Cards Business-like Pounding of Rams Produces Several Milestones
Admit it, Cardinals fan, that as the seconds ticked off at the end of the first quarter, you were a little anxious. This wasn’t what you expected—nor was it what I predicted. The Cardinals and the Rams were having an old fashioned defensive struggle. It was the ‘85 Bears versus the '00 Ravens—or not.
But just as you were wondering if this team is prepared for what promises to be a very difficult playoff run, Cards QB Kurt Warner reached down and pulled out that Hall of Fame form. Our fearless leader seemed to say to himself; “Ok, the heck with this! I want to rest time in the 2nd half.” (Note: Most NFL players wouldn’t actually say ‘heck’, but Kurt would) Warner then went about securing his 99th and 100th touchdown passes as a Cardinal, while throwing for an incredible 196 yards, in a sweet 2nd quarter fury. He joined Fran Tarkenton as the only 2 players to toss 100+ TD passes for two different teams.
Safety Adrian Wilson showed us why he was justifiably chosen as the NFC’s top safety—in votes cast by the fans. A-dub joined some very talented, and very select players in NFL history, by getting his 20th NFL sack—he now has 20.5 in his illustrious career—and intercepting 20+ passes. His 23rd career pick, and 5th this season, was the "nail in the coffin" in a 4th quarter that led to backup QB Matt Leinart’s grass-stained knee.
Those tid-bits being said, lets get to the Report Card.
Cardinals rookie RB Beanie Wells continues to impress. This wasn’t a great day for the Cards running game, but it wasn’t a bad day either. Wells, the “backup” that gets more carries than the starter each week, should clearly be the feature back. He peeled off a couple of nice runs, and his TD run showed the speed and burst that few RB's in the NFL can muster.
Beanie carried the ball 17 times for 68 yards—4.0 average—and Tim Hightower carried it 10 times for 32 yards. Both scored a touchdown as is expected from either. Tim’s was a churning bullrush between the tackles, while Wells scampered outside and beat the defense to the corner of the endzone.
Even Warner got into the act, leading ALL rushers with a 10.0 average on his single jaunt—I just wanted to say that, because I never have, and may never get the chance to again. All in all, a decent day for the RB's. At least there wasn’t a fumble from any of the RB’s on this day.
Kurt Warner was just terrific.
After a slow first quarter where not much happened, he came out firing on all cylinders in the second. He was 3-for-3 in leading an 80-yard TD drive, including a 45-yard strike to Breaston. The drive was capped off with a 10 yard pass to Fitz. Fitzgerald leads the NFC in touchdowns with 12.
On their next possession, Warner hit Anquan Boldin twice for 23 and 22 yards respectively. Q had a great game, collecting 9 passes for 116 yards. He only needs 14 yards next week to have yet another 1000 yard season. Warner then hit his 2nd year WR Early Doucet for his first career TD reception.
On their 3rd scoring drive, Warner carved up the Rams defense, starting off 7-for-7. He then ran for 10 yards, which apparently wore him out, as he ended up 8-of-10, missing Fitz on a 3rd and goal at the St Louis one yard line. Coach Whisenhunt chose to let Mike Nugent kick the field goal instead of trying to push it in on 4th down.
The 2nd half didn’t go as well, though it could have been much worse. With thoughts of last week’s 17-point halftime lead disappearing before their eyes, Warner tossed a ball that was behind Fits, that could have been picked off and taken for a TD. But there’s a reason the Rams are last in the NFL with just 8 interceptions—zero by their cornerbacks. When an opportunity hits them right in the hands, they handle it like the proverbial hot potato. What could have made it a somewhat scary 17-14 game, turned into another Warner-led drive for a TD. This gave the cards a 24-7 lead that pretty much sealed the game.
Nothing special here. Rams RB Steven Jackson didn’t pick up a single yard—ut that's because he was a gametime scratch, and wore sweats instead of cleats. Backups Chris Ogbonnaya and Kenneth Darby managed a combined 90 yards on 20 carries. Not exactly stuffing them, but neither scored, and no one really peeled off a decisive run that hurt the team. Thus, the above average grade.
On the other hand, the reason this is only a C+ is because they still allowed St Louis to gain 100 yards on the ground without Steven Jackson.
The Rams trotted out rookie Keith Null to start for the third straight time—with so-so results at best. If I were Kyle Boller, I’d be looking to short sell my house in the greater St Louis area. Null threw one TD pass, but was picked off three times, and sacked four times.
As noted above, Cards safety Adrian Wilson collected one of those picks and sacks. Just another big game by one of the NFL’s quietest players; he would rather his play do the screaming for him. Joining A-dub in the pick parade was rookie Greg Toler and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
This was Toler’s first NFL interception, and was a big play in the still-tightly-contested first half. Rodgers-Cromartie picked off his third pass in two weeks; a gorgeous leaping grab in the 2nd half. DRC also forced a fumble, and seems to be gearing up his game nicely for the playoff run.
Claias Campbell played another big game, and OLB Bert Berry is continuing his fine season, picking up a sack, and causing general disruption. The second sack of the game was from another veteran OLB, Chike Okeafer. Both Berry and Okeafer have been very good in their roles this year, and the Cards would be hard pressed to be where they are without the play of these two veterans.
But the day defensively belonged to Wilson. Its nice to see fans from around the league recognize what those of us in the desert have been blessed with witnessing for almost a decade. The best safety in the league will be stopping off in Hawa—errrr, Miami—before being part of a serious Hall of fame discussion.
Coach Whisenhunt had this team prepared this week in several important ways. First and foremost, the Cardinals had a total of three penalties, and only one in the decisive first half. They played smart, made tackles, and kept their composure when at other times they may not have.
Whiz tried to give Warner more of a rest, but didn’t want this game to get away from the Big Red. So backup Matt Leinart didn’t get on the field until the Cards had a 21 point fourth quarter lead. I wouldn’t read a lot into that. Whisenhunt still has confidence in Leinart, but this time of year isn’t about soothing the tender feelings of NFL quarterbacks. Its about being prepared to play at their best as the playoffs approach.
Punter Ben Graham added another feather to his Pro Bowl cap when he forced a fumble on what was an otherwise nice 35-yard return. The ball was recovered by rookie Reggie Walker, who saw the field for the first time in weeks, and made the most of it. Graham also booted one ball over 60 yards, and had two more downed inside the 20 yard line.
Mike Nugent continued his fine play in place of Neil Rackers, who the Cardinals hope to have back and healthy before playoff time. Nugent made his only FG attempt, and all four of his PAT’s. He kicked well on kickoffs, and has really done everything that has been asked of him. All in all, a good day for the special teams.
This was the Rams, and a Rams team playing without their best player in Steven Jackson. A dominating win here isn’t a surprise. In fact, I predicted a 34-10 game, and that was with Jackson.
But this was a win as it should be. Business as usual, even though they walked away with a two-TD victory. Good teams stomp lousy teams and they don’t go celebrating it like they just won the lottery. They go out, make plays, avoid mistakes, get a team down, and keep them down. That's exactly what the Cards did here.
The Cards still have a shot at that number two seed, as this is being written before tonight's Minnesota-Chicago game. If the Vikings win, all bets are off as far as how long the starters will play next week against Green Bay. If the Vikings lose, then the Green Bay game takes on more meaning for both teams involved, and will make for a better game.
While I’d like to see the guys get some much needed time off and rest a bit—remember, their bye week was way back in week 4—I'm pulling hard for the Bears tonight.
A week off on Wild card weekend would do a lot more to heal boo-boo’s and rest weary players then getting pulled at halftime in an otherwise meaningless game.
---SCOTT Z BRADY
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