Rams vs. Cardinals: Takeaways from Arizona's 30-10 Destruction of St. Louis
The Arizona Cardinals continue to play well at home, improving to 6-1 after a 30-10 Week 14 victory over the St. Louis Rams. Outside of Carson Palmer-to-Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals offense did not look great, but it was more than enough to dispatch the Rams.
The talk this week will be about rookie defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and his knee injury that could knock him out the remainder of the season. It is feared to be a torn ACL.
The Cardinals (8-5) have eight wins after 13 games for the third time since moving to Arizona—the other two came in 2008 and 2009 with Kurt Warner at quarterback.
There is a lot to discuss, so here we go with takeaways from Arizona’s win over St. Louis.
Palmer’s Elbow Is Just Fine
There was talk all week about whether backup quarterback Drew Stanton could lead the team to a victory should Palmer not be able to go against the Rams. Some of the worry was laid to rest when the team announced Palmer would start.
Then Palmer led the first drive of the game, an eight-play, 80-yard beauty that resulted in a Rashard Mendenhall 3-yard touchdown.
The 10-year veteran was brilliant, completing 27 of 32 passes (84.4 percent) for 269 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions for a 112.1 passer rating. He was sacked just once, which was another worry many fans expressed this week—can left tackle Bradley Sowell stop Rams defensive end Robert Quinn?
He did, and the passing attack was at full bore because of it.
Palmer’s 84.4 completion percentage is the second-highest single-game mark in franchise history, behind only Warner’s NFL-record 92.3 percent, which he set in Sept. 2009 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Pass Protection Excels vs. Great Pass Rush
That defense rarely gets just one sack. The protection was phenomenal.
—Quarterback Carson Palmer, via Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com
He’s right. St. Louis rarely sacks the opposing quarterback just once. In fact, since the start of the 2011 season, only the Cincinnati Bengals (eight) have fewer games in which they have one or fewer sacks than the Rams (nine). To give up just one sack against a defense that came into Sunday’s game No. 5 in sacks on the season (37) is, indeed, phenomenal.
The Cardinals don’t face any defenses in the top 10 in sacks the remainder of the season. The offensive line is coming together as the regular season winds down, and it couldn’t come at a better time. With protection, Palmer has done a lot of good things this season—especially of late.
Arizona needs him to be at his best down the stretch, and getting solid protection is a good start.
Regression for Mendenhall?
Rashard Mendenhall did score a touchdown on Sunday, but he did not find much running room the rest of the game and was outrushed by rookie Andre Ellington again. Mendenhall carried 17 times for 41 yards (2.4 yards per carry) with a long of 11.
Head coach Bruce Arians kept him out of the equation on third downs, not allowing him a single third-down carry.
The back looked to have his legs underneath him all afternoon; he simply did not do anything when given the ball. Too often, he would turn his back to the defense upon first contact. That led to Mendenhall being tackled right where he was hit every time.
He was as elusive as a semi truck without the power on Sunday.
Palmer to Fitz
As mentioned at the outset, Palmer and Fitzgerald were on the same page all day. Fitz had 12 receptions for 96 yards (8.0 yards per catch) and a touchdown against St. Louis.
His dozen receptions are the most he’s had in a game since he had 13 for 100 and a score against the Seattle Seahawks in Oct. 2009. He also has a touchdown in four straight games for the fourth time in his career—he’s tied with Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon and San Francisco 49ers TE Vernon Davis for the longest active streak in the NFL.
Fitzgerald caught everything intended for him on Sunday, making spectacular grabs on multiple occasions. The connection was there between he and Palmer, which is a great sign if the Cardinals intend on making a playoff push these final three weeks of the season.
For the first time this season, the Cardinals converted over half their third downs in a game. Their previous best was right at 50 percent (7-of-14 against the Rams and Colts).
They converted 8-of-15 (53.3 percent), virtually all off the arm of Palmer. He was 10-of-12 passing (83.3 percent) for 114 yards and a 106.3 passer rating—he converted seven of the eight third downs while hitting six different receivers throughout the game.
The only third down not converted by Palmer was converted by Ellington on his 6-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
It looks like a turn in the right direction, but considering Arizona’s two best games converting third downs were against the Rams, it’s too early to say they have fixed the problem. They are 15-of-29 (51.7 percent) against St. Louis and 43-of-136 (31.6 percent) against everyone else.
If they are closer to 50 percent the rest of the season, they will be in a good spot offensively.
John Abraham in Rare Company
With three sacks on Sunday, outside linebacker John Abraham moved up multiple all-time lists. Here’s the rundown:
- Tied Jason Taylor for 12th with 31 multiple-sack (1.5-plus) games
- Tied five players for fifth all-time with eight seasons of at least 10 sacks
- Tied Derrick Thomas for third with his 10th game of at least three sacks
- Passed Lawrence Taylor and Leslie O’Neal for ninth all-time with 133.5 sacks
- Fourth player in NFL history with 10-plus sacks in a season for three different teams (Kevin Greene, Sean Jones, Andre Carter)
He has 11 sacks this season, all of which have come over the past seven games (in case you’re wondering, yes, 11 sacks over seven games is a franchise record). He will find himself in the top five in the league in sacks this week because of it.
Karlos Dansby Continues Pro Bowl-Worthy Season
Not only did inside linebacker Karlos Dansby record his sixth sack of the season on Sunday, he tallied his second pick-six in as many home games when he took one back 23 yards off Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens on the opening drive of the second half.
His eight tackles led the team, and he was all over the field and in the right place at the right time to thwart many plays. Dansby now leads the NFL with 100 solo tackles.
At this point, it may be virtually impossible to keep him beyond this season. The team will not have the salary cap space to fit him into the budget because he’s earning himself a large final contract to close out his career.
It’s not the end of the world, as rookie second-round pick Kevin Minter waits patiently for his chance to play. He has a bright NFL future ahead of him, but it still will sting when Dansby accepts an offer elsewhere after this season.
He’s been plenty good to make his first Pro Bowl, and possibly his first All-Pro team as well.
Jay Feely: Closet Rams Fan?
Yes, that’s a joke. But seriously, Jay Feely. What’s with missing three of your four field goals this season against the Rams?
Over his long NFL career, he has attempted at least 10 field goals against 17 different franchises. His 77.4 field-goal percentage (24-of-31) against the Rams is higher than only four of those teams—New England (75.0), Atlanta (72.7), Seattle (72.0) and Chicago (58.3).
Feely is still having a great season, but it’s curious that he’s struggled against St. Louis this season. We’ll probably never get to the bottom of it, however, so it will be a non-issue the rest of the season.
And as long as the team wins, there can’t be too much to gripe about if he misses, right?
All stats provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com.