Rams run over the Arizona Cardinals
Week to week the National Football League has shown that anything can happen. The Arizona Cardinals are the poster children for that way of thinking. A week after pushing around Tampa Bay, the Cardinals traveled to London to battle the Los Angeles Rams. The Cardinals looked like a team that never made it to Heathrow airport in London. What went wrong for Arizona? Here are three takeaways after a terrible Sunday across the pond.
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Carson Palmer Injured
Once running back David Johnson was injured in Week 1, it became apparent that the most important player still on the roster was quarterback Carson Palmer. Palmer is what kept the Cardinals alive and in position for a playoff spot. Well that all changed on Sunday, just minutes before halftime, when Palmer was hit during a throw and was intercepted. It was the last play of the game for Palmer as he was brought to the locker room where it was later reported he suffered a broken left arm. Linebacker Alec Ogletree came on a delayed blitz and hit Palmer as he attempted to throw the ball downfield. Backup quarterback Drew Stanton played the rest of the game in place of Palmer.
Palmer wasn’t necessarily lighting things up against the Rams, but he was able to complete 10 of his 18 passes for 122 yards passing. His lone interception was on the play in which he was injured. The offense struggled to find consistency while Palmer was on the field and things got worse once Stanton entered the game. Losing Palmer was immediately felt as it seems Los Angeles chose to stack the box even more, knowing Arizona was going to need to run the football to help Stanton. The Cardinals offense was unable to do so and put the defense in a tough spot, controlling the ball for less than 21 minutes. Time will tell how things shake out with Palmer out.
Run Game Stalls
The Cardinals run game received an infusion a week ago in the form of Adrian Peterson. Peterson ran for over 100 yards and two scores in his first game in a Cardinals uniform. However, things in the NFL change quite rapidly. The Cardinals didn’t do well on Sunday against the Rams. As a unit, the Cardinals gained 25 yards on just 11 carries, an average of 2.1 yards per carry. By comparison, the Rams rushed for 197 yards, finishing with a 4.9 yards per carry average.
It might be easy to blame the scoreline for the lack of a run game, but this was hardly the case as the Cardinals offense often elected to throw in short yardage situations when the score was still tight. The offensive line looked to be struggling as the game began and moved forward in the first half. Most lines would struggle against the front seven for the Rams. Aaron Donald feasted on the interior line, often clogging the middle and taking up multiple blockers, ending runs inside. The early struggles tested the commitment of Arizona to the run game. The commitment wavered and forced the offense to become one dimensional. With Palmer out for an extended period of time, the Cardinals will need to refocus on running the football and getting Peterson going on offense.
Defense Lacks Pass Rushers
Perhaps it was due to the balance achieved offensively for Los Angeles. Perhaps it was due to the revamped offensive line for the Rams. Perhaps it was another lackluster performance by the defense against a serviceable offense. The Cardinals are tied for the fourth worst defense in total sacks. They have only registered 13 sacks this season, a year after they led the entire NFL with 48 sacks. Arizona’s struggles are made more dire with last season’s team leader in sacks, Markus Golden, out for the rest of the season due to injury. The lack of pass rush allowed second year quarterback Jared Goff to find open receivers and keep drives alive.
Linebacker Chandler Jones registered the only sack on Sunday. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher utilized the blitz to get to Goff but that left single coverage outside and the occasional open running back leaking out to the flats. The Rams offense was smart to utilize the running back in the passing game, putting pressure on the Cardinals to decide to commit to the blitz or cover the open receiver. No pass rush is also beginning to show holes in the secondary. Goff completed 22 of 37 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown, adding another on the ground. Seven different receivers had a reception for the Rams, with four having over 40 yards receiving. That type of production is something to be concerned about. Unfortunately Arizona only has one Patrick Peterson to play cornerback. Outside of the All-Pro corner, the defense relies on Justin Bethel to hold down opposing receivers. At some point a pass rush will help.
The defense will need to figure out how to get a pass rush going in the coming weeks or it will be a long season. The pressure is now on the Cardinals to see if they can stay afloat the rest of the season until a possible Palmer return. If Sunday is any indication the season could be lost. The Cardinals have a bye week coming up then a trip to San Francisco for another divisional battle. It is a much needed rest after a beating on Sunday.
– Ryan Adverderada covers the Cardinals for cover32.