On Sunday, the Derek Anderson-led Cardinals scratched and clawed their way to a four point victory over their division rivals.
Many questions were answered but many still exist. Can Derek Anderson lead the Cardinals to a third straight playoff appearance? We don't know yet. We do know that Anderson is not an accurate quarterback -- there's little doubt about that. He overthrew Larry Fitzgerald numerous times on Sunday. However, he also improved in the fourth quarter and led the Cardinals on an 86-yard scoring drive. Anderson certainly needs more practice time with Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, but today was a good start. We'll see what he's made of as the season continues.
The Rams also reveled a new quarterback -- their coveted first round draft pick Sam Bradford. He immediately provided a spark to the Rams offense. This is arguably the best Rams offense the Cardinals have faced in years. Bradford established his presence quickly, wasting no time to test the Cardinals defense. In the end, his inexperience led to two late interceptions. Let's take a look at some of the positives and negatives from the game:
Adrian Wilson individually dominated - I can't say enough about the play of the Cardinals Pro Bowl strong safety. Wilson began the game by blocking a field goal attempt. He continued his day by adding two interceptions and a sack. Evidently, Wilson was using this game to campaign for the All Pro first team and another Pro Bowl selection.
Defensive play as a whole - The Cardinals defense did what they had to do to stop the Rams. They swarmed Sam Bradford continuously. The secondary didn't break and the run defense limited the Ram's running game to 85-yards. Daryl Washington and Greg Toler played well in their debuts on defense. Joey Porter didn't register a sack but pressured Bradford enough to force a few incompletions.
Steve Breaston - Even though Derek Anderson struggled with accuracy, he figured a way to get the ball into Steve Breaston's hands. Breaston wasted little time filling Anquan Boldin's spot and caught a career high of 132-yards.
Special teams play - The Cardinals special teams unit continued to play well, carrying over from last season. They contained Danny Amendola -- a very fast return man, blocked a field goal, and Ben Graham punted the ball well.
A division rival lost - 6-31. That's all I have to say.
The negatives are after the jump...
Offensive chemistry - All game Anderson struggled finding his receivers. He may not have hit Larry Fitzgerald if he was standing ten feet tall. I won't blame it on Anderson's accuracy problems, but more on the lack of chemistry between he and the rest of the first team offense. Many of Anderson's passes should have landed in Fitzgerald's lap. It was ugly, but it leaves room for improvement.
The running game - Aside from the Cardinals second scoring drive, the running game could not and would not take off. The offensive line couldn't open a hole -- period. Throwing Beanie Wells into the mix might have helped, but it also isn't inspiring if Wells should miss any more time.
Fumbling issues - The Cardinals lost four fumbles on Sunday and one during a key drive to drain the clock and end the game. Tim Hightower can add two more fumbles to his career total of nine. Color me more interested in Beanie Wells starting. Max Komar blew it on punt return on didn't help his case when he fumbled in the red zone.
The offensive line - The much-anticipated new-look offensive line didn't bode well for Ken Whisenhunt. Holes were rarely opened. Protection for Anderson rarely lasted. They did however, show some signs that they could become a good unit. Let's not forget that they were also lining up across from the Rams' defensive line. This unit needs some work.
The refereeing - Some of the calls today were head-scratchers -- particularly the Tim Hightower fumble late in the game. It appeared as though the ground caused the fumble, but unfortunately the refs didn't see it the same way. I won't go into anymore detail because the Cardinals won, but if you watched the game then you know what I'm talking about.
For a game that should've been an easy win, I'll admit that I am disappointed. I'll take the victory but the Cardinals won't be able to defeat better teams with that type of play. The Rams appear to be improved but we won't know for sure until we look back on this season. Sam Bradford could be the Rams savior but for now he's the reason the Cardinals won the game. In a couple of years, the Cardinals won't be able to get away with some of the mistakes they committed today.
As for the offense, Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm will have their work cut out for them this week preparing for the Atlanta Falcons. Anderson needs to align in sync with Larry Fitzgerald and the rest of the offense, and the line needs to open running lanes for the running backs. Are the Rams still the Rams? Is a win still a win? Yes. Regardless of what the critiques say, the Cardinals did what they had to do and won their first game of the season.