So I'm going to try to run through these as quickly as possible to get through the season before The Great Flood of Free Agents hits, and all other efforts die a swift death. It won't happen, but hopefully we'll get all 16 games in at some point.
The format I'm going with is pretty simple (NOTE from the end of the story: This format took way too damn long, so something's got to give for the second half). I'll drop notes on each series, pick a key play and an overlooked play with a few extra resource sprinkled in here and there. If you guys have any suggestions, you know I'm all ears. Leggo.
Cardinals, 15:00 1Q (STL 0 - ARI 0)
- After two relatively unimportant plays to open the game, 3rd and 5 is a huge early play. Larry Fitzgerald comes in motion, and Ron Bartell hands the assignment to Kevin Dockery as Fitzgerald cross the field pre-snap. Lined up just outside the right hash mark with a 5-yard cushion, Fitzgerald has noone to his outside. Derek Anderson hits him on the out, and Fitzgerald races up the sideline for 18 yards. Photo breakdown
Even though Fitzgerald is outside of Early Doucet, Dockery is inside of Bradley Fletcher. Not a good start. Also notice Chris Long is a beast. That's how you come off the ball if...
...you want pressure off the edge like this. Back to Fitzgerald and Dockery, though; Dockery, because of his poor positioning, is caught between pursuing Fitzgerald toward the sideline or backing up downfield. His hesitancy allows Fitzgerald to turn with plenty of room to the outside.
Dockery tries to scramble back in position, but once he does, he's too late. By the time he regains coverage and turns his head to spot the ball, it's already in Fitzgerald's hands. In this picture, you can see Dockery looking back for the ball and FItzgerald eying the ball into his hands.
And away we go...
- On that 3rd down play, James Laurinaitis came up the middle on the blitz. On the ensuing first down, both he and Bartell blitz, with Chris Long dropping into coverage. It's an unlucky play call, as Tim Hightower jumps behind Long into space. Anderson easily drops the ball off before the blitz gets to him, and Hightower springs free for another 17.
- The Rams did a solid job clogging up running lanes in this series, allowing just 8 yards on 3 runs.
- The final play is also the key play in the series, and it's one Rams fans might remember well. At the Rams' 22 on 2nd & 8, O.J. Atogwe blitzes and tracks down Hightower from behind, stripping the ball in the process. Fletcher picks it up and takes it all the way down to the Arizona 32 where he's caught from behind by Steve Breaston (who is inarguably the player of this game).
Key stats on series: Three Cardinals runs for 8 yards. Anderson 4-4 on opening drive. Laurinaitis blitzed on three of those four passes.
Key play of series: The aforementioned fumble return. VTRamsFan expertly broke the play down after the game.
Overlooked play of series: The third down conversion to Fitzgerald. It was his only catch of the first half and one of just three in the game.
The rest of the first half after the jump
Rams, 10:50 1Q (STL 0 - ARI 0)
- Sam Bradford takes the field, and immediately delivers. On a PA rollout to the weakside, Bradford waits for Laurent Robinson to turn on the deep hitch and tosses a great ball over the outstretch hand of S Kerry Rhodes into Robinson's hands. The crowd is now happy.
- And that's your highlight for this series. Follow that pass with a 3-yard run by Jackson and two poor throws from Sam. Field goal from the 16-yard line? Blocked...
- The block comes off the left side of the ball. Two Cardinals come at Mike Hoomanawanui, and he tries (and fails) to block both. The crowd is now sad. Circle of life.
Key stats on series: After opening play, Rams have 1st and 10 at the Arizona 19, and don't come away with any points. Bradford just 1-3, while Jackson carries once.
Key play of series: The blocked field goal. That's three points 95% of the time. You can't be in that 5% if you want to win.
Overlooked play of series: The first down run by Steven Jackson. He had lead blockers to the outside, but opted to cut inside for 3 yards. Might have gotten more by rolling behind the big boys.
Cardinals, 9:31 1Q (STL 0 - ARI 0)
- To be fair sports, Arizona lets Fred Robbins come in completely untouched for the sack on first down. Good show of form, gentlemen.
- Anderson dumps off on second and misses his target on third. More notable is the lack of a flag on third down on Brandon Keith who failed to decapitate Chris Long, but only just barely.
Uh, yeah, I guess they just missed this one:
Key stats on series: First three and out of the season and game. First hit on Anderson (more to come).
Key play of series: The first down sack, bringing up 2nd and 19.
Overlooked play of series: The second down play, a dump off to LaRod Stephens-Howling, picks up nearly 10 yards, and gave Arizona a much greater chance to convert on 3rd down.
Rams, 8:05 1Q (STL 0 - ARI 0)
- Pass, pass, pass, pass - No Steven Jackson to see here.
- Bradford kept it very tight on the first three passes: dump off to Mike Karney, a quick screen to Mark Clayton, and hitting Mike Hoomanawanui on an inside-out zig (it was on this play that Hoomanwanui injured his ankle which forced him to miss the next four games).
- Having converted the first down, Bradford looks downfield. He fakes the handoff and sits in a huge pocket with plenty of time, staring down Mark Clayton. By the time he throws (and it doesn't lead Clayton as much as it could have), Adrian Wilson has made his break on the ball. It's a pretty easy interception for Wilson.
Key stats on series: Sam's first interception of the game/season/his career. Was 3 for 3 prior to the interception. No runs for Steven Jackson. Also, the Rams have come out of the huddle in the I formation 50% of all snaps to this point (field goals don't count).
Key play of series: At this point, the interception. In retrospect, Hoomanwanui's injury. He missed the rest of this game and more than a month following.
Overlooked play of series: The first play of the series. Bradford calls hot routes for his two primary receivers and hits Karney for just a couple. It's not a huge play, but it establishes Karney's presence on the field.
Cardinals, 6:27 1Q (STL 0 - ARI 0)
- Blitz you very much. The Rams were all about it, blitzing three plays in a row. It helped blow up the run on first, and certainly affected the pass on second down.
That's Chris Long all up in Derek Anderson's chin on the second down play.
- On third, the Rams brought the house...and Arizona picked it up. Great offensive line play to pick up the eight initial rushers, and it allows Anderson to lob it deep for Fitzgerald. Bartell has the coverage, though, and Arizona has to punt.
Key stats on series: 100% blitz rate. Also, two QB hurries on two passes.
Key play of series: Third down defense. Bartell maintains his role, and the Rams get the ball back.
Overlooked play of series: First down defense. The Rams stuff the run at the line.
Rams, 4:52 1Q (STL 0 - ARI 0)
- Ugh, three and out pain. After a great first down run, Calais Campbell abuses Jason Brown on second down for a sack. Bradford completes a pass to Clayton on the curl on third down, but it's about two yards short of moving the sticks.
Key stats on series: 2nd and 2, no first down. Jackson actually got a touch. No incompletions from Bradford in this incredibly small sample size.
Key play of series: The sack on second down. Third and 10 is not a Shurmur specialty, and it's certainly not the kind of situation you want to put a rookie QB playing his first NFL game in.
Overlooked play of series: The first down run. Great yardage to pick up on the ground to start the drive.
Cardinals, 2:55 1Q (STL 0 - ARI 0)
- Anderson checks down to Hightower after two and a half hours in the pocket. At this point, the 4-man rush isn't making much of an effect. The Rams blitz on second down, and Larry Grant (who had a bad week 1) helps blow up the second down run behind the line of scrimmage. Fred Robbins was hurt on the play.
- On 3rd & 7, Breaston shoots between Dockery (underneath) and Craig Dahl (over the top) to keep the drive going for Arizona. The Rams sent five, blitzing with Justin King and Laurinaitis, but the Cardinals line kept them out well.
- The next three plays are no-go's for Arizona, as the Rams blow up the run on first and Anderson overthrows his targets on 2nd and 3rd downs...but a WEAK defensive holding call against Dockery on third down gives the Cardinals another chance. Boo.
- Derek Anderson makes the most out of the opportunity hitting Early Doucet over the middle for about 20. It was actually a pretty tough throw, as Justin King had decent coverage underneath and both safeties were lurking in the back. The throw barely eluded King's fingertips, and as soon as Doucet made the receptions, both Dahl and Atogwe dropped a shoulder on him. (This is hard to say when referencing Derek Anderson) Good throw.
- After a decent first down run (good pull by Alan Faneca), St. Louis ratchets up the coverage down field. A shot at the end zone never threatens, and a 3rd down dump off doesn't come close. The following field goal finally puts points on the board.
Key stats on series: 10 offensive plays from the Cardinals, with three 3rd down conversions (includes penalty). Broken down, they ran the ball 3 times (for just 2.33 yards/run) and passed seven times (6.29 yards/pass).
Key play of series: The defensive holding extended the series, but the defense at the end of the drive kept the Cards from getting 7. Take your pick.
Overlooked play of series: The fifth play of the drive. Anderson tried to force a ball to Fitzgerald who was loosely surrounded by three Rams. He's actually somewhat lucky the ball didn't end up as an INT.
Rams, 13:47 2Q (STL 0 - ARI 3)
- And here's the Rams' 2010 season in a series. Incomplete pass, 18-yard run, incomplete pass, 7-yard run, 5-yard pass, 3-yard run, sack, incomplete pass, punt. Shoot me.
- The first down play is a mess. Steven Jackson motions out to WR, leaving Kenneth Darby at RB. Jackson is talking & pointing to someone on the sideline as well as setting his stance up as the ball is snapped (the illegal motion penalty would be declined). Bradford gets the ball out almost instantly as he senses the blitz and goes to his blitz release, which would have been Jackson on the slant. Because he's incredibly late off the snap and his feet aren't entirely set, Jackson is nowhere near the pass:
The play's already a second in, Bradford's about to get popped, and AxJax is still on the line. This was just a mess of all sorts.
- On the following play, Jackson gets back to what he does best - pound lanes with conviction. Billy Bajema opens a huge lane for his ball carrier, and Jackson picks up almost 20 yards. Great run.
- Another general note: Adam Goldberg is not a good run blocker. Moving on.
- On what would be the final second down of the drive, Adrian Wilson comes in unblocked on the safety blitz. It's a miscommunication issue, but it gave him a free hit on Bradford and set up a very difficult 3rd and 13.
- And yet the Rams nearly converted. The Cards blitz heavily on the weakside, but the Rams pick it up beautifully. Mark Clayton, on the opposite side, runs a great post behind a confused Michael Adams and in front of a slow-footed Greg Toler. Unfortunately, football rules state you have to actually catch the ball.
No excuse for that one.
Key stats on series: 50% ace, 25% I, 25% shotgun for the 8 offensive plays. Two first downs. And three running plays. Yay balance.
Key play of series: The dropped third down pass. Drive no longer like Johnny 5, as he is alive.
Overlooked play of series: The second down run from Jackson. The Rams drives were (sequentially) five plays, four plays and then four plays long - including special teams. Bradford needed a rhythm, and that first down run was a huge boost.
Cardinals, 10:31 2Q (STL 0 - ARI 3)
- More strong defense from the Rams. Coverage on first down, pressure on second, and yet another gift from Anderson on third down. The D is doing their job...for now.
Key stats on series: 3 and out, 0 yards gained, 100% 3k happiness rate.
Key play of series: Third down. You can tell Anderson and Fitzgerald just aren't in sync at all.
Overlooked play of series: The second down play. Laurinaitis and Dahl both blitzed, forcing an early throw from Anderson. If he had enough time, he probably would have been able to connect with Fitz on the sideline.
Rams, 10:04 2Q (STL 0 - ARI 3)
- Bradford is now clicking with Clayton. Hits him on the hitch for a first down on the first play of the series.
- The offense stalls out until third down. Out of the shotgun with Karney and Jackson alongside, Bradford gets plenty of protection. He waits as Amendola drags across the field and hits him at about the 8-yard mark. Laurent Robinson possibly gets away with a block in the back, opening up a huge alley on the sideline for Amendola who scampers for 35 yards.
- Another failed run on first leads to a quirky play on second down. Bradford rolls out and hits Bajema in the flat, but as he turns, Toler puts his shoulder on the ball (which Bajema was in the process of securing). It pops out, and Dockett appears to fall on it. I say appears, because it squirts out and Bradford ends up with possession. Wacky play.
- On the following third down, Bradford tries to hit Robinson in the corner but overthrows. But hey, finally some points. Josh Brown hits the 46-yard FG, and the Rams are on the board.
Key stats on series: Bradford 3 for 4. Two Jackson rushes for nothing, and a Darby run for 2 yards. No sacks.
Key play of series: The Amendola scamper. It flipped field position - the play started at the St. Louis 39 and ended at the Arizona 25. You could make a case for the fumble recovery too.
Overlooked play of series: The first play of the drive. As I mentioned, Bradford needed to get a rhythm going; this play started it.
Cardinals, 5:22 2Q (STL 3 - ARI 3)
- Punch me in the face. Four runs in a row for 21, 15, 19 and 20 yards respectively. This was disgusting.
- Two things were confusing the Rams. Anderson was essentially handing off after a 270° rotation instead of just 90°. As he took the snap and turned, it was drawing the linebackers to that side. With a slight counter motion, the running back would then accelerate in the opposite direction and take the handoff from Anderson away from that initial movement.
- Secondly, Alan Faneca pulled twice in a row, and the Cardinals used it well. The first time, he takes Na'il Diggs out of the play completely. On the second play, he pulls off, and the Rams defense swarms to try and get around or through him. Instead, the Cardinals run away from him, and with a great outside seal block from Fitzgerald, LaRod Stephens-Howling tears down the sideline before being forced out by Atogwe.
- On the play before the 1-yard touchdown run, Larry Grant and Gary Gibson both miss tackles on Tim Hightower. It was the right play call from Spags and Flajole, but the execution was sorely lacking.
Key stats on series: Five plays, four first downs and a touchdown. Horrible, horrible sequence for the Rams.
Key play of series: The first run. It allowed for more misdirection and confusion throughout the drive, and the Rams looked lost.
Overlooked play of series: I'll go with the second run. It re-established Faneca's presence, and the Rams looked wholly incapable of dealing with him.
Rams, 2:49 2Q (STL 3 - ARI 10)
- A quick screen to Amendola and check down to Fells sets up 3rd and 2 after the 2-minute warning. Inexplicably, Mark Clayton jumps early. On 3rd & 7, Clayton runs the zig, but can't hold on to a high throw from Sam. He was a good two yards short of the first down too.
- At this point, it was hard to be optimistic. With hopes of putting a 1-15 season behind you, this was not the first half the Rams or their fans were hoping for.
Key stats on series: No runs, despite three timeouts. No throws beyond 5 yards.
Key play of series: The false start. At 3rd and 2 with two consecutive completions, Bradford looked like he was settling in. The 2-minute warning and false start killed whatever momentum was building.
Overlooked play of series: Second down. Bradford has plenty of time and scans downfield, but he can't find an open man. Cue the "Rams need a #1 WR" talk.
Cardinals, 1:47 2Q (STL 3 - ARI 10)
- Save for that abysmal series where the Cardinals ran all over the Rams' defense en route to a TD, Spags' D had a pretty good half.
- Laurinaitis killed a first down run 2 yards behind the LOS, and two incompletions intended for Fitzgerald give the ball back to the Rams.
Key stats on series: Just 15 seconds come off the clock, and the 3 and out results in solid field position for the Rams.
Key play of series: On 2nd & 12, the Rams had Fitz blanketed. He should have caught the ball (albeit for just 4 or 5 yards), but he dropped it. He and Anderson look like this is the first time they've ever even seen each other.
Overlooked play of series: Laurinaitis blowing up the run. After the Cardinals ran the ball five times in a row for a touchdown, stopping the run in a situation where the Cardinals would have liked to have been able to move the ball on the ground and eat clock was vital. Also, Laurinaitis is the shit.
Rams, 1:20 2Q (STL 3 - ARI 10)
- With a nod to Vanessa Williams' ear-numbingly annoying 1992 hit, the Rams saved the best for last in this half.
- A very Shurmur playcall to open - a run with less than a minute and a half from the Rams' 37. It was a solid run, picking up 8 yards, but it's the kind of call that, in a few weeks time, would have Rams fans spitting ox blood at the mere mention of their OC's name.
- Bradford would hit Amendola for the first, but his next attempt was affected by Joey Porter who schooled Saffold. Bradford took a solid hit on the play, but bounced up. Rams fans collectively exhaled.
- On second and 10 just beyond midfield, Bradford tosses up a soft pass for Clayton on the corner fade. He adjust his body awkwardly, but comes down with the pass for 40 yards. Pat Shurmur tears that page out of the Rams' playbook, inserts it in his mouth, chews and swallows.
- Three plays later (including two short completions), it's 4th and goal from the 1-yard line with just five seconds before halftime. The Rams show some balls, and keep the field goal unit on the sideline. Alan Branch nearly ends the half with a quick sack as he dives low in a small gap, but Bradford regains his footing and rolls out to the right. As he rolls, Kerry Rhodes backs up to cover Billy Bajema in the corner of the end zone. Bradford sees Laurent Robinson headed toward the vacated space, and fires. Welcome to the NFL, Sam Bradford.
Key stats on series: Finally, a touchdown. Sam went 5 for 7 for 55 yards. Ah, the good times.
Key play of series: The fade to Clayton. A 40-yard pass? Unheard of!
Overlooked play of series: The second play of the series. After the 8-yard run, Amendola scooped a shoestring catch up to earn a first down; it was reviewed and upheld. When it was announced, you could feel the momentum building in the Rams' favor.
Man, that took a hell of a lot longer than I was anticipating. I'll have to switch it up for the second half, but quatever. Good play to end on.