The Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams will face off in Week 1 with both teams looking to prove something at quarterback. For Arizona, it's that Carson Palmer is the right man to make the team relevant. For St. Louis, it's that Sam Bradford is capable of steering a maturing team to the next step.
Of the two teams, it's likely Arizona that has the most to prove. St. Louis won four of its last six games in 2012, and as one of the league's youngest teams, there are plenty of reasons to believe the team is building toward something big. For their part, the Cardinals opened 2012 4-0, but lost 11 of the next 12 games, leading to new head coach Bruce Arians, new general manager Steve Keim and the installation of Palmer under center.
Meet the Rams
With Steven Jackson taking his talents to the Atlanta Falcons, the St. Louis offense is increasingly dependent on Sam Bradford. Bradford had career-highs in 2012 with 3,702 passing yards and 21 touchdowns, and the team has upgraded his receiving corps. Rookie wideout Tavon Austin, selected eighth overall in the draft, and tight end Jared Cook bring speed and explosive athleticism to the Rams' offense. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is in his second year with the team, giving Bradford a familiarity with the scheme that he has previously lacked.
On defense, the Rams will again look to make the most of an impressive pass rush. The team tied the Denver Broncos for the league lead with 52 sacks in 2012, and they enter 2013 with multiple players who can provide a strong rush. William Hayes signed a three-year extension with the team, six-year veteran Chris Long returns, and Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers could be entering prime years.
Meet the Cardinals
Starting 4-0 and finishing 5-11 earns a team a hard reset, and the Cardinals got exactly that. A new coach, general manager and quarterback gives the team a fresh start, but in many ways that's the easy part. The offense is likely to revolve around wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, with tight end Rob Housler changing things up. There's always talk of cornerback Patrick Peterson making an appearance in the offense, but exactly how that will play out is unknown.
On defense, coordinator Todd Bowles isn't the only new face. Much of the secondary has been overhauled. Peterson remains central, but veterans Jerraud Powers and Antoine Cason are expected to carry much of the weight. Rookie Tyrann Mathieu, selected by the team in the fourth round, appears anxious to prove that he's beyond the problems that derailed his college career.
Local Takes: Rams
Tevin Broner from Rams blog Turf Show Times breaks down some of the key personnel for St. Louis:
Daryl Richardson: Richardson ran away with the starting job and hasn't looked back. There's a great chance that he will start throughout the season. However, the Cardinals will be the first defense he will face as a starter. How much of a load will Richardson get this game? Has he improved as a pass blocker? Will he have a big game? These are the questions that will be facing Richardson this week.
Local Takes: Cardinals
Shaun Church at Cardinals blog Revenge of the Birds has Arizona's keys to victory:
Contain Rams' defensive ends
The second meeting of these two teams last season, Rams defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long were held sack-less. By that time, the offensive line had leveled out and was playing well -- not great, but much better than it had been early in the season.
But that first game, Week 5 in St. Louis with the No. 1 team in the conference rolling in, the Rams sacked quarterback Kevin Kolb nine times.
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Remember how Mike Martz's 7-step drops got QBs clobbered? That's Bruce Arians' approach too. RIP Carson Palmer.— TurfShowTimes (@TurfShowTimes) September 6, 2013
Arizona Cardinals vs. St. Louis Rams (-4 1/2)
The battle of past and future St. Louis expats! For the immediate future, Arizona has to prevent a repeat of last year's game when the offensive line allowed nine sacks, lest Carson Palmer get turned into Kevin Kolb.
The Rams are favored by at least four at major sportsbooks, according to Oddsshark.com.
The Rams will travel to face the Atlanta Falcons, while the Cardinals host the Detroit Lions.