday. Kevin Kolb was limited again and is listed as questionable, and coach Ken Whisenhunt talked about how Kolb's foot reacts tomorrow and again after the plane ride to St. Louis.
"It's hard to know what to expect," Whisenhunt said.
If he can't go, John Skelton would like nothing better to have a chance at redemption after his terrible game in San Francisco. Whisenhunt noticed a different Skelton this week.
"He was more down and angry than I have seen him before," Whisenhunt said. "He was disappointed in the way he played, and it was good. If he has to go in and play this week, it will be interesting to see how it responds."
Skelton said familiarity with the Rams – he was the winning quarterback when the teams met in Arizona Nov. 6 – helps.
"I think you always want to redeem yourself after a game like (last week)," Skelton said. "I'm always going to be my own worst critic. It's just another opportunity to move forward."
QUESTIONS AT TACKLE, TIGHT END
Starting right tackle Brandon Keith (concussion) didn't practice again Friday, but since he is waiting to pass concussion tests, he is still questionable for Sunday should he get better over the next day or two. Veteran Jeremy Bridges would be the probable starter in St. Louis, however.
The Cards are also sorting through the tight end situation. As has been the case over the past couple of weeks, both Rob Housler (groin) and Todd Heap (hamstring) were limited again and are questionable. If the Cards can get at least one back – Housler would seem more likely – it would add a key receiving threat at the position.
Cornerback Michael Adams (hamstring) is the fifth Cardinal listed as questionable.
For the Rams, key defenders linebacker James Laurinaitis (foot) and defensive end Chris Long (ankle) are listed as questionable, but both are expected to play.
A BETTER BRADFORD
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford gave his team a lot of hope as a rookie last season, leading them to a surprising 7-9 record. But this year, hampered by an ankle injury and injuries everywhere else on the offense, Bradford hasn't taken the step forward that was expected.
His passing rating has slipped (76.5 to 70.9) and after throwing 18 touchdowns last year, he has just five this season. The Rams are 2-8 at this point.
"I know my numbers might not show it, or to someone on the outside looking in they might say I've regressed or that I haven't grown as a player," Bradford said. "But in the system we are in this year, I've been asked to do things that, last year if I had been asked to do them, there is absolutely no way I would have been able to handle them or comprehend them. I feel I have gotten smarter as a quarterback."
Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo acknowledged Bradford has had some down moments. "But I'm sure glad we have him as our quarterback."