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Cardinals-Rams: What we learned

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ST. LOUIS — Few teams would want to have the Arizona Cardinals’ growing injury list.

Every team would love to have their record.

In spite of losing another quarterback, Arizona won a franchise-record 11th game Thursday night as placekicker Chandler Catanzaro booted four field goals and its defense stymied the St. Louis Rams in a 12-6 win at the Edward Jones Dome.

Arizona (11-3) has the NFL’s best record despite a season-ending ACL injury to quarterback Carson Palmer on Nov. 9 — coincidentally, against St. Louis — and a spate of other injuries to key players.

Palmer’s backup, Drew Stanton, left Thursday’s game in the third quarter with a right knee injury after being sacked by defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Third-stringer Ryan Lindley played the last quarter and a half, avoiding the killing error and letting the defense play a starring role.

“One of the best wins I’ve ever been around,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “Our guys don’t blink. We know we’re going to play for 60 minutes, and we know someone is going to make a play.”

Catanzaro converted field goals of 23, 44, 51 and 46 yards. Aided by a field-position advantage — the Rams’ average drive started at their 20 — Arizona allowed just 280 total yards and 13 first downs.

“This team is resilient,” said Cardinals defensive tackle Frostee Rucker, who had three tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble. “All the bumps and bruises we have are unheard of, but it doesn’t matter what comes our way. We play hard and together.”

The Cardinals upped their NFC West lead to 1 1/2 games over Seattle, which visits Arizona on Dec. 21. With a win — likely with Lindley at quarterback — Arizona would wrap up the division title. The Cardinals would clinch a playoff spot Sunday if the Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles game does not end in a tie.

Rookie Logan Thomas was listed on the depth chart as the second-string quarterback behind Stanton, but Arians never hesitated to wave in Lindley, who was signed off the San Diego Chargers’ practice squad after Palmer’s injury.

Lindley spent the last two seasons with Arizona, starting four games in 2012.

“It wasn’t the time to put Logan out there,” Arians said. “Logan’s going to be a good one, but Ryan’s played in this stadium against this team before. We don’t feel like we have to scale anything back with Ryan.”

Lindley completed four of 10 passes for 30 yards, spending most of his time handing off to running backs Kerwynn Williams and Stepfan Taylor. Williams rushed for a game-high 75 yards on 15 carries, while the powerful Taylor added 61 yards on 14 attempts.

Coming off consecutive shutout wins against the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins, St. Louis (6-8) didn’t allow a touchdown for the third straight game, but it also didn’t make a first down for more than 20 minutes of the second half. The Rams’ only points came off 24- and 19-yard field goals by kicker Greg Zuerlein.

The Rams’ frustration grew as the night went on. Tight end Jared Cook expressed it in a pointed postgame interview.

“We were outplayed and outcoached,” Cook said. “It was a bad display of football on our part.”

St. Louis quarterback Shaun Hill completed 20 of 39 passes for 229 yards. He was intercepted on a last-play Hail Mary at the Arizona 30 by cornerback Patrick Peterson. Hill’s fourth-and-3 pass with 1:23 remaining was batted down by blitzing cornerback Jerraud Powers.

Rookie running back Tre Mason managed only 33 yards on 13 rushes for St. Louis, losing a fumble late in the first quarter at the Rams’ 27 to set up Catanzaro’s first field goal. The Rams finished 4-for-15 on third down.

“We held them to field goals,” Cardinals linebacker Larry Foote said. “That was huge. We knew they were a hot team coming in here.”

Arizona produced just 274 total yards and went 5-for-17 on third down. Stanton completed 12 of 20 passes for 109 yards before exiting.

What the Cardinals said:

“This is an 11-3 team and a (St. Louis) team that’s always 8-8, you figure it out.” — Coach Bruce Arians, on being the underdog Thursday.

What the Rams said:

“We can’t keep kicking field goals. We have to do a better job on offense.” — Tight end Jared Cook.

What we learned about the Cardinals:

1. Slight Arizona at your own risk. The Cardinals weren’t happy with being four-point underdogs against the last place team in their division and showed why they are 11-3, winning both lines of scrimmage. Arizona outgained St. Louis 143-69 on the ground and controlled the last three quarters of this game. The Cardinals may not have a bunch of marquee players, but they have the league’s best record because they rarely make critical mistakes.

2. Special teams are a hidden reason for Arizona’s success. PK Chandler Catanzaro boomed four field goals to make him 26-for-30 on the year, while P Drew Butler downed six of eight kicks inside the 20 to make the Rams play a long field. Ted Ginn Jr. gives the Cardinals one of the most dangerous return men in the game.

–QB Drew Stanton (right knee) left in the third quarter after being sacked by St. Louis DT Aaron Donald, and he didn’t return. Stanton will undergo an MRI exam Friday in Phoenix, according to a report on NFL Network.

–QB Ryan Lindley replaced injured QB Drew Stanton and wasn’t spectacular, completing only four of 10 passes for 30 yards. However, he at least avoided damaging errors and got the team across the finish line for its franchise-record 11th win.

–DT Frostee Rucker might have been the best player on the field Thursday night. Rucker had three tackles for loss, including a sack, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry. His consistent penetration helped the Arizona defense whip the Rams’ limited offense.

What we learned about the Rams:

1. There is a reason why quarterback Shaun Hill is a career backup. and it showed Thursday night. The offense’s poor game wasn’t all Hill’s fault, but he completed just 20 of 39 passes for 229 yards. St. Louis went more than 20 minutes of the second half without gaining a first down. The Rams couldn’t run the ball well enough to seriously threaten Arizona’s outstanding defense. Hill can’t win games if this team is pass-oriented, as it had to be in this one.

2. There is still maturing to be done for St. Louis before it takes the next step from promising to contending. Frustration grew throughout the game, culminating in critical comments about coaching from tight end Jared Cook following the loss. The Rams don’t always play through adversity well, and Thursday night was simply another example of it. They have to get mentally tougher in 2015 if they are to reach their considerable potential.

–P Johnny Hekker tried his best to reverse the team’s constant field-position disadvantage, averaging 50.5 yards on eight punts. Hekker placed three inside the 20-yard line, although one punt was returned for 43 yards by Ted Ginn Jr.

–RB Tre Mason was held to 33 yards on 13 carries, losing a first-quarter fumble that set up Arizona’s first field goal. Mason simply didn’t have many cutback lanes against the Cardinals’ well-drilled defense.

–TE Jared Cook caught just three passes for 22 yards, losing a reception when he was flagged for offensive pass interference in the fourth quarter. Cook also said the Rams were outcoached after the game, a comment that is sure to draw much scrutiny in the locker room and from the coaching staff.


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