Preview: Which Rams team will show up in Arizona?
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.”