A glance at five top storylines for the Cardinals-Rams game Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.:
Everyone has heard it by now – the Rams had eight sacks last week, and they have 13 sacks in the last three games. Defensive end Robert Quinn is rounding into form. The pass rush is good. But the Cardinals' pass protection – which includes more than just the line, it includes execution of plays, including from QB Carson Palmer – has been pretty good too. The Cards have given up only 13 sacks all season. Palmer has done a nice job moving in the pocket to buy time and avoid takedowns. This line is better overall than the one Quinn has eaten up the last couple of years, starting with the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer. As OC Harold Goodwin has said, it's going to be a challenge, but the Cardinals have the ability to be up to the challenge.
Bowles' turn at Austin Davis
The Rams' rookie quarterback has done OK. He's not spectacular but he's not overwhelmed either -- at least, he hasn't been to this point. As good as some of the defenses he has seen have been, like the Niners and Seahawks, he hasn't come up against the devious mind of Todd Bowles, who through necessity has produced a ton of different schemes and looks that can confuse veteran QBs, much less inexperienced rookies. The Cardinals will attack the Rams' run first – but Davis is going to have to decipher some new looks.
Ellington as engine
His foot isn't 100 percent and he doesn't have a 100-yard rushing game yet. But he's on pace for 1,000 yards rushing and more than 1,600 yards rushing and receiving. He more than any other offensive player this side of Palmer is at the heart what the offense will become. His touches have jumped the last three games as the Cardinals see more opportunities to get the running game going. In a game where the Rams can generate a big pass rush, the chance to get Ellington loose on the ground would be welcome.
Beware of trickeration
When the Rams beat the Seahawks, it was in large part because of a trick punt return and a fake punt. The Rams have the plays in the playbook and a head coach in Jeff Fisher who is not afraid to call them – on any part of the field. Trick plays often are used as an equalizer for teams that are undermanned. If the Cardinals are smart, they'll be ready – and they should be able to neutralize anything St. Louis might spring.
Images of past matchups between the Cardinals and this week's opponent, the Rams
How the West was won
The 7-1 record is nice. But the bottom line for the Cardinals is that they still have five division games left out of eight, which can still turn this around on the Cards – not in a good way. Last year the Cards' season was pockmarked with a 2-4 division record, which ultimately cost them. To win the NFC West, not to mention a possible run at winning the NFC, the Cardinals have to take care of their division games especially at home.