The Arizona Cardinals hope to build on a perfect September when they kick off Week 5 of the NFL season by visiting their old home town to take on the St. Louis Rams.
The Cardinals, who moved to the desert from St. Louis before the 1988 season, remained one of three unbeaten teams in the NFL last Sunday when quarterback Kevin Kolb led the team to its first 4-0 start in 38 years.
Kolb threw for 324 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-tying 15- yard score to Andre Roberts on fourth down with 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and Jay Feely nailed a game-winning 46-yard field goal in overtime as the Cardinals downed the Miami Dolphins, 24-21.
"We've seen so many miracles happen in this stadium that we just don't ever give up hope," Kolb said of the come-from-behind victory.
Battered and bruised for most of the day, Kolb completed 29-of-48 passes with two interceptions, while Roberts hauled in six balls for a career-high 118 yards and two scores for Arizona, which earned its 500th win in franchise history and is off to its best start since beginning the 1974 season at 7-0.
Larry Fitzgerald added eight receptions for 64 yards and a score in the victory.
The Rams, meanwhile, reached the .500 mark last Sunday thanks in large part to rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein, who booted four field goals, including a Rams franchise record 60-yarder, as St. Louis dropped the Seattle Seahawks, 19-13, at the Edward Jones Dome.
Zuerlein, a rookie out of Missouri Western State, also hit from 58, 48 and 24 yards, becoming the first kicker in NFL history to convert a 60-yard field goal and a 50-yard field goal in the same game. Overall, he has not missed a field goal try in his young NFL career, going 12-for-12.
"Right now, our kicker is the MVP of the season," said running back Stephen Jackson "All we've got to do is get across the 50-yard line and we're in his range."
Sam Bradford threw for 221 yards on 16-of-30 passing in the win, while Jackson, who was questionable during the week due to a groin problem, ran for 55 yards on 18 carries.
Danny Amendola caught six passes for 55 yards and a touchdown for the Rams (2-2), who bounced back from a loss to the Chicago Bears last week. Punter Johnny Hekker also threw a touchdown pass on a fake field goal in the victory.
"They Seahawks are a very talented team," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "We were very fortunate to have this come down to the end and be able to make a play to win the ballgame."
Arizona holds a razor-thin 33-32-2 lead in the all-time series but has dominated recently, taking 10 of the last 11 against the Rams including seven straight while playing in St. Louis. That's a franchise record for most consecutive road wins against any single opponent. Current Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt has the Rams number, compiling an imposing 9-1 mark against St. Louis.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Cards will try to use their deep receiving corps to expose a Rams secondary that while improved still lacks depth and upper echelon talent.
Arizona is four-deep on the outside. Fitzgerald, who has 13 touchdowns in his last 15 games against the Rams, and Roberts have combined for six touchdowns this season while Early Doucet and rookie Michael Floyd can also put a lot of stress on the opposition. Kolb has also been able to get the ball to three tight ends this season, Todd Heap, Rob Housler and Jeff King, so Fisher, a defensive mastermind, will have his work cut out for him.
St. Louis needs to find a way to move the football against Arizona's imposing front seven, which should get a big boost from the return of Darnell Dockett, who missed last week's game with a strained hamstring.
Dockett generally sets the tone up front for the Cards and they struggled to contain Miami rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill without the Florida State product. When Dockett and Calais Campbell get things going, ascending linebacker Daryl Washington, who is one of just four NFL defenders with 8-plus sacks (8) and two-or-more interceptions (2) since 2011, along with his cohorts, Paris Lenon and Sam Acho, are free to make plays with their athleticism.
The Cardinals defense has recorded multiple sacks in 10 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL and has 16 total sacks through the first quarter of the season.
The Rams need Jackson, who is listed as questionable, to play and move the chains while Bradford has to take care of the ball and excel in the short passing game where Amendola, who is second in the NFL with 31 receptions, is so effective. However, in four career meetings against the Cardinals, Bradford has thrown five interceptions, been sacked 10 times and compiled a passer rating of just 67.1.
St. Louis just doesn't have the big play threats to stretch the field against an athletic Arizona defense. The Cardinals on the other hand are loaded with playmakers even if the quarterback struggles to get them the ball at times. Kolb should do just enough to keep Arizona comfortably atop the NFC West.
"We are a good team," Whisenhunt said of his Cards. "We play well together and our guys make plays."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cardinals 24, Rams 17