By Cedric Williams
Until last week, the Arizona Cardinals were one of the hottest clubs in the entire NFL throughout the month of November.
The Cardinals were 4-0 last month, and had suddenly vaulted themselves right into thick of the NFC playoff hunt.
There was even some talk about whether the Big Red could run the table, win all their remaining games and somehow catch the 11-1 Seattle Seahawks and win the NFC West.
But that was before Sunday’s 24-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, which dropped Arizona from sixth to eighth in the overall conference standings — a full game behind the San Francisco 49ers for that final playoff slot.
With just four games left in the regular season, the Cardinals almost have to win all their remaining games, including what could be a huge regular season finale against the 49ers on December 29.
This week, the St. Louis Rams will visit the desert for a rematch of the 2013 NFL season opener, which St. Louis won 27-24, after trailing 24-13 heading into the fourth quarter.
Arizona on Offense
The Big Red has made dramatic improvements on offense under first-year head coach Bruce Arians.
Last year, Arizona had one of the worst offenses in the entire league and had almost no stability out of its quarterback position. But this year, veteran signal-caller Carson Palmer has passed for 3,189 yards and 19 touchdowns to help fuel a group that currently ranks a respectable 18th in total offense with 335.3 yards per game.
Arizona hasn’t run the ball particularly well this year, and averages just 88.8 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 24th out of 32 teams.
Veteran back Rashard Mendenhall, the former Pittsburgh Steeler, leads the Big Red in rushing with 467 yards and five touchdowns.
But Arizona has been most dangerous when its found ways to get the ball to rookie Andre Ellington, a sixth-round draft pick out of Clemson, who sits just behind Mendenhall with 441 yards and a team-best 6.0 yards per carry average.
Arizona’s passing game ranks 14th this season, with Palmer looking mostly to get the ball to sure-handed receivers Michael Floyd (54 catches for 860 yards and four touchdowns) and Larry Fitzgerald (55 catches, 678 yards, and nine touchdowns), along with speedy playmaker Andre Roberts and safety blanket tight end Rob Housler.
Roberts (eight for 97 yards), Floyd (four for 82 yards), and Fitzgerald (eight for 80 yards and two touchdowns) all had big days against the Rams when the teams met back in September.
Arizona on Defense
The Big Red’s best unit this season has been its defense, which ranks seventh overall in fewest yards allowed, thanks mostly to its brilliant run defense, which ranks fourth-best in the league with only 83.3 yards allowed per game.
Veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby has been the best player on defense for Arizona this season. The 10th-year man out of Auburn leads the Big Red in tackles (97), and ranks near the top in just about every other category including sacks (five), passes defense (15), and interceptions (two).
Cornerback Patrick Peterson has also had another fine season for Arizona, with 12 pass breakups and a team-best three interceptions.
Arizona’s also gotten stellar play from rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu. The player known as the “Honey Badger” during his college days at LSU is second on the team with 67 tackles to go along with eight pass breakups and two interceptions of his own.
St. Louis’ victory over Arizona earlier this season gave the Rams three straight wins over the Big Red, and also gave St. Louis a 35-33-2 edge in the all-time series.
Until last season though, Arizona had won 10 of the 11 previous meetings between the clubs, including four of the previous contests played at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Arizona is 5-1 at home this season, while St. Louis is 2-4 on the road in 2013.
For more Rams news and updates, visit Rams Central.
Cedric Williams, a lifelong St. Louisan and proud UMSL alum, has been a freelance reporter/photographer covering St. Louis area sports for nearly two decades. Most recently, he has been working as a credentialed beat writer covering the Rams and small-school college sports for Examiner.com and other outlets from around the area. Please share any comments, questions, or feedback with Cedric at email@example.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.