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CARDS HANG ON TO BEAT RAMS

The Setup
The Cards have owned the Rams in recent years. But that was when our QB was either Matt Leinart or Kurt Warner, and there's was either Mark Bulger or his injury-replacement. Yesterday, all of St. Louis (along with the national media) was abuzz about their new starting QB (& first of players taken in the draft) Sam Bradford. Meanwhile, Warner had retired and the Cardinals cut Leinart; opting instead to make erratic but cannon-armed Derek Anderson their starting QB.

The entire world of football punditry had awarded the 2010-11 NFC West Championship to the 49'ers, and more than a few so-called experts had made StL over AZ their pick this week.

Meanwhile, SF, Mike Singletary and their NFC West Championship Bandwagon got savaged by division rival Seattle. (Did anyone else notice that all Pete Carroll was missing as he went "Ho Ho Ho" up and down the sideline was a Santa Claus suit and a white beard).

The Bottom Line:
The experts were almost right. Despite the disparity between the two teams "on paper", Bradford, his new VBF, receiver Mark Clayton and his other Ram teammates played inspired football. The Cardinal offense led by Anderson looked a bit tentative, out-of-whack and sporadic in its effectiveness. (How do 10 penalties and 4 lost fumbles grab you). Fortunately, a tenacious big play defense, special teams and a surprise "offensive defender" played just well enough to save the day.

  • So much for grind-it-out smashmouth. The two teams filled the air with footballs (For context: Seattle and SF threw the ball a whopping 68 times in their game. The Rams and the Cardinals threw  a staggering 96 passes.

  • The game was laced with momentum-changing turnovers or near-turnovers (including a blocked FG attempt, 3 Cardinal interceptions (to help negatet 4 lost fumbles), a double-fumble involving a sack/fumble by Anderson and a TD-saving forced fumble by Breaston during the return).

  • In the words of the legendary Dennis Green, Anderson "was what we thought he was" - big arm, missed a bunch of open receivers but was on-target just enough to generate enough points to salvage a win.

  • A-Dub (2 interceptions and a sack) had a HOF-type game.

  • Greg Toler held up better than well despite getting most of the attention from Bradford & his 55 passing attempts. The St. Paul's alumn led the team with 13 tackles and also had a forced fumble.

  • Several Cardinal defenders contributed to a strong effort; most notably: Wilson, Toler, Lenon (2nd with 8 tackles), Dockett (6 tackles, 2 for losses, one QB hurry), Campbell (a sack, a tackle for a loss and 2 QB hurries), Porter (2 QB hurries) and Kerry Rhodes (whose late-game interception should have ended the final Ram threat).

Game Recap

1st Quarter

  • On the opening drive of the game, the Cardinals drove from their own 22 to the Ram 22, where Hightower fumble & subsequent return gave the Rams the ball on the Arizona 32.

  • But the drive stalled at our 16, and we blocked Brown's FG drive.

  • We then went 3 & out, but A-Dub picked off a Bradford pass at the Ram 43.

  • Both teams exchanged 3 & outs and a defensive holding gave the Cards a 1st down on the Ram 35 as the quarter ended.

2nd Quarter

  • We got as close as the Ram 4, but had to settle for a FG. 3 - 0 Cards.

  • The Rams got as far as midfield on their next possession and had to punt. Max Komar muffed the punt but managed to recover it.

  • The Cards were bottled up on their own 14 and went 3 & out.

  • StL was able to move from their own 28 to the AZ 28 where they tied the score on a Brown 46-yarder. Cards 3 - Rams 3.

  •  The Cards - starting from their own 24 - ripped off big chunks of yardage  on 5 straight running plays, featuring LSH (who really lit the fire with 36 yards on 2 carries) and capped by Hightower's one-yard TD run (after runs for 19 and 20 yards). (They sure made it look easy - maybe the momentum finally shifted in our direction). Cards 10 - Rams 3.

  •  2:54 left in the half. we held them to 3 & out, but they made us go 3 & out as well.

  • Rams took over on their own 37 with 1:20 left til halftime. A 39-yard Bradford-to-Clayton throw set up the Ram's tying TD on the final play of the half - a one-yard pass to Robinson off a rollout. Halftime Score: Rams 10 - Cards 10.

3rd Quarter

  • Rams received. Both teams exchanged 3 & outs with a fumble and intentional grounding by Anderson forcing the punt.

  • A 17 yard return by Amendola and a 12-yard roughing the passer penalty on Calais Campbell allowed the Rams to take advantage of good field position, which they turned into a 25-yard Brown FG to give the Rams the lead for the first time. Rams 13 - Cards 10.

  • A bizarre double exchange-of-possession ocurred on the next set of downs, when Anderson was sacked on his own 36 and fumbled. The Rams' C. Ryan scooped up the ball appeared to be taking it all the way to the house, but Steve Breaston caught up with him & chopped the ball out of his arms. Sendlein recovered, thereby saving the day.

  • Neither team was able to do anything on the following possessions. But the Cards were able to mount a long drive that extended into the 4Q.

4th Quarter

  • We moved well into game-tying FG range at the Ram 14, but Anderson's pass up the middle to Komar just short of the end zone resulted in a fumble which was recovered by the Rams.

  • StL managed to move out from their own 5 to their own 35, but the Cardinal defense (which seemed to alternate yardage-stifling stops with allowing chain-moving short passes to be completed) finally stiffened.

  • With 10:09 left to play - starting from their own 14, the Cards survived an illegal formation call on Keith and a holding call on Spach to mount a 7-play scoring drive capped by a 21-yard Anderson to Fitz touchdown. Cards 17 - Rams 14.

  • StL returned the KO to their own 29, and Bradford and Jackson pecked away, inflicting "death by a thousand cuts." They managed to march all the way to the Cardinal 21 with 1:47 where on 4th down, Kerry Rhodes jumped in front of an Anderson pass aimed for Bajema. Kerry returned it all the way to the Ram 29. (I couldn't help but wonder why, near the end of his run, Rhodes cut toward the middle of the field & into the arms of a Ram tackler; instead of continuing leftward to pick up a blocker and perhaps pick up additional yardage. But at the same time, I was pretty nervous that someone might strip the ball, so I guess Kerry made the right decision).

  • With 1:21 (but with 3 remaining Ram time-outs) I was figuring: "Victory Formation" and was suprised that Wiz decided to run the ball. Unwise move - Hightower picked up 4 yards and appeared to cough up the ball after his knee had touched the ground, but the officials didn't see it that way. To the tune of "Those Bleeping Bleepy Bleeps" echoing throughout the Gollin living room, the Rams took over.

  • Bradford still had 1:21 and all its time outs left, starting from their own 24. They managed to get close enough where Bradford - from he Cardinal 36 -could drill it into the end zone, but his final hail Mary (with 0:05 left on the clock) was intercepted by (who else?) Adrian Wilson. We escaped with our underwear. Cards Win: 17 - 14.

Bright Spots

  • Unsung hero of the game had to be Steve Breaston (7 catches for 132 yards plus a come-from-behind tackle and chop-strip of the football after we fumbled to save a TD (which, as it turned out, would have cost us the game).

  • And let's not forget Early Doucet who caught three tough passes, hanging onto at least two of them despite being lit up by Ram tacklers.

  • Although it was obvious that the O-line wasn't giving Anderson a lot of time to get rid of the ball and that Derek was missing too many open receivers, he did look a little better than he did during preseason. The hope has to be that, with additional work (alone and with his receivers) on his accuracy, timing and mechanics, he'll continue to improve at least to the point where he looks more in command and less a victim of whatever the defense is throwing at him. In many ways, the defense saved his bacon yesterday.

  • Speaking of the defense, let us not forget that - despite Bradford's 55 passing attempts, the Rams only scored one TD. When you go up and down the line-up, every one of our starters - from all 4 members of the secondary to Paris, DWash, Clark and Joey and Calais, Dock and our NT's - contributed to a team effort by a defense that intercepted 3 passes, sacked Bradford twice, recovered a fumble and held Steven Jackson to 81 yards.

  • Congratulations Greg Toler for - on your first start - not giving up anything big, playing solid at CB despite being picked on opposite DRC and leading the team in tackles with 13.

  • Adrian Wilson's flying-thru-the-air Super-hero sack of Bradford is worth its very own highlight tape loop..

  • LSH's two consecutive carries (for +21 and +15 yards) lit the spark that put the team in the end zone for the winning score. All five running plays appeared to have the same directional/blocking dynamics - a stutter-move right followed by a counter-move to the left (probably behind trap blocking) - either around end or cutting it up inside off tackle.

  • Daryl Washington had a solid though unspectacular maiden outing.

  • Special teams didn't give up anything long, and (thanks to A-Dub - who's not too proud to play special teams - blocked a chip-shot FG).

The Dark Side

  • Sometimes Anderson does -by his stoic demeanor after being pulverized - remind me of Kent Graham (who used to look shell-shocked after taking a hit or throwing a pick). The key to his eventual success may be very well be his demeanor after being put on the mat - i.e. bouncing up, figuring out what he needs to do to get things going and then excude a "can-do" presence on the sidelines and in the huddle.

  • The sack by Robbins up the middle appeared to be due to Lutui blocking the inside guy and Keith blocking an outside guy - allowing Robbins to blow inside between them. I'm told that, to avoid something like that, O-linemen are taught to always pick up their man block from "the inside out" in order to combat the inside rush. It's not as if Robbins was a blitzing safety or LB - he's a DT, darn it! I'm guessing that Keith should have been the one to pick him up.

  • The reason for starting Hightower over Beanie reportedly had more than a little to do with Beanie's lack of ball-security. Which raises the question - If THT is going to fumble anyway, why not just start Beanie.

  • Anderson and his receivers should "live together" - on the practice field, in the weight room, in the film room, at the cafeteria and in their backyards if necessary until they know one another's tendencies and moves without having to think about it.

  • Our TE's were pretty invisible.

  • Ten penalties are way too many (all but two ocurring in the 2H - did we get mentally tired as the game wore on)? Culprits: Haggans (2 - both offsides), Iwebema (offsides), Anderson (grounding), Calais (roughing the passer), Levi (false start), Breaston (holding), Deuce (holding), Keith (illegal formation) and Spach (holding).

Bottom Line
It was a "W" against a division opponent during a week where our key division rival (SF) lost. Next week it's on to Atlanta where we are (can you believe it?) a 7-point underdog against a team that lost to the Steelers in OT. The Falcs are beatable, and if we can beat them, we'd be 2 & 0 after playing two straight on the road. Not a bad way to open the season.
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Copyright 1996 Gollin & Associates. Last modified: 09/13/2010