By Cedric Williams
Right from the opening drive, when the host Arizona Cardinals drove 80 yards on eight plays to score a quick touchdown and take an immediate 7-0 lead, something about the St. Louis Rams just didn’t seem right on Sunday. And even though St. Louis answered with an eight-play drive of its own that ended with a field goal, which cut the deficit to 7-3, the Rams never really figured out what their problem was.
But Arizona knew what it was, and kept attacking — eventually building a 23-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
The Rams had two key turnovers, 11 energy-depleting penalties, and were terrible in just about every big moment of what turned out to be a 30-10 loss to the surging Big Red, which now has an 8-5 record and sits just one game behind the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Wild Card playoff hunt.
The Rams are now 5-8, and were officially eliminated from playoff contention in 2013.
Here’s how we graded St. Louis on another dismal day of football in a year that began so promising:
Offense – D
On the bright side, the Rams have some tough players. Quarterback Kellen Clemens took a beating on Sunday, but kept playing hard throughout. Running backs Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham ran hard, but saw few good results. And the banged up offensive line gave every ounce of energy it had.
Unfortunately, they give wins to guys just for trying hard.
And that was the only way St. Louis was going to win anything on Sunday, as it struggled to move the ball on the ground, scrambled to make any plays at all through the air, and was a putrid 3-for-11 on third downs.
The one lone bright spot was an electrifying 56-yard end around run by rookie receiver Tavon Austin. But even he got hurt on the play, leaving practically no one capable of making a play for the Rams.
Defense – D
The usually stout St. Louis defensive line simply got manhandled on Sunday.
Arizona came into Sunday ranked in the lower half of the league standings in offense, but the Big Red still managed 369 total yards against the Rams, as it controlled the game from the outset.
The Rams DBs were torched for 262 yards on 27-of-32 passing by Cardinal QB Carson Palmer, who was playing with a sore elbow.
Linebackers Alec Ogletree and Jo-Lonn Dunbar gave solid efforts, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the shortcomings of the rest of the group.
Special Teams – C
Kicker Greg Zuerlein made a tough field goal early in the game when it was still in doubt, and punter Johnny Hekker had another stellar day, but the return teams were average and never really did anything to help change the momentum of the day.
Coaching – D
With Palmer playing with a sore elbow, the Rams needed to find ways to harass him, hit him, and possibly make him throw the ball to them to help their stagnant offense.
But that never happened.
St. Louis also needed to find ways to get its offense going against an Arizona club that came in averaging 23.2 points a game.
That didn’t happen either.
And the blame for both those failures falls on head coach Jeff Fisher and his staff, which just didn’t have the Rams ready to play well on Sunday.
For more Rams news and updates, visit Rams Central.
Cedric Williams, a lifelong St. Louisan and proud UMSL alum, has been a freelance reporter/photographer covering St. Louis area sports for nearly two decades. Most recently, he has been working as a credentialed beat writer covering the Rams and small-school college sports for Examiner.com and other outlets from around the area. Please share any comments, questions, or feedback with Cedric at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work can be found on Examiner.com.