Greg Zuerlein made four field goals for the Rams, including a 48-yarder in the last minute to solidify a tight division win over the Arizona Cardinals. Sam Bradford ended the day 27 of 38 for 299 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, and former Titan tight end Jared Cook caught seven passes for 141 yards, two of which were for touchdowns. Rams defensive end Robert Quinn also was a force to be reckoned with, amassing three sacks on the night, making life very difficult for Carson Palmer and the Cards.
Although the result was a loss, Bruce Arians should feel very good about his team moving forward. Outside of Levi Brown (who gave up those three sacks against Quinn), the offensive line gave Palmer plenty of time to operate the offense, which was firing on all cylinders prior to stagnating in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals were up 24-13 before giving up 14 unanswered points to end the game.
Palmer ended with 327 yards on 26 of 40, with two touchdowns and a costly interception to begin the second half. Palmer’s defense bailed him out, however, as the Cardinals held the turnover to just a field goal.
That’s just one of the many good things to take away from the defeat: the Cards look significantly better than last season on offense. Rashard Mendenhall and Alfonso Smith, while not ringers, were falling forward and generating consistent positive yardage for the early parts of the game.
The defense was another story. There were way too many missed tackles, blown coverages (one that resulted in a great play, which I’ll get to later) and a non-existent pass rush that suggests the Cardinals stout defense may have taken a step backward. They did make some great plays, as expected, but they were unable to hold off late surges, which ultimately resulted in the loss.
Here’s a look at the winners and losers for the Cardinals following the game.
Starting Wide Receivers
It’s easy to hone in on Larry Fitzgerald’s incredible performance: he put up a stat line more akin to what Cardinals fans are used to seeing: 8 receptions for 80 yards and two scores.
But Fitzgerald was not alone. Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts were excellent in their own right. Floyd caught four passes for 82 yards, including this beast of a catch to set up Fitz’s first touchdown.
Roberts rounds out the unit with what, in my opinion, was the best night of the three. He finished the game with eight catches on nine targets for 97 yards, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Roberts was a force to be reckoned with, as he caught first down after first down, including a sideline grab on third down to prolong the drive that would put the Cards up 24-13. A lot of his catches also ended in some aggressive contact, which he handled fearlessly and gracefully.
This unit will cause problems for defenses all year long if they remain a three-man wrecking crew.
One of the most outstanding preseason performers, the Honey Badger gave us the first of what should be many Defensive Rookie of the Year highlights.
After beating Karlos Dansby on a seam through the middle Rams tight end Jared Cook looked to have an easy trot into the end zone for the first score of the day.
Honey Badger had other plans, as he sprints after Cook and with a desperate lunge forward, knocks the ball out three yards short of the end zone, allowing Dansby to recover it for a touchback. The Cardinals would score on the ensuing drive.
Also, Mathieu had the responsibility of keeping dangerous Rams receiver Tavon Austin under wraps. While Austin ended with six catches, Mathieu was very stifling, giving Austin very little extra room to turn it up the field, as his catches translated to only 41 yards
Mathieu’s hustle and perseverance bailed out his teammate, and emphasized why the Cardinals gambled on him in the draft in the first place. I’m excited to see what he does next week.
Entering into the game, I was very intimidated about how Jasper Brinkley would perform, as his run defense was very inconsistent throughout the preseason.
Instead, he was very good in his gap assignments, and kept Daryl Richardson from getting to the secondary all game, holding him down to only 63 yards on 20 carries. That’s all you can ask of your inside linebacker.
Brinkley tied Dansby for the team lead in tackles at eight.
I already touched on this earlier, but Levi Brown looked terrible. His matchup, Rams end Robert Quinn, reached Carson Palmer three times. Two of those sacks resulted in fumbles. Brown saved face by landing on one of them, but the second fumble came in the fourth quarter, and led to a Rams scoring drive.
Brown’s lackluster performance is a dark spot on what was otherwise a very strong offensive line performance. Consider him on the hot seat for week two.
Another player who is probably on the chopping block is return man Javier Arenas.
With Zuerlein kicking bombs into the end zone, essentially every Rams kickoff was a touchback.
Which makes Arenas’ decisions to take not one, but two kickoffs out of the end zone very questionable. After his first decision to return the ball in the second quarter resulted in a drive needlessly starting at the eight yard line, he made the same mistake in the fourth quarter. This time, Arenas was hit hard, jarring the ball loose and almost turning the ball over at the 12.
Sure, it was just two plays, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Arenas forfeits his kickoff return duties next week.
I include this only to emphasize that Washington is the best defensive player not named Patrick Peterson on the Cardinals’ roster, and his absence was blatantly obvious in the game.
Jared Cook was causing matchup nightmares for whoever was on him all game. Presumably, Washington would’ve covered him were he in the game, causing a much more desirable outcome for the Cardinals. In addition, Washington is a beast on the rush, which is something the Cards were lacking as a defense.
Sure, this is purely a hypothetical, but you bet that Cook will be a part of the game plan next time around, and D-Wash will be involved extensively.
Stay tuned for the preview of next week’s matchup, as the Cardinals host the Detroit Lions fresh off their win against Minnesota.