The St. Louis Rams defense didn't exactly shine last week in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals. At the end of the game, Arizona scored 23 points, seven of which came as a result of Patrick Peterson's punt-return touchdown. The score doesn't tell the full story, the story of a defense that allowed a total of 268 rushing yards. A more competent team, with a quarterback other than John Skelton, might have easily scored 40 points. Let's look at five key play from the Rams defense and what they tell us about the larger narrative of the game.
First Quarter, 7:57, 1st-and-10, ARI-34
(Shotgun) 19-J.Skelton pass deep left intended for 11-L.Fitzgerald INTERCEPTED by 26-R.Hood at SL 42. 26-R.Hood to ARI 31 for 27 yards (35-A.Sherman)
Hood's interception put the Rams in very favorable field position, at the Cardinals' 31-yard line. Nick Miller's punt return made the game 7-0 at that point. On the ensuing drive, Bradford hits Brandon Lloyd on a 21-yard pass to convert a third-and-seven. On the next play, Adam Goldberg gets beat by Sam Acho, who gets his first sack of the game. Bradford fumbles, and the Cardinals recover. Opportunity lost.
First Quarter, 0:47, 3rd-and-10, STL-11
(Shotgun) 19-J.Skelton pass incomplete short right to 12-A.Roberts.
That was a big stop for the defense, three plays after Beanie Wells broke out for a 71-yard run. It could have been a momentum killer. Instead, Arizona had to settle for a field goal, making it 7-3 in favor of the Rams.
Third Quarter, 6:00, 1st-and-goal, STL-7
(6:00) 26-C.Wells up the middle for 7 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
The right side of Arizona's line muscles the Rams defensive line to the left. The guard and tackle pull from the left side, easily casting aside Brady Poppinga and James Laurinaitis. It looks like a defensive back missed a tackle too. That touchdown made it 13-10, a lead Arizona would never lose, and it resulted from a Sam Bradford fumble at the Rams 28-yard line.
Fourth Quarter, 14:41, 1st-and-10, ARI-26
19-J.Skelton pass short middle intended for 11-L.Fitzgerald INTERCEPTED by 55-J.Laurinaitis (71-G.Gibson) at ARI 37. 55-J.Laurinaitis to ARI 37 for no gain (26-C.Wells).
The defense had not played very well up to this point, but they had done enough to give their offense a chance to win it. At this point, Arizona led 20-13, a touchdown would have tied it. Instead, the offense farts its way off the field with the ball in hand. The resulting drive starts out with a Jason Brown hold, a necessity since he could barely contain the Arizona defensive front. On third-and17, in classic Rams style, the Rams complete a 12-yard pass to Lance Kendricks, who makes a beauty of a catch in tight coverage. It also leaves him short of the first down. Josh Brown misses a 50-yard field goal.
On the final defensive play, final key play from the defense, the Rams had managed to tie the game, 20-20, with about seven and a half minutes left. Time for the defense to step up...
Fourth Quarter, 6:18, 1st-and-10, ARI-38
26-C.Wells left guard to SL 9 for 53 yards (27-Q.Mikell). SL-20-D.Stewart was injured during the play.
With the defensive line blocked, it was up to the linebackers who totally blew this one. The linebacker did catch the directional run from Wells, all moving over to their left. Chamberlain gets far outside and taken out by one of the extra blockers, so does Laurinaitis. Poppinga gets spun around and away from the play. Darian Stewart dives to make the tackle, and is hurt. Only Mikell saves it from being a touchdown, but it doesn't matter. Arizona kicks a field goal for the 23-20 lead. On the ensuing possession, which proves to be the last for the Rams offense, the ill-fated fourth-and-one call happens.
Arizona gets the ball back with three minutes left, but the defense fails to stop them in order to give the ball back to the Rams offense. End of game.
I suppose you can dissect any way you want. Pinpointing a single flaw with the Rams efforts that caused the loss is impossible. Both units contributed equally. The play of the run defense this season is as scandalous as the play of the offensive line.