Two teams, two nosedives. One will pop a parachute. The other will whisper the Rosary.
The last time we saw the St. Louis Rams against the Arizona Cardinals, both teams had crashed the NFC West penthouse. The Rams were 2-2, coming off a surprise victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Meanwhile, the Cardinals were 4-0, spinning straw into gold by claiming three triumphs by a combined nine points. Life was grand for a pair of lightweights who had learned to throw a swift jab or two. Life was good in their newfound roles.
Talk about your mayday. Since St. Louis beat Arizona 17-3 on Oct. 4 at the Edward Jones Dome, victories for either team have been more elusive than a healthy Kevin Kolb. The Rams have lost four of their last five games, a stretch that includes a tie against the San Francisco 49ers that was as satisfying as Tofu Turkey for a red fox. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have lost six consecutive, and they looked as attractive as Roseanne Barr in doing so.
Someone will find relief Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium. Someone, anyone. That is, of course, if the Rams dont decide two knots on their record look better than one.
No matter, because the NFC West standings look much less welcoming than when these two met in Week 5. You have the 49ers at the front of the parade, the Seahawks a few steps back and the Cardinals and Rams tailing both sweeping the mess left behind.
No one said life in a free fall is glamorous.
On to Week 12
How will the Rams respond after sleepwalking against the New York Jets?
There have been more grumbles under the Arch this past week than wet glasses in Souland. It has become the question with no answer that satisfies: What, exactly, happened in the loss to New York last Sunday?
The Rams committed three turnovers, and the Jets none. Sam Bradford looked like Sam Badford in being outdueled by Mark Sanchez, who entered with skid marks all over his reputation. The Rams defense was thrown under a road grader, allowing at least 24 points for the fourth consecutive game.
There were boos. There was a blowout. If you didnt know better, this was 2011, all arrows pointed down and a scorched Earth strategy was about to be enacted at Rams Park.
Yes, this team is young. Yes, the storyline has been mentioned so many times that words devoted to the narrative could fill an Encyclopedia Britannica set.
But were past that. Or at least we should be. Its late November. This is fact: The Rams have regressed since early October.
Wheres the early season spark? Wheres the team that played with the 49ers at Candlestick Park but muffed multiple chances to win? Does anyone know where the Rams minds are drifting leading into this game?
Will they play mad, like this did against the Washington Redskins and San Francisco? Or will they play uninspired, like they did against the New England Patriots and Jets?
Many questions. Precious few answers.
How will the Rams keep the pressure on rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley?
Admission: Lindley was Greek to this space before this week. Early, it was obvious that the Cardinals had issues at quarterback. After all, Kolb was mashed into tire pellets during Arizonas visit to St. Louis.
Remember that night? The Rams sacked Kolb nine times. They forced him into throws under pressure on 12 occasions. By his walk back to the locker room, Kolb was woozy, and the Cardinals dumpster fire had begun.
Enter Lindley, who receives his first start Sunday. He completed 9 of 20 passes for 64 yards in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons last week. Hes a sixth-round draft pick from San Diego State, and thats probably where a likeness to Marshall Faulk ends.
Arizonas health issues at quarterback could be St. Louis gain. The Rams have a favorable foe behind center for a second consecutive Sunday. But as they learned last week, no matchup is won on a sheet of 8 by 11.
Consider how St. Louis made Sanchez and San Francisco reserve Colin Kaepernick look like Pro Bowlers at times in the past month. The Rams havent forced a turnover in five games, so this would be a fine time to buck the trend.
What will happen?
Are the Mayans busy? Good luck to anyone trying to sort the stars before this one. Both teams ache for a win, but both have shown a knack for playing a banana peel to their efforts to slide into the win column.
With the Rams, you should have an angry group. The last two weeks have probably tasted as sweet as vinegar around Earth City, Mo. The navy and gold is a strange bunch: One week theyre up and the next theyre down; one week they show signs of growth and the next theyre swimming in quicksand. Who knows which personality will step off the bus in the desert?
With the Cardinals, you should have a group desperate to flip fortunes. The 4-0 start was a chunk of fools gold. Still, their defense has some pride left. (It ranks fourth in the league in passing defense by allowing 204.7 yards per game.) Expect resistance. Expect a four-quarter game.
Both teams are desperate. Both are free fallin'.
When in doubt, go with the horse that has proven itself.
Pick: Rams 17, Cardinals 13