It was a clash of two top NFL defenses, as the St. Louis Rams faced off against their NFC West rival Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night Football.
Kickers Greg Zuerlein and Chandler Catanzaro kicked a combined six field goals, as Arizona essentially clinched a playoff berth with a 12-6 victory.
Officially, Arizona (11-3) will clinch a playoff berth as long as the Dallas/Philadelphia game this Sunday does not end in a tie.
The Rams, meanwhile, with the loss, drop to 6-8, are knocked out of the playoff race, and have ensured they will not get a winning season for the eleventh straight season (when they went 12-4 in 2003).
One aspect of the St. Louis offense that really struggled on Thursday’s game was the rushing attack. Combined, the Rams only mustered 69 rushing yards on 20 carries. Rookie running back Tre Mason had his worst game since becoming the starting back, with 13 carries for a mere 33 yards, along with a costly fumble in the second quarter, although, it wasn’t nearly as costly as it could have been.
Zuerlein kicked off (no pun intended) the scoring with a 24-yard field goal with 7:01 left in the first quarter, to give St. Louis a 3-0 lead. Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton began successfully driving Arizona down the field, but stalled once they reached the red-zone. Catanzaro kicked a 23-yard field goal to tie the game up at three, and not long after, would kick a 44-yard field goal to give Arizona the 6-3 lead at halftime.
Veteran Shaun Hill just could not get a rhythm going throughout the duration of the game, completing 20 of 39 passes for 229 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception which was thrown to Cardinals’ defensive back Patrick Peterson at the end of the game, and sealed the win for Arizona.
One notable occurrence throughout the game was the amount of pressure being forced on the 12-year pro Hill. Cardinals’ head coach Bruce Arians constructed very unique and effective corner-back blitzes during the game, which played a role in limiting the Rams to two field goals, and less than 300 yards of total offense.
When the Rams first faced the Cardinals earlier in the season, Arizona lost their starting quarterback (Carson Palmer) to a season-ending knee injury.
On Thursday, it happened again.
Drew Stanton went down awkwardly on a sack by defensive tackle Aaron Donald, and while he hobbled off to the sideline, it was later revealed to be an MCL/ACL sprain, and should be back in time for the postseason.
The Rams, meanwhile, have two games left in their season; a home game against the New York Giants, and a road game against the Seattle Seahawks. While it’s to be expected that the Rams will continue to play hard and fight hard through the remaining two weeks, there is no preventing their playoff-drought from extending.
With the loss to Arizona, St. Louis is once again eliminated from the postseason, eliminated from the possibility of having a winning record (something they haven’t had since that 2003 season), and have many question marks regarding who will stay and who will go heading into the 2015 season.
Believe it or not, there is talent on this team. Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald, Chris Long, and Michael Brockers, who all combine to form one of the most dominant defensive fronts in all of football. The secondary has an arsenal of young stars such as T.J McDonald, E.J Gaines, and Janoris Jenkins, among others.
And the offense has play-makers such as Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, and so many others.
If they can just find some stability at the quarterback position, it will be a step in the right direction, and a step fans have waited years to see fully implemented. There’s enough talent, coaching experience, and player potential on the St. Louis Rams to build a winning program for years to come.
The only question that remains is…will they?
(Photo credit: Ryan Leopando)