Thursday Night Pick; Cardinals vs. Rams

Thursday’s NFC West matchup features two teams that are closer than you think. Therefore, it’s unlikely we’ll see as lopsided a defeat as our dear President suffered in Wednesday night’s debate. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Cardinals at Rams
Though the Cardinals are undefeated and the Rams have fought tooth and nail to a 2-2 record, there isn’t much that separates these teams. St. Louis is ranked 25th in total offense, 28th in passing, and 20th in rushing. Arizona ranks 29th, 24th and 28th, respectively. Obviously, neither team is an offensive juggernaut.

Sam Bradford shows flashes of being a franchise quarterback and then often follows it up by playing like… well, Kevin Kolb – a talented quarterback who has vastly underachieved. The undisputed best offensive player on the field Thursday night will be Larry Fitzgerald. Since he plays receiver, his touches depend on whether, “adequate, play within the system” Kolb is under center or “turnover-prone disaster” Kolb is. Since neither team can run the football with any consistency or authority, the game will most certainly boil down to which quarterback can make the most plays and survive the opposing defense, which in itself is a daunting task since both teams’ backbone is their defense.

Like the offenses, the St. Louis and Arizona defenses are statistically similar, with one glaring difference. The Rams rank 15th in overall defense, 12th against the pass and 26th against the run. The Cardinals are the 18th overall defense, 21st against the pass (most of that blame goes to Miami’s aerial attack in Week 4), and 16th against the run. Not quite as identical as the offenses but still close enough. However, the one glaring difference is in points allowed.

The Cardinals have allowed only 15 points per game while St. Louis surrenders 23. Considering both offenses rank near the bottom of the NFL, points allowed is an especially significant stat. The Cardinals defense, despite unflattering statistics, is widely considered a great defense because they buckle down in the red zone and limit teams to field goals or less. (The Patriots and Dolphins were 1/3 against the Cardinals in the red zone, the Seahawks 1/4, and the Eagles 0/2.) In 12 trips inside the red zone, opposing offenses have scored only three touchdowns against the Cardinals. Compare that to seven touchdowns in 13 red zone visits for the Rams opponents. Through a quarter of the season, Arizona has clearly done a superior job at putting its offense in position to contend.

And with all that said, I still like the Rams at home. Jeff Fisher has made a career of winning football games with creativity while relying on solid defense and special teams. The Rams have also become one of the toughest, feistiest teams under Fisher, especially at home. And finally, stout defense or not, the Cardinals won’t survive the stinker Kevin Kolb is due for tonight. It won’t be as bad as Barack Obama’s on Wednesday night, but it’ll still be bad enough. RAMS If I were Charles Barkley; Rams +2

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