Cards aim to rebound at home vs. Rams
While it's true that four teams that started out with a losing record last season after three games managed to recover and advance to the postseason, Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians never expected to see his team with a 1-2 record entering Sunday's game against the visiting Los Angeles Rams.
Then again, a handful of teams viewed as Super Bowl contenders have hit their share of pot holes already in 2016. The Cardinals, who reached the NFC Championship last season, are just one of them.
"Yeah, it's been that way for a long time," Arians said. "You better show up every Sunday with your A game and a lot of passion and pride, or if the other team is, they're going to beat you. There's nobody that can't be beat and nobody that you can't beat. That's the way you have to look at every week."
Though the Rams are 2-1 and are in sole possession of first place in the NFC West, they've had their share of problems, too. Yes, they've won back-to-back games, but they didn't score their first touchdown until last week and they've had two players ejected from games the last two weeks.
Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer knows Arizona will have its hands full trying to put points up against the Rams' defense, which is anchored by disruptive defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
"There's always a little bit of a difference, but personnel-wise, it's as good as you'll find," Palmer said. "They're coached extremely well. The defensive coordinator is one of the best in the league. It's a great, great group."
Arizona has won six of the last nine meetings at home, but the Cardinals have looked incredibly shaky in their two losses, especially last Sunday's 33-18 fiasco at Buffalo. Rams coach Jeff Fisher said he's fully expecting a different Arians-led team to show up this weekend.
"Bruce is outstanding and he'll have them ready," Fisher said. "It's a veteran team and we expect to see them at their best. It's always a great matchup and he'll have them ready. You know, those things happen. It happened to us in Week 1. You move on. You put it behind you and you move on."
The Cardinals' explosive offense from a year ago, however, has been a dud so far. It ranks 14th in total yards, 16th in third-down conversion percentage and it has yet to score a point in the first quarter of play. Against the Bills, the Cardinals' first five series were all three-and-out clunkers.
"Hey, Buffalo made some plays," Fisher said. "They were in a must-win situation and they made some plays. Sometimes, that's how games go. Look around the league. No one would have expected Pittsburgh to go through the experience they went through (losing to the Eagles, 34-3). Three and outs are a part of the game.
"They are talented. I mean, hey, it took us to Week 3 to score a touchdown."
Arians, though, hasn't been happy since the regular season began. In addition to slow starts to begin games, his Cardinals haven't responded to halftime adjustments when coming out of the locker room to start the third quarter. There also continues to be far too many communication problems on offense, be it among the offensive line or with Palmer and his receivers.
That was rarely the case last season when Arizona set multiple franchise records on offense on its way to a 13-3 regular-season record.
"Every year is different. When you get everybody back, you expect to be as good or better," Arians said. "But, other things change. Again, our performance is not acceptable so far."
Rams running back Todd Gurley, meanwhile, is still trying to find his way three games into the season. He ranks 18th in rushing yards (183) and is only averaging 2.9 yards per carry.
"People say he's not off to a great start, but I think you could say that about our offense as a whole; it has nothing to do with Todd," Fisher said. "Todd's 16-yard run (against Tampa Bay) down inside the 1-yard line, I think, is one of the best runs I've ever seen here recently. So, it kind of shows you what he's capable of doing."
Rams fans are still waiting to see what No.1 overall draft pick, quarterback Jared Goff, is capable of doing. Especially when considering what rookie quarterbacks like Philadelphia's Carson Wentz and Dallas' Dak Prescott have managed to do thus far.
Fisher said it was never the plan to keep his rookie QB on the sideline for a full season, watching and waiting behind starter Case Keenum.
"No, the plan is to play him when he's ready," Fisher said. "I never came out and said ... I've not given a timetable. As I've mentioned numerous times over the past couple of weeks, had there not been injuries, we would not have had four rookie quarterbacks starting last weekend. They'd all be sitting. But injuries are part of the game, so it creates different opportunities and different situations for different teams and different players.
"But our plan with Jared is to bring him along. Case was our starter, he finished up strong last year and he comes back and right now he's won two games back-to-back and he's making plays for us. The experience for Jared has been tremendous. He's getting better every day. The whole experience in itself, just watching and preparing to play, knowing that you're a play away from playing, I think, is additional added experience for him."