Rams will deal with strange week by winning

Apologies from the start if these sentences are as slow as Quinn Ojinnaka. Like the St. Louis Rams, this space has coped with the whiplash of two games in five days. One fowl foe lifted off Sunday, and a bird of a different NFC West feather will land at the Edward Jones Dome on Thursday. It’s enough to make Gregg Williams crack open another cold one from his suite.

Let’s follow the Rams’ lead and toy with the cosmos. It’s about 24 hours to kickoff, so it’s “Saturday” in Jeff Fisher’s universe. Did you catch that classic LSU-Florida showdown? How about the Texas-West Virginia shootout? What about Bret Bielema picking Illinois off Bucky’s cleats?

Calendar manipulation? Only divine intervention can save the Fighting Illini now.

I digress. You know the week’s wacky when Steven Jackson talks yoga on a Tuesday, er, “Friday” and pundits talk up the NFC West as one of the NFL’s best divisions.

When, exactly, did this punching bag learn to dance in the ring? You have the Arizona Cardinals as one of the league’s three unbeaten teams. The NFC West is unbeaten at home, and it’s the only division that can claim as much. Down is up, up is down, and Greg Zuerlein’s stock — like the 60-yard screamer from his right foot Sunday — is up, up and away.

Enjoy the early weekend. Or whatever you call it. 

Onto Week 5…
How will the Rams fight against the Cardinals’ mysterious ways?
The Cardinals are undefeated, but their record is like a skilled pickpocket: Clean in name only. Look at these numbers: They rank 31st in total offense (271 yards per game), 29th in rush offense (68 yards per game) and 25th in pass offense (203 yards per game). Josh McDaniels, circa 2011, would blush. Then he would call a reverse near the end zone.

Who needs fancy numbers when surviving will do? Arizona routed the Philadelphia Eagles by 21 points in Week 3, but each of the Cardinals’ other victories required a defibrillator in the fourth quarter. They took the lead on the Seattle Seahawks for good with about five minutes left. They weathered nine consecutive points from the New England Patriots late. The Miami Dolphins outgained them by almost 200 yards, but Kevin Kolb pulled a molar from the jaws of defeat and turned it into gold in overtime.

They can’t keep this up, can they? These are the Cardinals, right? The same Cardinals who went a combined 13-19 the last two years and looked like a black hole behind center with John Skelton — from Fordham! — at quarterback?

Perhaps so. Just don’t call it a work of art.
How will the Rams produce against the Cardinals’ defense?
Congratulations to Fisher. He set football back decades by proving that you can win in the NFL with two rookie kickers and no touchdowns against an elite defense. For his next trick, he’ll turn the Mississippi River into wine.

The Rams’ feat was worth a toast Sunday. Seattle outgained them 319 yards to 286. The Seahawks had four more first downs. Seattle held them to 5 of 13 on third-down attempts. Through it all, Zuerlein’s four field goals and Johnny Hekker’s 2-yard touchdown toss to Danny Amendola were enough to spring the upset. 

Fisher was playing chess. Coach Pete Carroll was a mess.

But the Rams leave one fire and enter another Thursday. Arizona owns the third-best scoring defense by surrendering an average of 15.2 points per game. Sam Bradford didn’t break ground this week when addressing a question about the offense’s end-zone absence, but the answer was noteworthy: “We’d like to score a touchdown on every possession. I think it just comes down to execution, being better on first and second down, not having penalties down there, just finding a way to score.”

The sentiment is understood: More touchdowns. Less touches for Greg the Leg.
What will happen?
The strange week has crossed wires all over the place. Practices were later than usual. TVs in the Rams Park locker room read, “Thursday, Friday” on Tuesday. Fisher began his news conference that same evening by saying, “Go Cards!”

Who knows what to think anymore? Two weeks ago, I picked the Rams to win at Soldier Field. They lost. Last week, I picked the Rams to lose at home against a team that sewed Aaron Rodgers into the turf at Seattle. They won.

This season has been a jigsaw puzzle with these on-again, off-again Rams. But there’s something to be said for playing at home when “Sunday” comes early. 

What day is it again? It doesn’t matter. St. Louis has proven tough at home any hour of the week.
Pick: Rams 17, Cardinals 14
You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.