The 2014 Arizona Cardinals continue to grind out victories in spite of being hit by the injury curse week after week. They defeated the St. Louis Rams in the Edward Jones Dome on a short week to move to 11-3 and secure a play-off spot in the process (assuming the DAL/PHI game doesn't end in a tie).
No touchdowns, all field goals as rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro was 4-4 on the night. Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein was 2-2 as well, both teams carry out a defensive struggle on Thursday Night Football.
With big plays at a premium on the night, the Rams got on the board first with a 24-yard FG having dinked & dunked their way into the red zone on their opening possession of the game, before a stout Cardinals defense bottled up the Rams running game, which would be a recurring theme throughout the game.
Frostee Rucker impressed on the night, highlighted by his forced fumble on Tre Mason late in the first quarter which gave the Cards great field position to tie the game at 3-3 with a 23-yard FG from the Catman.
The Rams defense, having pitched two straight shutouts the last two weeks, were unable to the Cardinals running game, who wore down that Rams front, with Stepfan Taylor (14 for 61) and Kerwynn Williams (15 for 75) combining for 136 yards off 29 carries.
On the next drive, Stanton hit Michael Floyd for a 49 yard gain down the left sideline which put the Cards at the Rams 36 yard line. Only managing 10 yards and one first down from there, Catanzaro was called upon again as he nailed a 44-yard FG which gave Arizona a 6-3 lead going into HT.
The defense came to play in the second half, forcing five straight three and outs on the Rams to open the third quarter. Stanton attempted to hook up with Floyd deep left again, drawing a pass interference call on Janoris Jenkins, placing the ball at the Rams' 28-yard line. Two plays later, Aaron Donald sacked Drew Stanton, injuring his right knee. Stanton was carted off and did not return to the game. Ryan Lindley, not Logan Thomas, came in.
Leaning on a stout defense and effective running attack, the Cardinals drove down the field into field goal range again in the fourth quarter, where automatic Catman hit from 46-yards which extended the lead to 12-3, and more importantly made it a two score game.
The ensuing drive saw the Rams march down the field for the first time in the game. Shaun Hill hooked up with Stedman Bailey twice for 44 yards on the drive as the Rams made it to the Cards' 1 yard line, but decided to take the 3 points on 4th down. 12-6 it became, and remained for the rest of the game.
The major talking point of the game was Drew Stanton going down in the third quarter. It's a right leg injury, officially being called a knee. He was unable to put any pressure on the leg as he hopped over to the sideline where he was assessed and then carted away to the locker-room. Lindley came in for Stanton and looked pretty bad. Lindley went 4/10 for 30 yards, and had an INT wiped off the board as Janoris Jenkins didn't complete the catch process.
The severity of Stanton's injury remains unknown, but the offense did not look competent with Ryan Lindley leading it. Also, what does this say about Logan Thomas? Clearly the faith isn't there in him to come in and guide the team home.
There are positives to take out of this game. The defense looked dominant. Constantly in the backfield making plays, pressuring Hill into poor, inaccurate throws. This is an elite unit. The offensive line looked very good today, especially in pass protection. Much was said about the Rams defensive line, but only one sack for the Rams (the one which knocked Stanton out of the game). The running game is legit. The combination of Taylor and Williams is productive and effective. Should split the carries going forward and ride the 'hot hand' as and when.
For now, the Cardinals will retain their No.1 seed in the NFC, and therefore top spot in the NFC West. Hopefully the 49ers still believe their season isn't over and will put in a performance against the Seahawks on Sunday, as they still remain the biggest threat to the divisional crown.