BY: ED COLE
GLENDALE, Ariz. – The St. Louis Rams forced the Arizona Cardinals to claw and scrape their way for a win in their first meeting at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 4. Unfortunately, that didn’t come to pass, as the Rams stole a 24-22 win in Glendale, Ariz.
The Cardinals no doubt had that game in the back of their minds on Sunday, as they were looking to get some payback for that loss at the Edward Jones Dome.
The Cardinals sure started off strong, taking 10 plays to go 80 yards on the game’s opening possession. The drive ended with quarterback Carson Palmer hitting wide receiver J.J. Nelson in the right corner of the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown, giving the Cardinals a quick 7-0 lead.
Here’s where things bogged down for Arizona’s offense, and the game slowed to a snail’s pace, like the 49ers game last week in Santa Clara, Calif. The Rams defense did just enough to stop Palmer and the offense in their tracks right up until halftime. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro hit a 33-yard field goal to give Arizona a 10-0 lead at halftime.
Head coach Bruce Arians and his team made the necessary adjustments at halftime, they took command of the game from there on out, and they came away with a fairly easy victory, their sixth straight, 27-3 over the Rams.
With the win, Arizona moved to 10-2 on the season. It’s just the second time in team history that the Cardinals have at least 10 wins in the first 12 games of a season (11-1, 1948).
St. Louis got on the board in the third, courtesy of Zach Hocker’s 35-yard field goal, which cut Arizona’s lead to 10-3.
Palmer and the Cardinals responded in big time fashion on the ensuing possession. He led the offense on a 10-play, 98-yard drive, which took all of 5:37, ending with Palmer threading the needle with a beautiful pass to rookie running back David Johnson that got between two defenders. Johnson took care of the rest, gliding into the end zone. Arizona took a 17-3 lead after the extra point, and for all intents and purposes, the game was over at that point.
The Rams could do nothing on offense on Sunday. They had the 31st ranked offense coming into the contest, and it looked just like that ranking for the entire 60 minutes. St. Louis was only able to muster a total of 212 yards on offense.
Rams quarterback Nick Foles only had 146 yards passing on Sunday. He hurt Arizona with three touchdowns in the first matchup, as did running back Todd Gurley, who had 146 yards rushing in Glendale in Week 4. Gurley was also a non-factor on Sunday. The defense held him to 41 yards rushing on nine carries. In fact, the Rams were only able to get 66 yards on the ground as a team against a very stingy Cardinals defense.
On the other end of the spectrum, Arizona racked up a season-high 524 yards on offense, including 175 yards on the ground. Rookie running back David Johnson led the way with 99 yards rushing on 22 carries. Kerwynn Williams came in to spell Johnson, and he was pretty electric, and he was very quick. He had 59 yards rushing on just six carries – one of those carries Williams took 35 yards to the house. Stepfan Taylor grinded hard on his five carries to get his 20 yards.
Palmer was his usual self: He was 26-of-40 for 356 yards and two touchdowns. It was Palmer’s 15th 300-yard passing game as a member of the Cardinals, and his eighth 300+ yard passing performance of the season, which is a franchise record for the most 300-yard passing games in a single season.
Palmer spread the ball around quite a bit, hitting seven different receivers. Michael Floyd was the most targeted of them all with 12. He caught seven of them for 104 yards. John Brown had the most receiving yards of the group with 113 on six catches, and the history-maker, Larry Fitzgerald, had the most catches of the crew with eight for 55 yards. J.J. Nelson caught Palmer’s other touchdown pass.
Fitzgerald needed eight yards to reach 1,000 receiving yards for the season. He also needed eight catches to reach 1,000 for his career. He got both of those, and came one yard short of reaching another milestone; passing Hall of Fame wide receiver Andre Reed (13,198) for 15th place on the NFL’s all-time receiving yardage list.
Don’t let this next set of numbers fool you: Arizona’s defense came to play, and they balled out like they always do. They had a total of 31 tackles as a collective unit. If you line that up alongside St. Louis’ defense, which had 66 total tackles, you’d have to do a double take. It’s because Arizona DOMINATED the time of possession 39:47-20:13. In the second half, the Cardinals held the ball for 21:49 of a possible 30:00, which further illustrates those earlier numbers. The Rams numbers were that high because their defense was on the field a LONG time.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson had another stellar performance. He led the defense with five tackles, to go along with one pass defensed and one forced fumble. Defensive tackle Ed Stinson and inside linebacker Kevin Minter were second with four tackles a piece, while cornerback/safety Tyrann Mathieu, cornerback Justin Bethel, safety Rashad Johnson, and inside linebacker Deone Bucannon had three tackles a piece.
Johnson also intercepted Foles, his team-leading fifth pick of the season.
At times, it wasn’t pretty, but Arizona got the win, which is the most important thing of all. With the win, the Cardinals got the road sweep of its NFC West opponents for just the second time (2008) since the divisions got realigned in 2002.
There’s hardly any time for the Cardinals to breathe, because they’re right back at it again on Thursday night, as they’ll play host to the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday Night Football. Minnesota got thumped at home, 38-7, by the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, so they won’t be in a very good mood when they arrive in Arizona.