In their first matchup this season, the Rams defense mostly held the Cardinals offense in check. However, for one five-play drive (all runs) that ended in six points, we simply forgot how to tackle. Tim Hightower and Larod Stevens-Howling ran roughshod, covering 75 yards in four carries, as our men in blue reeled.
In this game's first quarter, two Tim Hightower runs accounted for 52 yards, and set up the Cardinals for two field goals on their first two drives. As the Rams offense sputtered and coughed, Rams fans felt a cold feeling in the pit of their stomachs. Could we really be on the verge of giving this game away?
But from there on out, the Rams defense clamped down hard on the desert birds. After giving up 109 yards in the game's first two drives, Fred Robbins and company allowed only 115 more the rest of the way. As the Rams offense finally ground into gear and began putting points on the board, their defense allowed no answer by the Cardinals. When the wreckage cleared, two redbird quarterbacks had been shelved -- one benched, the other wrenched -- and a briefly feisty team prepares itself for the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, and hope they get as lucky as the Rams did with Sam Bradford.
- After his best game as a pro, Sam Bradford was pretty ordinary. Fortunately, ordinary for Bradford is a lot better than anything the other sideline could dial up. But an efficient 18/29, 187 yard performance with no TD passes (one sure score was batted down by Calais Campbell) won't impress the fantasy heads who glommed onto Bradford after last week's breakout game.
- Uncharacteristically, Bradford struggled most on third downs. Incomplete to Danario. Incomplete to Amendola. Incomplete to Danario. Complete to Darby for 2 yards on a 3rd and 8. Sacked. Incomplete to Gibson. That's the unabridged telling of Bradford's third downs in the first half. His first third down of the later half? Badly overthrown, and intercepted. Our man Sam did finally manage to convert a few third downs, as the offense finally got in gear (switching to no-huddle helped), but he clearly isn't going to enjoy watching the tape of this one.
Has Danny Amendola become a decoy? After a massive, 20-target day in week 5 (the same week Mark Clayton fell for the year), defenses have aggressively tried to take away Amendola; like water flowing around an obstacle, Bradford has simply found another direction to go. Here are his targets by week since then: 6, 5, 9, 11, 8, 7, and this week? Only two passes his way.
And yet, the passing offense still worked, as Brandon Gibson hauled in 6 catches on 7 looks, Fells and Bajema combined for 5 catches on 8 looks, and Laurent Robinson caught both balls thrown his way.
- The good news: Danario Alexander was able to play two weeks in a row. The bad news? He wasn't particularly effective, as Bradford tried to go his way seven times, but only came away with two connections for 20 yards. Partly the problem was the stiff and awkward play-calling in the first half, including an ugly attempt at a fade route in the end zone, but clearly the timing wasn't there on timing routes. Not surprising for a receiver with probably fewer than twenty total practices with his QB.
Chris Long was neutralized, but the Rams' pass rush wasn't. The Cardinals seemed hell-bent on not letting #72 beat them, but in so doing, they opened up tons of other pass rushing lanes, most notably the one just to his right. Fred Robbins had a monster day lining up next to Long, with three tackles for loss including two sacks, another quarterback hit, and a forced fumble. And so the Rams battered and knocked out two quarterbacks -- possibly for more than just this game. Derek Anderson may have a concussion, and after only three snaps, Max Hall had his shoulder dislocated.
Inexplicably, with good things seeming to happen in the run game and the scoreboard hardly out of reach, Ken Whisenhunt kept drawing up pass plays. The Rams defenders didn't complain one bit. They just put the bit back in their mouths and charged down the alleys.
While Whisenhunt shuffled quarterbacks, the Rams put together their most dominating defensive quarter all year. Arizona could only muster 9 plays in the third quarter, punted twice, were intercepted once, held the ball for only 3:04, and earned (-7) yards for their trouble. And while the Rams weren't exactly awesome on offense, they did post the game's only touchdown in response to effectively put the game out of reach. (And Dom Curry coined my new favorite nickname for Steven Jackson, after his 27-yard breakaway scoring run.)
Good Run Bossman#39!!!!!!
- Spagnuolo and Shurmur finally found the formula to close a game out. The Rams continued to struggle in drives that start "run-run-pass" or "run-run-run." But with 5:17 left on the clock, they got the ball in hand and gave Bradford the reins. Two passes led to two first downs and melted 40 seconds off the clock -- this freed up the lanes for the Bossman, who carried four consecutive times, burning another 90 seconds. A third down conversion via the air, and three more runs later, and the Rams had chiseled a hard-earned win into the record. THIS is how it's supposed to work.