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The Setup
Cards won their tenth game when they edged out KC 17-14 shutting them out in the 2H). They round out the season with three games vs. a division opponents. Rams were first up. Game is in StL. The Rams are coming off 2 record-setting shutouts - a 52 - 0 shellacking of Oakland and 24 - 0 win over Washington. The Rams - at 6 & 7 - have been all but eliminated from playoff contention (but tell that to Jeff Fisher and Ram players). The Cards at 10 & 3 were one game away from securing a lock on a playoff berth, but are a beaten up football team physically. Rams are just starting to hit stride.

The Lede
Cards edge Rams in "Tale of 2 Defenses"/Stanton Hurt.

The Bottom Line:
In a game devoid of touchdowns, the Cards parlayed four FG's by rookie Chandler Catanzaro into a 12 - 6 win over a very tenacious Ram football team. The Cardinal defense was as consistent as it was dominant and tenacious, winning the field-position battle and keeping StL bottled up time after time. StL held a 3 - 0 edge by the end of the first quarter, but a Drew Stanton-led Cardinal offense was able to stitch enough successful plays to hold a 6 - 3 advantage by halftime. The Cards added three points in each of the the final two quarters while letting the defense fend off a late Ram surge to hang onto a 12 -6 final. The win makes the Cardinals 11 - 3, and close to cinching a playoff spot (It would take a tie between Philadelphia and Dallas to derail the Cardinals' path to the playoffs.

But the win over the Rams may be bittersweet. Drew Stanton - who was "gobbled up" by Donald and turned into a pretzel while scrambling to his left - was assisted off the field and to the lockers with what appeared to be a knee injury. How severe the injury will depend on MRI results the following day. Stanton's departure left the Cardinal offense in the questionable hands of backup QB Ryan Lindley (who, in terms of poise and accuracy didn't exactly look ready for prime time). If Stanton is done for the season, it could mean an early departure from playoff contention by the Cardinals. However, there is a ray of hope: With the playoffs all but secured and an opportunity to be awarded a playoff Bye, the Cardinals may be able to "buy" 2 or 3 weeks to heal up Stanton or get Lindley and Logan Thomas ready to compete in post-season.

Late Breaking - According to Darren Urban, there are uncorroborated reports that Stanton is suffering from a knee strain and will be considered day-to-day. This was reportedly confirmed by Coach Arians. How this will affect the starting lineup for the Seattle or Niner games or any playoffs that follows is uncertain. If Stanton plays and we win, we might secure a Bye and or homefield advantage that would allow us to rest him farther into the playoffs. But if we play him and he further injures his knee (earlier not later) we could be in a far worse position than if we didn't play him at all. If it were me, I'd hold Stanton out of the Seattle game and be very careful about whether we play him vs. San Francisco. But, what do I know? These decisions are why they pay BA the big bucks.

Game Recap
After being shut out in the first quarter ( & falling behind 3 - 0) the Card posted at least one score in each of the final three quarters to eke out a 12 - 6 "W" over a tough Ram squad. Unsung hero of what was close to a "must-win" was a better-than-advertised Cardinal running attack.

1st Quarter
  • Cards received. Ginn returned the KO to his own 15. Cardinals were penalized three times during their first possession (We've never been that happy with the officiating of Norm Coleman's crew). Cards reached their own 35 but were forced to punt. Ball rolled out of bounds... Refs tacked on another Cardinal penalty and the Rams started with great field position at their own 45. Completions of 19 yards to Cunningham and 21 yards to Harkey (who?) got the Rams as close to a TD as the Cardinal 7, but they had to settle for a 24-yard Zuerlein FG. Rams 3 - Cards 0.

  • TB on the KO. A 7-play possession was undermined by two more Cardinal penalties and Butler had to punt from his own 39. Austin returned the punt to the Ram 19. On the first play from scrimmage, Rucker stuck out a hand and stripped the ball from Mason as he sped by. Fumble! Recovered by Foote. Cards ball at the Ram 27 (a huge break in a game that promised few of them). Cards reached the Ram 21 to end the quarter. (Cards were penalized a total of 5 times within the period of one quarter of play).

    1st Quarter Score: Rams 3 - Cards 0.

2nd Quarter
  • Cards moved to the Ram 5 but got no farther, but Catanzaro was "good" from 23 and the game was all tied up. Rams 3 - Cards 3.

  • Cunningham returned the KO to the StL 21. A completion deep to Britt for +22 yards was undermined a few plays later by an offensive pass interference penalty on Britt. Hekker punted from his own 40. Fair caught at the Cardinal 15. A 49-yard completion to Floyd helped set up a 44-yard FG by Catanzaro. Cardinals 6 - Rams 3.

  • Rams returned the KO to their own 26. They picked up one first down but had to punt from their own 45. Out of bounds at the Cardinal 12. A short pass to Fitz for +16 helped move the Cards to their own 45 but they were forced to punt. Fair catch at the StL 7 with 3:09 till halftime. A couple of short completions to Kendricks and Bailey moved StL to their own 49, but (after the challenge of an incomplete pass that otherwise would have been a fumble), the Rams were forced to punt with 0:30 on the clock. A holding penalty on the Cards forced us back to our 5, and Stanton took a knee.

First Half Score: Cards 6 - Rams 3.

3rd Quarter
  • Rams received. TB on the KO. Cards held StL to 3 & out. Ginn returned punt to his own 42, but Cards also went 3 & out. Butler's punt was fair caught at the Ram 11. Rams again went 3 & out, but Cards were penalized for holding on the ensuing punt return. Cards ball at their own 30. On the fifth play from scrimmage (after a pass interference penalty moved the Cards from their own 36 to the Ram 31), Stanton rolled to his left but was gobbled up by Donald and injured on the play. Lindley in for Stanton. Drive stalled at the Ram 33, and Catanzaro was good from 51-yards. Cards 9 - Rams 3.

  • Cunningham returned the KO to the StL 20. Card defense held them to 3 & out. Punt was fair caught at the Card 23. On the fourth play from scrimmage, Lindley's pass for Fitz looked like it was picked off, but official review disclosed that it was "trapped" by Jenkins and overruled as an incomplete pass. (Huge impact on field position in a tight game). Butler's punt was fair caught at the StL19. Rucker's sack of Hill cost the Rams 13 yards and was instrumental in another 3 & outs. Cards returned the punt to their own 43 but (aside from a 12-yard run on first down by K Williams) couldn't get anything going. Butler's punt from the Ram 39 was downed at the StL 6. The defense held StL to 3 & out once more as the game moved from the 3rd quarter into the fourth.

Third Quarter Score:Cards 9 - Rams 3.

4th Quarter
  • Hekker punted from his own 15. Ginn returned it to the Card 28. (Lots of running by Taylor and K Williams from here on out). A 14-yard completion to John Brown and a 21-yard scamper by Taylor moved the Cards to the StL 28 and helped set up Catanzaro's fourth FG - this one from 46 yards. Cards 12 - Rams 3.

  • 10:48 left (too early to drain a lot of time)? An interference call on Rashad Johnson followed by a 38-yard completion to Bailey and a 13-yard speed sweep by Bailey on a double-reverse followed by an encroachment flag on Dan Williams made it 1st & goal Rams on the Cardinal 7-yard line. (Crunch time)! The Cardinal defense hung tough, stopped the drive at the Cardinal 1-yard line and forced the Rams to settle for a 19-yard Zuerlein FG. Cards 12 - Rams 6.

  • Plenty of time (6:07) left TB on the KO. Arians dialed up four runs in a row. A 4-yard pass to Ginn wasn't enough to pick up a 1st down and Butler punted. Fair catch by StL. 2:52 left on the clock (but another FG won't do - StL needs to score a TD).
  • On the first play of the StL possession, the snap was aborted, but Hill recovered for a 2-yard loss. He then responded by hitting Britt for a 22-yard gain. Card defense stiffened and the Rams couldn't convert a 4th & 3 at the Cardinal 43 (when Powers batted down a Hill pass at the LOS). 1:23 left to play. StL uses all 3 time outs as Cards ran three straight running plays, took a Butler penalty and then punted. Punt was fumbled by Austin but recovered by StL for no gain. Ram ball at their own 14 with 0:18 left on the clock. On the fourth play of the StL possession (with one second to play - and this writer gnawing at his fingernails) Hills pass for Cook was picked off by Patrick Peterdon. End of contest.

Final Score: Cardinals 12 - Rams 6.

Game Stats.

  • Passing Efficiency: Stanton completed 12 of 20 attempts for 109 yards, no TD's and no picks. Lindley completed 4 of 10 attempts for no TD's or picks (but one near-pick that won't show up in the stats).

  • Run Game: K Williams picked up 75-yards on 15 carries. His alter-ego, Stepfan Taylor added 61 yards on 14 carries.

  • Receiving: Fitz led all Cardinal receivers with 7 catches for 30 yards. No other Cardinal receiver had more than 2 catches, but Floyd did have one long gainer of 49 yards.
  • Defense: Held the Rams to 280 net yards (211 passing and 69 rushing).

  • Cardinal Run/Pass Ratio: Runs: 33/Passes: 30.

  • Sacks: Stanton was sacked once. Cards sacked Hill twice.

  • Leading Cardinal Tacklers:Powers led all Cardinal tacklers with 7 followed by Bucannon and Campbell with 5.

  • Field Goals: Catanzaro was 4 for 4 (& enough to win the game)

  • Turnover Ratio: +2. Cards gave away no interceptions or fumbles. Cardinal defenders had one fumble recovery and Peterson's pick on the final play.

  • Penalties: Cards were penalized 8 times (5 in the first quarter). Rams were penalized 6 times.

  • 3rd Down Efficiency: Cards were 5 for 17 (29%). Rams were 4 for 15 (26%)

  • Time of Possession: Us - 34:24/ Them - 25:36

Bright Spots

  • The Running Game. (143 net rushing yards).

  • Fitz seemed fairly healthy.

  • The OL held up well in pass pro and their run blocking was effective more often than not.

  • Powers iand Rucker are emerging as our unsung defensive heros

  • The Front Three- throttled Ram runners.

  • Good synch between Cardinal pass rushers (who got to Hill just in time) and coverage guys (who kept their men covered just long enough) so that we either (1) allowed our pass rushers a little bit more time to get to the QB while (2) pressuring the QB just long enough to keep our DB's from being abused by Ram receivers.

  • We've all but clinched a playoff spot.

  • Which means we can afford to take a deep breath and rest some banged-up players during our 10-day break in action and when we play the Seahawks and the Rams.

  • Each new way we find to win represents one more piece of positive learning experience for our younger players.

The Dark Side

  • Drew Stanton's injury

  • Ryan Lindley's lack of poise and accuracy.

  • Too many drops by our receivers (notably both Browns).

  • 5 penalties in an opening quarter will get us eliminated from the playoffs faster than you can say "Norm Coleman."

  • That's about it (What's to criticize)?

Last Word:
Granted, the Niners aren't playing as well as they're capable of playing (and we could have a better-than-even chance of beating them), but this game vs. St Louis was as close to being a "must-win" game as you can get to. Once we've clinched, Coach Arians has the flexibility of resting a few players, evaluating some of the backups and giving our younger players much-needed real-game experience. Had we lost, we might have had to face the uncomfortable challenge of playing injured players and risking additional injury. The team has ten days off followed by Seattle and then SF (& even possibly a playoff Bye). With Drew Stanton's availability very much in question, the Cards need all the possible time to heal .

As for Ryan Lindley and/or Logan Thomas - and how well they can step up to replace Stanton - the reasonable side of my brain says: "Trust BA; He knows best." But the Cardinal fanatic side of my brain keeps telling me: "Lindley isn't the answer - he's scatter-armed and lacks football intelligence and judgment. Go with the kid - his upside high enough to risk putting up with his downside as an inexperienced, raw rookie." Since, as onlookers, we have no say in who plays and who sits, the best we can do is put our trust in Arians and hope "the QB whisperer" can continue to find the right buttons to push." Whatever the case - being in the playoffs is a lot better than not being there (& we're only a smidge away).

Late Breaking - Uncorroborated reports out of AZ are that Stanton suffered a knee sprain and will be "day to day." Coach Arians is said to have confirmed that Drew's injury wasn't as bad as originally feared and that we might have him for the playoffs if not earlier. Go git 'em!

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Copyright 1996 Gollin & Associates. Last modified: 11/26/2012