With an 11-point lead going into the fourth quarter, and the Cardinals scoring 14 unanswered points against a young, hungry Rams defense was an impressive feat, one many 'experts' thought wouldn't be the case.
Unfortunately, the offense capitulated, unable to convert on crucial third downs the team were completing with relative success in the first three quarters, which allowed Sam Bradford and the speedy Rams offense to gain momentum. The inability to finish games off is something which needs to be corrected, as soon as possible. Bruce Arians in Indianapolis last year, masterminded numerous fourth quarter comebacks with my personal Rookie of the Year Andrew Luck, proving that his teams showed the necessary desire to not only claw their way back into a game, but to win it, snatch it from the jaws of defeat. His teams showed conviction.
That is something that didn't come across against the Rams. When we took the 24-13 lead, we almost couldn't believe it, and were unable to effectively drive the ball down-field with the same efficiency. I know Carson Palmer is not Andrew Luck, he will not scramble for first downs or roll out with pressure coming, he's going to stand tall and go vertical. The offense showed no real diversity. It was all very similar, and once the defense clocked on to our scheme, we had no back-up plan, thus the inability to move the ball effectively.
The offensive line for the most part was OK, not great, but serviceable. It was able to do enough for the run game to be effective enough, but Rashard Mendenhall was unable to capitalize on some of the lanes he was given. To me, it appeared as if he lost that initial burst quickly. He wasn't able to run away from defenders and there wasn't much YAC (yards after contact). 16 rushes for 60 yards (3.75 YPC) which is again, serviceable, but not spectacular.
We require greater production, especially in a conference which has some of the most fearsome front sevens in all of football. Back to the offensive line. Levi Brown. What can I say? All this talk of 'elite' from Arians in regards to Brown was abolished when Robert Quinn secured his first of a hat-trick of sacks, all on Brown.
You may have seen the other great writers here at ROTB talk about Levi's incapabilities as a pass protector, but our lack of options means he'll be the season starter at LT. How I wish one of the 'elite' LT prospects fell to seven overall in April. I know the loss of Jonathan Cooper for the year was a monumental blow for the team, as he would've given Brown a little more help and balance on that left side, but the fact is, he's not here this year, and we'll have to make do with what we have, and it's not looking pretty. I mean no disrespect to Robert Quinn, but he is not one of the top-tier pass-rushers in the league, and if Brown struggled this much against Quinn, I can only imagine the terror that Aldon Smith and Von Miller will bring to Brown going forward.
Now for some positives.
Coming into the season, 'experts' claimed that Carson Palmer would be an improvement on what we had prior to him, and he is, in fact, he's been more than that. He has given the whole offensive unit a new feeling of confidence. They all know that Palmer under centre will get them the ball accurately, he will get into tight windows, and he will be looking for them, all, the, time.
Who sees the greatest boost in production with the introduction of Carson Palmer? Michael Floyd.
You all saw that miraculous one-handed catch, right? The kid's special. We all know that Larry Fitzgerald is a likely future Hall of Famer, and he will get you 1200+ yards and 8+ touchdowns, but Floyd is a whole new dynamic.
He is big, he is fast, he is strong, Floyd will be a 1000 yard receiver this year, mark my words. Fitz will see double-coverage the majority of the time, and the likelihood of the free safety rolling over to his side of the field. What does this do? Open everything up for Michael Floyd.
He has big-play potential. He'll stretch you deep, he'll go underneath, he can take hits from linebackers and win 50/50 balls 60 yards down-field. That is why we took him 13th overall in 2012. Andre Roberts and Rob Housler will be beneficiaries of the Arians/Palmer down-field pass attack, but double-F (Fitz-Floyd) will put up 2000 yards & 15 touchdowns minimum -- a receiving duo that may, statistically, rival the likes of Julio Jones & Roddy White. They can be *that* good.
Defensively was a mixed bag. They had their ups and downs in a new system under Todd Bowles, but ultimately, if was unsuccessful.
Sam Bradford threw for 299 yards on Sunday, the majority of which came in the middle of the field, with Patrick Peterson locking down Chris Givens all game preventing big-gains outside. Yeremiah Bell was noticeably poor in coverage, along with the Cardinals linebacking group, who were unable to stop Jared Cook running riot between the numbers, and if it wasn't for a wonder-play but rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu, would've had an even bigger day. It's glaringly obvious that we miss Daryl Washington's impact on this defense. He was the linchpin to this unit. He led the team in tackles and sacks last year, and oh by the way, he is the only linebacker who can effectively cover players over the middle.
He would've nullified Cook's impact on the day. And speaking of sacks, where were they? Next to no pressure was applied by the Cardinals' defensive unit on Sam Bradford. Darnell Dockett was terrible. You wouldn't have noticed he was on the field, take a look at this stat line: 1 QB hurry, missed tackle, -6.7 overall grade by the folks over at ProFootballFocus. That, my friends, is dire. He may be a fan favourite, but it may be time we begin to faze Dockett out of the line-up. Matt Shaughnessy and Frostee Rucker were able to create more pressure on Bradford than Dockett did. It's worth re-jigging the rotation a little, and see if it has an effect. John Abraham played sparingly also. This needs to change. He may be out best pass-rusher, and he was barely on the field. What's that about? I haven't got a clue.
Dockett joins Levi Brown as nominees for release next offseason, unless their play and production increases drastically. Another veteran guy who may join them on next seasons roster bubble is kicker Jay Feely. A shaky preseason, where the Cards brought in Dan Carpenter to challenge Feely for his job, unsuccessfully may I add, continued into the season opener, where Feely missed a 50-yard attempt to close the first half, and give the Cards a 13-10 lead into half time. I know 50-yard kicks are not regulation kicks in the league, but this is a distance Feely shouldn't struggle with and connect with the majority of attempts. Considering we lost by a three-point margin, it was a key moment in the game. All three players will be monitored for the rest of the season, their jobs are at stake.
As for looking ahead, the Cardinals host the Detroit Lions on Sunday. The Lions, coming of an impressive win against the Minnesota Vikings, come to UoP Stadium this weekend with high confidence of going 2-0. The Cards however, looking to bounce-back from a narrow defeat to the St. Louis Rams, aim to take advantage of the suspect Detroit secondary. It's projects to be a tight match, even Vegas cannot call it. Leave your predictions for Sunday's game in the comments!