NFL Wire News

Rams lose slugfest in field-goal battle

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EARTH CITY, Mo. — Like a club fight between two heavyweight fighters, the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals wailed away at each other for 60 minutes on Thursday night, with neither side being able to land a knockout blow.

When it was over, the Cardinals defeated the Rams 4-2 on field goals (12-6 on points) in a game that featured no touchdowns, 554 total yards of offense, 26 first downs (13 for each team) and a combined nine conversions on 32 third-down plays.

The refrain in the Rams’ locker room was familiar.

“It’s hard to win football games when you don’t score touchdowns,” defensive end Chris Long said, speaking for everyone. “On defense, we played well enough to win, but when the offense is struggling, you have to make a play as a defense, and we weren’t able to do that.”

They came close. In the third quarter, cornerback Janoris Jenkins appeared to intercept a pass thrown by quarterback Ryan Lindley, who had replaced injured Drew Stanton (knee). Jenkins returned the ball to the Arizona 38-yard line, but the play was overturned after a replay review, which coach Jeff Fisher said looked like the right call.

Then, late in the fourth quarter with the score 12-6, Arizona running back Kerwynn Williams fumbled at the Cardinals’ 31-yard line, but tackle Jared Veldheer recovered for Arizona. The bounce of the ball simply went Arizona’s way.

“That was the play we needed in this game,” Fisher said. “We got the ball out, but we just couldn’t get on it. If Jenks (Jenkins) turns one way and not the other, he might have had a better chance to get it. But that’s football.”

Truly, the game was lost in the third quarter when the Rams had a stunning five three-and-outs and ran 15 plays for 15 yards, and on two drives where the Rams were stopped on third-and-1 from inside the 10-yard line. Overall, the Rams were 4 of 15 on third down.

While the St. Louis defense played up to expectations, the offense showed it simply isn’t ready for prime time, especially against a defense as good as Arizona.

Hill chalked it up to a lack of execution and “a breakdown here or there. Some of it was mental errors, which was the bad part. Physical errors are going to happen. We’re human. On a short week, we have to be dialed in that much more and not have the mental errors and mental breakdowns. That was very discouraging. They do something different every week; that’s how they are on defense. They’re a game-plan defense, and they’re going to bring something that you haven’t seen.

“That’s just the way they are. You have to adjust on the fly in order to execute against them, and just follow your rules; the things you’ve just been taught to do. We didn’t do that well enough.”

As tight end Jared Cook lamented, “We just didn’t move the chains enough.”

Of course, the Cardinals also didn’t do that, extending the Rams’ defensive streak to three games without allowing a touchdown. The last one came with 8:09 left in the fourth quarter against San Diego on Nov. 23.

But the Rams weren’t able to get in the end zone thanks to those first- and fourth-quarter failures. On their first possession of the game after 19-yard and 21-yard pass plays to running back Benny Cunningham and tight end Cory Harkey, respectively, the Rams were set up with a first down at the Arizona 16. However, after a Cook 9-yard reception got the ball to the 7, Cunningham was stuffed on third-and 1.

Then, after their third-quarter failures, the Rams overcame an offensive pass interference penalty on Cook when Hill hit wide receiver Stedman Bailey for a 38-yard play to the Arizona 39 on their first possession of the final quarter. Five plays later, another pass to Bailey moved the ball from the 7 to the 1, but on another third-and-1 play, Hill had to throw the ball away when he rolled out to the right.

“They did a good job of taking it all away. You’ve got to give them credit, too,” Hill said. “They played it well.”

Fisher said he considered going for it on fourth-and-1 but eschewed that because “we’re down there first down, and down their second down, and down there third down. We had opportunities. But if we don’t get points, then we’re in trouble. So we needed 10 (to win), we got three thinking that we had plenty of time and would have a shot.”

Which they did, moving from their own 20 to midfield on a 22-yard pass to Kenny Britt and a 10-yarder to Cook in the final minutes.

However, any realistic chance of winning ended when Hill misfired on a third-and-7 pass to an open Bailey, and his fourth-down pass attempt was batted away.

Asked what went wrong on the pass to Bailey, Hill said, “I don’t know, I’ll have to take a look at it. Obviously, I missed him.”

REPORT CARD VS. CARDINALS

–PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus – QB Shaun Hill barely completed 50 percent of his passes (20 of 39), but numerous throws were under duress. His 58.6 passer rating is skewed by an interception on a final-play Hail Mary. He did hook up with WRs Stedman Bailey (5 for 74) and Kenny Britt (5-65) for 10 of his completions and 139 of his 229 yards. However, there were also crucial offensive pass interference penalties on Britt, which wiped out a Cook reception, and on Cook, which also negated a completion.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: F – There was simply no consistent running room. Tre Mason rarely had successive good runs. His long was 10 and his total for the game was just 33 yards on 13 attempts. Mason lost a fumble in Rams territory that Arizona turned into a field goal. Benny Cunningham got just two chances and gained 4 yards. They did get 13 yards on a reverse to Bailey and eight on a jet sweep by WR Tavon Austin, but that was the only time the Rams tried that play to Austin.

–PASS DEFENSE: B – Overall, the coverage was good, but CB Janoris Jenkins was beaten for a 49-yard play to Michael Floyd and he was also guilty of a 36-yard pass interference penalty. Those led to Arizona field goals. Overall, though, the Rams held the Cardinals to 139 passing yards, 49 of which came on that one play. WR Larry Fitzgerald had seven receptions but for only 30 yards. The Rams had just one sack, but pressure was hard to come by because Arizona QBs Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley got rid of the ball quickly. Their one sack by DT Aaron Donald knocked Stanton out of the game with a knee injury.

–RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus – Arizona had 29 rushing attempts by their running backs, and while the defense had numerous stops, there were too many breakout runs that helped the Cardinals maintain an advantage in field position. Seventeen of the 29 runs by Kerwynn Williams and Stepfan Taylor were for three yards or less, but there were also five runs for 11 yards or more. Those runs accounted for 80 of those two players’ combined 136 yards rushing. Their other 24 rushes totaled 56 yards.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B – The Rams introduced the team’s top special teams players in pregame warm-ups, and while the units were solid, there were no game-changing plays. P Johnny Hekker was outstanding as usual, with a 50.5-yard average, 43.8-yard net and three punts inside the 20. One negative was a 42-yard return by Ted Ginn. Punt returner Tavon Austin rarely had room to room, and had minus-2 yards on two returns and was forced to fair-catch four of Arizona P Drew Butler’s eight punts. Benny Cunningham did a solid job on four kickoff returns, averaging 29.0 yards. K Greg Zuerlein made two chip-shot field goals of 19 and 24 yards.

–COACHING: B – The basic plan was to keep the game close and get to the fourth quarter with a chance to win, and it worked. Except for the winning part. The Rams had one turnover and forced none, which was a contributing factor in the loss, plus field position where the Rams averaged the 20-yard line as their starting point and the Cardinals averaged the 30-yard line.


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