Cardinals prepare to hit the road after tough loss to Rams
TEMPE, Ariz. –– Poor pass protection, red zone inefficiency, third-down woes, turnovers.
The aspects of the game that had worked so much in favor of the Arizona Cardinals in three one-sided victories were problems they couldn’t overcome in Sunday’s 24-22 home loss to St. Louis.
Still, it was the kind of game the Cardinals have escaped to win in the past and could have this time, too.
"It’s the first one we’ve lost like that and it’s hard to swallow because of the fact that we have won so many in the fourth quarter here the last two years," coach Bruce Arians said on Monday. "I think we just anticipated that we’d make the play to win this one and we didn’t get it done."
As the game wound down, the Cardinals had the ball second-and-two at the Rams 43 and failed three times. On fourth down, Carson Palmer overthrew an open David Johnson on a play that would have put Arizona in range for a game-winning field goal.
"We can’t play situational football like we did in that game and win very many ball games," Arians said, "although all we’ve got to do is complete a pass and get a kick, we win the game anyway."
It was just the fourth loss at home for Arizona in 19 games under Arians.
But since he took over two years ago, the Cardinals are 5-8 against the NFC West, 20-4 against everyone else.
Arizona (3-1) still leads the division, but just by one game over the Rams (2-2) with Seattle (1-2) playing at home against Detroit on Monday night.
Now the Cardinals hit the road for the next two games, and six of the next eight. They play at Detroit on Sunday, then will stay at the Greenbrier resort, the New Orleans Saints’ West Virginia training camp facility, to prepare for the following week’s game at Pittsburgh.
"Staying in West Virginia can be a distraction if you let it be," Arians said, "or it can be a focused week like it was in Tampa a couple years ago in the rain. We didn’t play great, but we won the ball game."
In 2013, the Cardinals trained in Tampa between road games against New Orleans (a 31-7 loss) and Tampa Bay (a 13-10 win).
Palmer, whose nine-game winning streak came to an end, was sacked once in the first three games but four times on Sunday. He also took some vicious hits after getting the ball away.
Asked how the offensive line played, Arians said, "not very well."
"We ran the ball extremely well and very efficiently," he said, "but the pass protection as a group was very iffy, and it was all the way across."
Center Lyle Sendlein noted the running game was good "until we got to the red zone."
After a pass interference penalty gave the Cardinals the ball first-and-goal at the St. Louis 1-yard line, Chris Johnson was stuffed for a 1-yard loss and a 2-yard loss on consecutive plays. Then David Johnson dropped a sure touchdown pass. The rookie had started the day of Arizona misfortunes by fumbling the ball away on the opening kickoff.
The Cardinals, who had scored touchdowns on 11 of 12 trips to the red zone in their first three games, were 1 of 5 on Sunday. They were 2 of 11 on third-down conversions.
On defense, Arizona shut down the Rams running game in the first half, then allowed rookie Todd Gurley to gain 144 yards in the second.
Lost in all the negativity was the performance of Calais Campbell on the defensive front. The 6-foot-8 lineman had a career-best 11 tackles, including three tackles for loss, and two quarterback hits.
"He was lights out," Arians said. "That was as dominating a performance as you could ask for from a defensive lineman. It’s just a shame that it was in a loss."