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Fighting Funk, Cardinals Ready For Rams

Game is first of two NFC West battles in five-day span


Wide receiver John Brown and the Cardinals are trying to break out of a funk against the Rams Sunday.

The Cardinals and the Rams play Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, and of course, an NFC West division leader will be on the field.

It just happens to be the Rams, which no one would have predicted three weeks ago.

"I learned a long time ago, nothing in this business is guaranteed," Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.

Returning to the field the Cardinals (1-2) are trying desperately to avoid a previously unthinkable 1-3 start. Playing in

the division can only help – "There's so much more that rides on these games," quarterback Carson Palmer said – and begins a crucial five-day stretch in which the Cards delve into their rivals.

First comes the Rams, and then the Cards must turn around a few days later to play another NFC West team in San Francisco.

"Division games are always the ones you prepare the best for, because you know your opponent," defensive tackle Calais Campbell said. "I have familiarity with the guy I'm going to go against.

"Those are the ones you need to win, because those are the ones that are essential to get to the playoffs."

The postseason, though, is so far off. First, the Cardinals need to find a way to get off to much better starts offensively and stop Rams running back Todd Gurley after giving up 208 yards rushing last week.

The players and coaches talked all week about being more disciplined on defense and stopping in attempts to do too much instead of each particular assignment. Whether that helps – the Cards were talking about trying to do too much in the opening loss to the Patriots as well, and then repeated it two weeks later – will be on display.

"The thing I love about this defense is these guys will come back in, not afraid to look in the mirror as individuals, and

we're not afraid to look in the mirror as coaches on defense, and come in and get it corrected," defensive coordinator James Bettcher said.

At least the defense started well a week ago. The offense did not, gaining just two yards in the first quarter and failing to get a first down until six minutes into the second quarter. The Cardinals moved the ball against the Rams' impressive front seven a year ago, and having veteran guard Evan Mathis in the lineup will help after he missed the Buffalo game with a bad toe.

The inconsistency feels like a 2015 hangover, and that's what coach Bruce Arians wants to get past.

"I think it was more that we missed an opportunity last year," Arians said. "I think Kurt (Warner) hit it right on the head when I was reading what he said with the Rams when they missed the Super Bowl (in 2001). They got everybody back (in 2002) and put too much pressure on themselves.

"I think this team is trying a little too hard. We cut it loose one game, played pretty good. The rest we pressed a little bit."

The question is, did the Cardinals find the answers this week that will allow them to stop pressing?

"We'll find out Sunday," Arians said.

Images of the starters for this week's opponent, the Los Angeles Rams

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