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Opponent Preview: Arizona Cardinals, Redux

Nathan Grimm (@Nate_Grimm)
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Arizona Cardinals vs St. Louis Rams, UPI/Bill Greenblatt
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The Arizona Cardinals underwent a transformation on Oct. 4, and it wasn’t for the better.

Sunday in Phoenix, they’ll try to reverse the course of a season that took a distinct turn south on that fateful Thursday night.

The Cardinals came into the game against the St. Louis Rams with a 4-0 record and sitting atop the NFC West. They left with their first loss but certainly not their last, losing their next five as well. Currently the Cardinals sit at 4-6, third place in the division and with their playoff hopes quickly slipping away.

It wasn’t just the loss to the Rams that hurt the Cardinals, though. Starting quarterback Kevin Kolb got injured in the following game against Buffalo and hasn’t played since, although Kolb is reportedly close to returning to practice.

In Kolb’s absence, the Cardinals had to rely on quarterbacks John Skelton and, last week, rookie third-stringer Ryan Lindley. The team struggled in Kolb’s absence in part to one of the league’s worst offensive lines, but also due to Skelton’s poor play. Skelton threw just two touchdowns to four interceptions filling in for Kolb and has completed just 54.7 percent of his passes.

Skelton went 2-for-7 in the early part of Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons before being replaced by Lindley. Lindley, a rookie sixth-round pick in this past April’s draft, has been named the starter for Sunday’s game. It will be his first career start.

What should help the Cardinals is the return of starting running back Beanie Wells. Wells hasn’t played since week three but has returned to practice and will likely start Sunday. Wells and backup LaRod Stephens-Howling will likely be relied upon heavily this weekend with Lindley making the start.

Another facet that has been and will continue to be relied upon heavily is the Cardinals defense. Amidst the losing, the Cardinals continue to be one of the stronger defenses in the league, allowing just 324 yards per game.

The Cardinals are especially stingy against the pass, giving up only 204.7 yards per game, good for fifth-best in the NFL. The Cardinals are one of only three teams with more interceptions than touchdown passes allowed. They’re also fifth in the league in sacks, with 28.

They’re led on defense by two of the youngest starters, third-year linebacker Daryl Washington and second-year cornerback Patrick Peterson. Washington leads the team in tackles and sacks, with 86 and eight, respectively. He and fellow inside linebacker Paris Lenon – the Cardinals play a 3-4 defense – have combined for 10 sacks and two interceptions through 10 games.

Peterson is maybe best known for his punt return abilities, but he’s also been a force on defense for the Cardinals in 2012. Peterson has three interceptions and one fumble recovery thus far, helping the Cardinals to 14 interceptions, fourth-most in the league.

A lot has changed since the Rams last saw the Cardinals in early October. But on defense, where the Cardinals make their living, it’s just more of the same.

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