So we didn't beat the Rams by 20 like I thought and it took a late defensive stand at the goal line to ensure the Cardinals moved to 7-3, but there's more to this story. Sometimes it takes an ugly win when you don't have your 'A' game and at least in the NFL we don't have to worry about style points or margin of victory. A 'W' is a 'W' and that's really the only thing that matters. In case you're feeling a bit bummed about the this unimpressive win, consider this note from Kent Somers:
The Cardinals are 7-3 for the second consecutive year. They have a three-game lead over the 49ers. As a friend pointed out, if the Cardinals go 3-3 the rest of the way, the 49ers would have to go 6-0 to overtake them.
Considering that the remainder of the Cardinals schedule includes only two teams with a record above .500, and both of those games are at home (although this year they may actually be a negative), I think it's fair to say that it's only a matter of time before we clinch the West. With that being said, here's the randomness.....
- Obviously most of the talk about this game will surround Matt Leinart's play. While I expected him to play better (aka, at least put some points on the board), it's hard to ignore that he completed over 70% of his passes and he didn't turn the ball over. Of course that's not the whole story and so I'll defer to the 'so-called' experts, the two main 'beat writers' (Urban and Somers). It's interesting that Urban seems to focus on what Leinart did well and what could have been if things had gone just a bit differently....
His numbers weren't bad (10-for-14 for 74 yards). Whisenhunt said if tight end Anthony Becht hadn't lost a fumble after a second-down catch and had the Cards executed a third-and-1 pass - running back Beanie Wells apparently didn't look back quickly enough for the ball - he had no doubt Leinart would have piloted the Cards to points. Leinart also had the clutch third-down pass to Early Doucet that gained a first down late in the game.
While Somers doesn't tip-toe around Leinart's performance quite as gingerly....
Coach Ken Whisenhunt defended the play of backup quarterback Matt Leinart, although the Cardinals haven't scored this season in his three appearances. On Sunday, a couple of players mentioned that Leinart entered the game under "tough" circumstances. Ahead 21-3 and facing a bad team is tough? Sounds ideal to me.
I don't blame Whisenhunt for defending Leinart. What's he supposed to say? But I'm not joining the chorus of people who think Leinart can't play. I do think it's reasonable to see progress from him this year. And he hasn't shown it. He still tends to throw high when he's nervous, mostly because his footwork gets out of whack. That's been a problem for more than two seasons now. Leinart was set up to succeed Sunday and it didn't happen. You can't get around that fact and it has to concern Cardinals coaches and management. All that said, not all of the problems in the second half were Leinart's fault. Tight end Anthony Becht fumbled. The running game stalled. The defensive intensity dropped off.
- Who wants to fix the running game now? I've been saying for a couple weeks that it doesn't matter who plays the first snap at RB. Both guys are talented and they'll share carries pretty evenly. Tim Hightower was the better runner yesterday but Beanie Wells did his share of damage as well. Regardless of who ends up with the most carries or yards, anytime this offense gets 184 yards from the ground game they're going to be nearly unstoppable. Has anyone realized that over the past three games we're averaging over 160 yards on the ground the past three weeks?
- Speaking of the running game, has anyone noticed that the offensive line's pass protection has gotten better as the running game has improved? After racking up 14 sacks in the first seven games, Warner has only been sacked twice in the last three games. Maybe our offensive tackles are finally dealing with defensive ends who can't simply pin their ears back and rush the QB. Amazing what a running game can do to an offense like ours.
- I know Micheal Adams is taking some heat after getting picked on by the Rams passing game but there's something that you just gotta like about this guy. I know his height will always prohibit him from being a regular defensive player but I love his attitude. He never backs down and attacks every single player/ball carrier like he's a 250 pound linebacker. He's the kind of guy I want on my team.
- Maybe it was just seeing a smaller guy on the opposite side attacking everything like a pit bull, but for some reason it was even more evident that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie shy's away from contact too often. DRC has All-Pro talent and I love his potential but he's from the "Deion Sanders school of run support" and even worse, he seems to give up on plays once they get by him instead of trying to run them down.
- You think someone got in Darnell Dockett's ear about legitimacy as a top tier defensive tackle? After recording just one sack in the first seven games, he's now recorded a sack in three consecutive games. Maybe teams are starting to pay more attention to Calais Campbell, who has just half a sack in the previous three games, but whatever the cause, Dockett might just playing his way into a Pro Bowl slot.
- It was good to see Gerald Hayes back out there. Sure Steven Jackson broke 100 yards but it took a 48 yard scamper to make that happen. His stop on Jackson's 4th-and-1 carry early in the second quarter was huge.
- The more we talk about Will Davis, the more he seems to deliver so Will Davis, Will Davis, Will freakin' Davis. Is it crazy to think that he'll have a better chance of being a starter next year than Cody Brown?
- Ben Graham continues to play like a Pro Bowler. Nuff said.
- Lastly, some general observations about the Rams......Is it just me or does it seem like Marc Bulger thinks long and hard about getting back up after he get's knocked down? He taken a beating over the course of his career and he looks like he's lost the will to fight. James Laurinaitis is awful good for a rookie and he'll be a guy we'll have to deal with for the next decade.
All in all, nice divisional road win. Big test coming up this week and if we're sitting at 8-3 seven days from now, I think we can start making January plans because we'd officially be playoff bound.