A glance at five top storylines for the Cardinals-Rams game Thursday at Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.:
Get off to a fast start after a short week
Even with the win last week, the Cardinals found themselves down, 7-3, early in the game. When you are playing for a second time in five days, that's won't be ideal, especially on the road. It invites in too many negative thoughts about how it can all play out. To the Cardinals' credit, they have been a second-half team in games and a fourth-quarter juggernaut most of the time. They have proven they can recover even without a great start. But in these circumstances, against a Rams' team that has played so well for two straight games, that's not something you'd like to leave to chance.
A run game? Ask Kerwynn Williams
Stepfan Taylor is still the starter and Marion Grice will remain in the mix. But Kerwynn Williams is the guy who shined last weekend and it makes sense he will get more chances against the Rams. The question is how effective the Cardinals can be on the ground. Williams' 100 yard-game is fresh in the memory, but the Cards managed just 28 total rushing yards against the Rams a month ago with Andre Ellington carrying the load. It goes without saying the Cards need a run game, especially in an effort to ease the pressure on quarterback Drew Stanton.
The blitz is coming, the blitz is coming!
The Rams have a great defensive line. Yet defensive coordinator Gregg Williams likes to bring the blitz. Often. And that's what the Cardinals have to deal with. The pass protection held up pretty well against a good pass-rushing team last week in the Chiefs, but again, that was with a running game to keep some balance. The Rams have 34 sacks the past eight games after posting only two in their first five games. The Cards have a left tackle in Jared Veldheer who is still dealing with a gimpy ankle. Keeping Stanton upright will be a major factor.
Big plays are bad
The Falcons had a 55-yard run early in their defeat of the Cardinals two weeks ago. Last Sunday, Jamaal Charles broke off a 63-yard touchdown gallop. The last thing the Cards need is to let Tre Mason get loose, or to have Tavon Austin have a big punt return or Kenny Britt get open deep. One of the things that has been an important part of this defense all season has been limiting those plays. With an offense that hasn't provided many on its own, the Cardinals need to make sure the scales are balanced.
It's about making life easier
A win, and the Cardinals are virtually assured a playoff spot. Now, just winning a playoff spot isn't the goal, not with the ability to still win the NFC West and the NFC and even get a first-round bye mixed in there. But it's more than just that in getting a win. Losing in St. Louis means the Cardinals could be in second place in the division by Sunday's end (the Seahawks host the reeling 49ers) and creates even more pressure. A loss Thursday, and the Cardinals will likely have to sweep their final two games to win the division. They want to do that anyway, but getting one against a team they have already beaten would be a nice entry point to that goal.