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Burn after watching: What we learned about the Cardinals from the Rams loss

To help cope with the Rams loss, this RotB writer turns to an underappreciated Coen brothers comedy.

Syndication: Arizona Republic
Ugly plays like this one were a dime a dozen against the Rams on Sunday.
Michael Chow/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Just as the Arizona Cardinals were beginning their 2008 Super Bowl season, the Coen brothers released Burn After Reading, a dark comedy replete with plot twists, double crosses, and ambiguity. At the very end, a CIA bigwig, played by J.K. Simmons, asks what they learned from the events of the movie:

CIA Bigwig: “What did we learn?”

Underling: “I don’t know, sir.”

CIA Bigwig: “I don’t ****ing know, either. I guess we learned not to do it again … what[ever] we did.”

That’s about how I feel after Sunday’s 20-12 home loss against the Rams. Whatever it was they did in that game, I hope they learned not to do it again.

Last week, I said that “this is a team still searching for an identity.” That’s even more true now after Sunday’s befuddling performance against the Rams. Just like the Raiders game, the Cardinals came out flat and ineffectual. They ran a grand total of 13 plays on their first 4 possessions, each of which ended with a punt.

Meanwhile, the Rams scored on their first 3 possessions to quickly go up 13-0. The rest of the game played out fairly similarly to the Raiders game, with the defense stepping up and the offense figuring things out—to an extent.

Against the Raiders, the Cardinals were able to end possessions with TDs. Against the Rams, it was all FGs, including the controversial decision from Kliff to go for it down 11 rather than kick the FG to make it a one-possession game. They failed to convert, of course… only to kick that FG on their next possession and then never touch the ball again.

(Note: I like the call to go for it in a vacuum, but you have to think Kliff would do things differently if put in a similar situation moving forward.)

The similarities to the Raiders game are only surface-level, though. The defense did force three straight 3-and-outs from the Rams after they went up 13-0, but the Rams went back to marching down the field on their next two drives. They scored a TD on one and would have scored a TD on the other if not for a Cam Akers fumble.

The box score numbers look good for the Cardinals defense—hey, we held the Rams to 20 points and 339 yards! But we still gave up 7.4 yards per play, an absolutely atrocious number that helped lead to us ranking dead last in the league in that category with 6.7 yards per play against.

The only reason the Rams didn’t score more is because our offense possessed the ball for nearly 18 minutes in the second half but only came away with a piddling 6 points. That’s a remarkable feat of inefficiency. For the game, Kyler averaged 5.4 YPA and our runners averaged 3.3 YPC. Not to mention all the drops. This just isn’t what you expect out of Year 3 of Kliff and Kyler working together. Shouldn’t the offense be a well-oiled machine by now, even with guys missing?

Yet you add it up and we still only lost to the defending Super Bowl champs by one score. This was a winnable game even with the mostly bad defense, the terribly inefficient offense, the questionable game management decisions.

So is this Cardinals team good or bad? I must confess I’m not closer to answering this question than I was last week. We saw both good and bad against the Rams… and the Raiders. Not so much the Chiefs—that was all bad.

We’ve seen more bad than good out of this Cardinals team through three weeks, but I don’t think we’ve really learned anything concrete about this team yet. And now we travel across the country to face a team we’ve lost 6 straight to, likely in pouring rain.

I’m not counting on learning much this week, either. I just hope we don’t do what we did against the Rams on Sunday. Whatever it was.

I’m going to do my best to burn all memories of that game from my mind and move on.