Rams-Cardinals Preview

The Arizona Cardinals hope what they believe was some

questionable officiating doesn’t cost them a playoff berth.

The St. Louis Rams had their slim chances all but dashed in a

penalty-plagued performance last weekend.

The Cardinals will try to clean things up and keep pace in the

NFC playoff race with their fifth win in six games Sunday against

the visiting Rams.

Perhaps frustrated after his team’s four-game winning streak

ended, coach Bruce Arians pointed to a couple of key plays down the

stretch that hurt the Cardinals in a 24-21 loss at Philadelphia

last Sunday.

One was a holding call on safety Tyrann Mathieu that negated

Patrick Peterson’s interception after the Cardinals (7-5) had

rallied from a 17-point deficit to get within three with four

minutes remaining.

Another was a no-call when they felt there was pass interference

on a fourth-down incompletion to Michael Floyd during their final

possession. A third was a holding call on linebacker Matt

Shaughnessy that gave the Eagles a first down and allowed them to

run out the clock.

Altogether, Arians said he sent ”about 15 plays” to the NFL

for review after Arizona missed an opportunity to remain tied for

the NFC’s sixth and final playoff spot.

The Cardinals fell one game behind 8-4 San Francisco and dropped

into a tie with 7-5 Philadelphia, which now holds the tiebreaker

over Arizona.

”It possibly could, but I think a lot of things have to happen

here in the last four weeks,” said Arians of the officials costing

the Cardinals their first postseason berth since 2009. “I would

hope that we give up all that talk this week and just focus on the

St. Louis Rams.”

The Rams (5-7) felt they had turned things around following

back-to-back victories over Indianapolis and Chicago by a combined

80-29 margin. Too many mistakes, however, hurt St. Louis last week

in a 23-13 loss at San Francisco that left the Rams three games

behind the 49ers with four remaining.

St. Louis struggled to find any kind of offensive rhythm while

being penalized a season-high 11 times for 105 yards.

”I look at it like we could have helped ourselves out a lot,”

receiver Chris Givens said. ”If we played cleaner football or

better football, we would have been in a better position to win the

game.”

After posting a combined 246 total yards and three touchdowns in

his previous two games, receiver Tavon Austin was held to 35 and no

scores by the 49ers.

Kellen Clemens went 19 of 37 for 218 yards with one touchdown

and his first interception in four games.

The Rams will try to get Zac Stacy going on the ground after he

was held out of the end zone for the first time in four games.

Though the rookie has rushed for 348 yards and averaged 5.4 per

carry with three scores in his last three home games, he has 187

yards on 3.0 per carry with one TD in his last three on the

road.

That trend could continue against an Arizona team with the

fourth-best run defense, allowing 83.3 yards per game.

Making matters worse, center Scott Wells is likely out for the

season after suffering a broken left ankle and left tackle Jake

Long is uncertain after sustaining concussion-like symptoms last

week.

Arizona, 5-1 at home, has its own injury concerns with running

back Andre Ellington possibly out because of a knee injury. Rashard

Mendenhall figures to be the featured back after running for 76

yards on 18 carries against the Eagles.

Carson Palmer has keyed the Cardinals’ offense, connecting on

66.7 percent of his passes for 1,035 yards with seven TDs and two

INTs while posting three straight 300-yard games. Palmer, though,

lost a fumble last Sunday and had his first two-pick game since

Oct. 17.

The Cardinals will have to find a way to protect Palmer against

a St. Louis pass rush that is tied for fifth with 37 sacks.

Defensive end Robert Quinn, second in the NFL with 13 sacks, had

three of the Rams’ four sacks in a 27-24 season-opening win over

visiting Arizona.

Palmer completed 26 of 40 attempts for 327 yards with two

touchdowns and one interception as the Cardinals carried a 24-13

lead into the fourth quarter before the Rams rallied to score the

final 14 points.

St. Louis tight end Jared Cook had a big day with seven

receptions for 141 yards and two touchdowns, but he’s scored only

twice while totaling 416 yards over the last 11 games.

Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald had eight catches for 80 yards and

two scores in the first meeting, and he has four touchdowns in the

last three games overall.

Floyd also looks to stay hot after piling up 18 catches for 396

yards and two scores in the last three games.

The Cardinals will try to snap an eight-game losing streak

against NFC West foes, including three straight to the Rams.

”That’s our only focus this week,” Arians said. “I don’t want

to hear about anything else in our locker room except winning a

division game.”