Sunday, September 12, 2010

Can the Rams jump on the Cardinals this afternoon?

I wanted to leave this blog entry until the last moment mainly because I didn't want to provide any possible bulletin board material for the Cardinals. However, I considered posting these ideas as far back as three days ago.

To state my biases:
  1. I believe the Cardinals are concave down and declining. Whether they understand it or not, they are entering a comprehensive rebuilding phase.
  2. The Rams are entering the third year of a comprehensive rebuilding project. If the foundation has been well laid--and I have 863 tons of doubt about that--this project should begin bearing fruit soon.
With that said, this looks like a very close match up. I was not surprised to see Sterling Sharpe pick the Rams on the NFC Playbook show. I was surprised at the level of skepticism his cohort hit him with when he did so.

Folks, you don't have to be a believe in the Rams' rebuilding project to understand that this is close match. Just look at me for an example of that fact. You just have to play a handicapper game called "Sit down".

When evaluating a pair of teams to determine a favorite, you make a combined fantasy team out of the two rosters. You count the number of starters from each side. The one with the greater number of starters is the the most talented team. You must also consider injuries, conflicts, personality problems, suspensions, etc. However, Sit Down is the fundimental assessment of the situation.

Just to make a long story short: The Cardinals do win the Sit Down evaluation but not by much. The Cardinals win defensively 6-5. The Cardinals win the offensive match-up more lopsidedly 7-4, but this is mostly because 4 of their offensive linemen beat out the Rams' offensive linemen. The Cardinals lose two key match ups offensively: Sam Bradford and Steve Jackson make Derek Anderson and Hightower sit down. The Cardinals only win one offensive match-up decisively, and that is Larry Fitzgerald vs. any Ram receiver you please.

Understand that Larry has a dinged up knee, and he has been overheard worrying about offensive chemistry...

When handicapping this game, we need to ask several questions:
  • How important is the Quarterback position?
  • How important is the running back position?
  • How injured is Larry Fitzgerald?
  • How likely are the Cards to sack the hell out of Sam Bradford?
These are four maddening questions. They say it is a quarterback driven league. I think this point is often over-stated, but it is true. The main running back is a key offensive producer, especially in this post-west coast era.

Now Larry's case is really important to the outcome of this game. Most fantasy predictors are sitting Larry in this game because they have heard tale of his worries about offensive chemistry with Derek Anderson. Further, they have little or no confidence in Derek Anderson, and that is more than justifiable. Most 'experts' think Larry is going to put up poo-pooh doo-doo numbers today. If so, the Cardinals are going to have great difficulty producing points.

The most shocking tale of the preseason was the Rams' sudden offensive point production. The Rams finished 2009 dead-last in point production. They scored 175 points in 16 contests for an average of just 10.9 points per game. They couldn't throw the football to save their lives. The passing offense... nay, the entire offense looked like keystone cops at a Chinese fire drill.

Then suddenly the Rams pop 19 on Cleveland, 36 on the Patriots, and 27 on the Ravens. Go figure. Much of the credit belongs to Sam Bradford, but he only accounted for 20 against the Patriots and 7 against the Ravens. The entire offense looks much better organized and more aggressive.

When Bradford is healthy, I think it is quite likely that the Rams can score 21 points a game. Maybe more.

So, the grand ultimate question you need to ask yourself is this: If the Rams pop 21 on the board against the Cardinals can they score 22? I have grave doubts about the Cardinals ability to produce points during the regular season this year. They certainly had problems doing it during the preseason.

Folks, I am not saying it is a lock, but we could be looking at an upset here. How surprised will the league be if the Rams open undefeated and equal their win total for all of last year in just one shot?