On Friday I boiled down the Rams' trip to Arizona
to just three key areas to be addressed, three things that absolutely, positively had to happen for the Rams to emerge victorious.
Well, they didn't emerge victorious, losing a heartbreaker to the Cardinals. However, the weekend was not a total loss! After all, the game was still played, meaning we can go back and look to see how prescient -- or not -- those keys to victory might have been. Yeah, I know, a win would have been much more satisfying, but hey, when you root for the Rams, you take what you can get.
Spoiler alert: one of those three keys to victory played out to be eerily accurate. Good for my credentials as a soothsayer, even better for my already-oversized ego. Not so good for the Rams, unfortunately.
Key #1: Take Advantage of John Skelton
The Rams really executed this about as well as one could hope for, to be honest. The Cardinals were forced to start their backup quarterback in this game, as Kevin Kolb is currently out with an injury, and the Rams did a solid job of making John Skelton's day a difficult one.
The raw passing numbers for Skelton don't look too bad -- 20 of 35 passing for 222 -- but that's not really the whole story. The Rams managed to put Skelton down in his own endzone not once, but twice, marking the first time I can honestly remember an NFL team recorded two safeties in the same game. (On consecutive drives, no less.) Of course, those two safeties would have been much more meaningful with an even halfway competent offense on the Rams' side to back them up, but that's neither here nor there.
That's not to say the Rams' assault on Skelton was perfect, though, by any means. The defensive ends did their job, harassing him all afternoon, but far too many times he was able to step up into a stable, secure pocket to escape the pressure. The Rams' defensive tackles simply didn't do enough to push back the interior O-line of the Cardinals, leaving plenty of space for Skelton to avoid the outside rush. Better play from the tackles and Robert Quinn would have had at least one more sack and probably two more QB hits, and Chris Long might very well have had another Sunday to match what he did last week against New Orleans.
The other breakdown for the Rams against Skelton came primarily in the third quarter, when he repeatedly broke contain after being flushed from the pocket. Arizona's sole touchdown drive of the game was predicated largely on a pair of long rushing plays by Skelton. If the Rams could have managed to stop even one of those runs the outcome of the game might have been completely different.
Key #2: Darnell Dockett and Adrian Wilson
On this key, the Rams' execution was not nearly so good. Neither player had a huge game, necessarily, but neither did the Rams take them out of the game. Wilson in particular made several big plays, including one tackle on Steven Jackson that went for a big loss when Wilson came knifing through the Rams' offensive line virtually untouched.
The Rams did contain Dockett to a certain extent, though Calais Campbell stepped up in his stead. Even so, the Rams' O-line as a whole was shaky for pretty much the whole afternoon. On the upside, while Wilson was very active in the middle of the field tackling, he wasn't much of a factor in the passing game, which was rather encouraging to see.
Key #3: Beware of Patrick Peterson
And here we go. To quote myself:
"Still, Peterson is exactly the sort of dangerous kick returner who can change a game with just one play."
Ugh. That's painful to read.
The Rams actually did a decent job of throwing on Peterson; he was on Brandon Lloyd all day, and Lloyd still managed to catch 5 passes for 80 yards, but they didn't heed my warning about his special teams ability. When the Cardinals needed a big play to win the game, Peterson stepped up and brought back a punt 99 yards. Plays don't get any bigger than that.