3TFO: Rams @ Cardinals, Week 12
There comes a point in any NFL season with the league’s less fortunate are forced to abandon hopes for that improbable Super Bowl run and start thinking about next year. With a flurry of lineup and roster changes in the last week or so, both the Rams and the Cardinals appear to have swallowed that bitter pill. For coaches in a more tenuous situation, the push would be to keep your best guys on the field and eke out some job-saving wins. With Ken Whisenhunt and Jeff Fisher both likely to survive the season, there’s an opportunity instead to see where some of their younger talent might fit into future plans. Let’s take a closer look at some of those moves and how they could affect this game and beyond.
St Louis Shake-ups
This week’s release by the Rams of fan-favorite Brit Miller was a surprise to some. Fullbacks are a dwindling breed in the NFL and the Rams evidently felt that tight end Lance Kendricks could fill the void. Kendricks had already been getting four to five snaps per game out of the backfield and the results were just as good, if not better, than what Miller was delivering. Kendricks has a +4.5 run blocking grade and much of that has come on his work in the lead-blocking role. A look at the first quarter of the Week 10 game against San Francisco will give you an idea why the Rams deemed Miller expendable. At the 3:36 minute mark, Kendricks opens the hole off the right edge that ignites Daryl Richardson’s 32-yard scamper. A few plays later (1:51 mark) Kendricks takes out the nose tackle with a violent ‘wham’ block that paves the way for a goal line touchdown.
Another move suggesting an eye to the future was the benching of veteran cornerback Bradley Fletcher in favor of rookie Trumaine Johnson. This is a bit surprising, because while Fletcher’s role had been as the No. 3 CB, we had him easily graded as the top CB in coverage on the roster. His coverage grade (+7.5) and QB passer rating allowed (51.7) not only lead the team, but rank in the Top 10 in the entire league. He’s had some penalty problems of late, but we see him as a more productive corner right now than either Johnson, or even fellow rookie Janoris Jenkins (-9.9 coverage).
The Cardinals have done their own shuffling, starting with the benching of our worst-graded offensive tackle D’Anthony Batiste in favor of Nate Potter. In nearly two full games of action, Potter hasn’t been much of an improvement (allowing nine pressures and doing little to help the run), but as rookie the Cardinals are hoping for a much higher ceiling. There’s no question Arizona will need to address the tackle position during the offseason. To what extent will depend on how Potter does in the remaining games.
On the defensive side of the ball, Whisenhunt sent Pro-Bowler Adrian Wilson to the sidelines in nickel situations last week. Whisenhunt claims the move was designed to get younger safeties on the field for improved coverage. Interestingly enough we’ve had Wilson graded out as a consistent plus in coverage all season-long (+4.3) and it’s been his play against the run (-4.8) that appears to be in decline. In his stead expect Rashad Johnson and James Sanders to get more work. Johnson was solid as a starter for the Cardinals when Kerry Rhodes went down during the second half of last season. Sanders had six starts with Atlanta last year and did better defending the run than the pass.
Rams Interior Offensive Line vs. David Carter
With Scott Wells back off injured reserve and soon to regain his role as the starting center, the Rams have a tough decision to make at left guard. Do they continue to develop Shelley Smith or does Robert Turner regain the job after filling in admirably for Wells? Smith has been a significant upgrade since replacing the much-maligned Quinn Ojinnaka in Week 5. Outside of his seven-pressure collapse against the 49ers, he has held up well pass blocking. On the other hand, Turner’s work at center has been a pleasant surprise for the Rams. While his run blocking has been up-and-down, his pass protection has been near perfect. Turner has yet to allow a sack and has yielded only three pressures — good for the No. 2 ranking in Pass Blocking Efficiency among centers.
As Calais Campbell continues to nurse a calf injury, the Cardinals will likely face the Rams’ interior line without their most disruptive player on defense. Instead, David Carter looks to fill in again after a strong showing in his first NFL start last week (three pressures, one batted pass). Carter was at his best bullrushing lineman back into the pocket to wreak havoc, but also showed some impressive handwork and quickness beating Falcons guard Justin Blaylock for pressure at the second quarter, 2:00 minute mark.
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