4:25 PM ET, September 8, 2013
Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, MO
Though Steven Jackson isn't suiting up for a St. Louis Rams season opener for the first time since 2004, that won't diminish raised expectations for a team that hasn't made the playoffs since his rookie year.
After turning 30, he would have been considered a senior citizen on the league's most youthful roster, anyway.
Jackson opted out of the final year and $7 million remaining on his contract to sign with Atlanta, leaving as the Rams' all-time leading rusher with a streak of eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
His departure, while disappointing, hasn't dampened the enthusiasm of a St. Louis team that won four of its last six to finish at 7-8-1. Coach Jeff Fisher expects an even better year from the Rams, who added tight end Jared Cook and offensive tackle Jake Long to help quarterback Sam Bradford.
"One would assume that we'll just continue to get better," Fisher said.
General manager Les Snead thinks so, too.
"Now is when you're got to learn grit," Snead said. "They're going to know we're coming."
St. Louis' 53-man roster has an average age of 24.98, the lowest in the NFL for the second straight season. Daryl Richardson, 23, replaces Jackson as the starting running back after averaging 4.8 yards per carry in a backup role as a rookie. He beat out last year's second-round pick Isaiah Pead, who is suspended for Week 1 after violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Add receiver Tavon Austin, the No. 8 overall pick, and the Rams boast a young, potentially explosive offense despite losing Jackson.
"I see us being so young as an advantage in some ways," Richardson said. "We've got room to grow, room to get better. We're working hard because we really want it."
There's no youth movement happening in Arizona, where the 60-year-old Arians received his first permanent NFL head coaching job after a successful interim stint with Indianapolis in 2012.
The Cardinals, who started 4-0 before dropping 11 of their final 12 last season, acquired the 33-year-old Palmer from Oakland to help settle a quarterback situation that has been in limbo since former Ram Kurt Warner retired.
"This is a cowboy movie," Arians said. "With two old guys, this is our last rodeo in the desert."
Palmer, who threw for 4,018 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, said the new offense has been tough to grasp, but he's counting on star receiver Larry Fitzgerald and others to help as everyone makes the transition.
Arizona, which finished last in the league with an average of 75.3 rushing yards per game last season, also signed Rashard Mendenhall from Pittsburgh to be its starting running back after he was plagued by injuries in 2012.
They'll all look to help improve a Cardinals offense that ranked last in the NFL with 263.1 yards per game and tied for the second-most turnovers with 34.
"We have smart football players on this offense," Palmer said. "Combine that with athleticism and speed and experience. You look at a guy like Larry's experience and his catches and his touches in games, I'm as excited and as optimistic as ever."
Bradford feels the same way. This is the first time since the former No. 1 overall pick isn't learning a brand new scheme, as offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer returns for a second season.
"I thought we had a really good training camp," Bradford said. "I thought we did some really good things during the preseason when we were on the field, and now it's full steam ahead getting ready for Arizona."
The Cardinals may be adding a new wrinkle to their scheme, as cornerback and return specialist Patrick Peterson has been taking reps with the offense. Arians believes he can surprise opponents by using Peterson, who said the team has instituted roughly 60 plays for him.
"(Fitzgerald) was kidding me," Peterson said. "He said, `Technically, you're our fifth receiver."
The Rams' defense ranked 14th with an average of 342.6 yards allowed last season, and it will look to improve on that number with help from rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree, the club's first-round pick.
Fellow former SEC competitor Tyrann Mathieu is expected to see plenty of snaps in the Cardinals' secondary after being selected in the third round despite being kicked off the LSU team prior to last season.
St. Louis won both meetings with Arizona last season, 17-3 on Oct. 4 and 31-17 on Nov. 25.
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|Avg Points Allowed||27.0||24.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||ARI|
|Rush Yds Allowed||ARI|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Arizona leads 13-11|
|Nov 25, 2012||ARI 17, STL 31|
|Oct 4, 2012||ARI 3, @STL 17|
|Nov 27, 2011||ARI 23, @STL 20|
|Nov 6, 2011||ARI 19, STL 13|
|Dec 5, 2010||ARI 6, STL 19|
|Sep 12, 2010||ARI 17, @STL 13|
|Dec 27, 2009||ARI 31, STL 10|
|Nov 22, 2009||ARI 21, @STL 13|
|Dec 7, 2008||ARI 34, STL 10|
|Nov 2, 2008||ARI 34, @STL 13|
|Dec 30, 2007||ARI 48, STL 19|
|Oct 7, 2007||ARI 34, @STL 31|
|Dec 3, 2006||ARI 34, @STL 20|
|Sep 24, 2006||ARI 14, STL 16|
|Nov 20, 2005||ARI 38, @STL 28|
|Sep 18, 2005||ARI 12, STL 17|
|Dec 19, 2004||ARI 31, STL 7|
|Sep 12, 2004||ARI 10, @STL 17|
|Nov 23, 2003||ARI 27, STL 30|
|Sep 28, 2003||ARI 13, @STL 37|
|Dec 15, 2002||ARI 28, @STL 30|
|Nov 3, 2002||ARI 14, STL 27|
Jared Cook didn't catch a pass without fumbling it until inside the first-half two-minute warning in his Rams' debut. However, Cook finished the game catching his last six targets for 94 yards and a pair of touchdowns to bring the Rams back into the game. Overall, Sam Bradford was 7-of-10 for 141 yards and two touchdowns targeting Cook.[+]
Sam Bradford Passing by Receiver, Sunday
The 4-yard TD catch by Larry Fitzgerald was the 5th time he's caught a touchdown in a season opener. That's tied for the 2nd most by a Cardinals player since the merger (1970). The others are: Pat Tilley (7) and Roy Green (5)
From Elias: With two receiving touchdowns today, Larry Fitzgerald is just one behind Ollie Matson for the most games with multiple TD in Cardinals history.[+]
Most Games with Multiple TD - Cardinals History
ESPN Stats & Information