This was a strange game that never quite took off, although it remained a tight contest right to the end. The problem was that whilst I love defence and both teams posses really good ones, neither of them had good enough offences to provide a consistent challenge to the opposition.
Both defences were ranked in the top ten by DVOA coming into this week, but they got there in very different ways. The Rams are built on a pretty terrifying front seven and a defensive line that can get consistent pressure with a standard pass rush. The Cardinals however, are built from the secondary forwards, and rely on their corners to stand up in coverage whilst they consistently bring extra people to rush the passer. In fact I have never seen a cornerback blitz as frequently as Jerraud Powers did in this game, and at the end of the game I saw him rush three straight times, on the final one sealing the game when he batted down a pass. It is also worth mentioning that Greg Cosell said in his spot on the Ross Tucker Football podcast this week that he thinks that the Rams safety pairing of T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod are as good as any pair in the league, and as he gets to watch the coaching tape and I didn’t this week, I have no reason to disbelieve him.
Neither of these teams have the starting quarterback they expected for the season, with the Rams losing Sam Bradford in preseason and the Cardinals’ Carson Palmer going down in week ten in their previous meeting with the Rams. I have written about what a good job Bruce Arians has done coaching the Cardinals this season, and this was the case again in this game when the Cardinals lost Drew Stanton with a sprained knee after taking a sack from Aaron Donald with Eugene Sims and Alec Ogletree also in on the play. This is not the first time that Arians has been down to his third string quarterback, yet his team won the game and stand atop of the murderous NFC West with an 11-3 record.
There were no touchdowns scored in this game as neither team could get through the oppositions red-zone defence or get a long play for a touchdown. There was consistent pressure but only three sacks total in the game, and they generated virtually identical amounts of yards in offence. However, whilst both teams had the occasional good looking pass amongst the bad ones, with the Rams having the better results of the two, the Cardinals protected the ball better as they did not turn the ball over whilst the Rams gave up an interception and one of their two fumbles. The Cardinals were also able to run the football more effectively, generating 143 of their 274 yards from thirty-three attempts and controlling the clock with a nine minute advantage in time of possession.
It was in these small advantages that the Cardinals were able to eek out the win. The long punt return that Ted Ginn broke early in the third quarter was not capitalised upon in the ensuing drive, in fact the Cardinal went three and out, but after forcing the Rams to punt on the next drive they were able to win the field position battle and kick a field goal. It was this consistent play if anything that won them the game, after being held scoreless in the first quarter, they continued to get points in each quarter whilst the Rams could only bookend the game with field goals in the first and fourth quarters.
There were some excellent catches made in this game from both teams, but the real highlight of the game other was a career milestone when Larry Fitzgerald became the youngest receiver ever to catch nine hundred passes in the NFL. This should have occurred on a proper highlight play as Stanton dropped a lovely ball through bracket coverage to Fitzgerald for twenty-seven yards with a seven man rush coming, but unfortunately he only had time to do this as centre Lyle Sendlein held defensive tackle Kendall Langford as he burst through between Sendlein and right guard Ted Larsen.
This is another season for the Rams where they are finishing strongly and demonstrating that if they can just get a quarterback, they would be a real team to watch, but they have to find the answer at quarterback and they haven’t done so yet. The Cardinals look to be heading to the playoffs, although whether then can make a splash given their injury status is anybody’s guess, but I certainly wouldn’t bet against it given how consistently they have proved me wrong when I have doubted them.