The Arizona Cardinals entered Sunday’s clash against the Los Angeles Rams playing for pride. A belief that future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald was playing his final game in front of the home fans and the cloud of a looming decision on rookie head coach Steve Wilks hung over State Farm Stadium. Unfortunately for those supporting the home team, Arizona suffered another blowout loss at home. It was their second at the hands of the Rams. Today we keep it short and sweet, and look at why the Cardinals received a lump of coal in their holiday stockings.
Fans of the Rams had their pick of seats all around the stadium on Sunday as broadcasts revealed the low turnout in attendance. The Rams ground attack encountered a similar lack of resistance from the Cardinals defense. Los Angeles entered the game without running back Todd Gurley who was kept out of the lineup with a knee injury. The Rams signed veteran running back C.J. Anderson and were rewarded for the decision. He had carried just 24 times through nine games for 104 yards with the Panthers. Anderson was able to average 4.4 yards per carry with limited reps. On Sunday, Anderson ran 167 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown. He averaged 8.3 yards per carry against the Cardinals.
The Cardinals defense was over-matched at the point of attack. Arizona was easily moved around inside as the Rams offensive line opened up large holes even with eight or nine defenders in the box. On one instance, Cardinals punter Andy Lee pinned the Rams offense at their own five yard line. In basic 21 personnel (two tight ends, one running back), Anderson took the hand off heading toward the left A gap. He was not touched by an Arizona defender until the 10-yard line and went for a 46 yard run. At the time, the Cardinals trailed by two scores and a stop could have put them back into the game. The interior of the line got pushed around and failed to get penetration. It was a common theme on Sunday, one which has followed the team all year-long.
Punching Bag Rosen
For the second week in a row fans and media were wondering why rookie quarterback, Josh Rosen, remained in the ball game as the score went south. Rosen was sacked four times on Sunday, three of those coming from All-World defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The Cardinals offensive line had major problems keeping a clean pocket for the Rosen. In total, the Rams had eight hits on the quarterback and flushed the rookie on a handful of other occasions. It was a dominating performance by the Los Angeles pass rush as the Cardinals offensive line were overwhelmed and confused.
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Rosen struggled on the day, finishing with just 87 yards on 12 of 23 passing. The bright spot was his ability to take care of the football while under constant pressure and finding a way to pick himself up every time he hit the turf. For the second straight game, Rosen was pulled late for backup Mike Glennon. This wasn’t an indictment on Rosen but instead the chance to escape from a dreary afternoon and prevent further injury. There was a moment where Cardinals fans held their collective breath as Rosen favored his right arm coming off the field. It was reported as an elbow injury, one which looked like a slight strain after being hit on the play. For Rosen, it was another game in a rough rookie campaign where avoiding a serious injury is enough to celebrate.
A Fitting End
The home finale for the Cardinals was a microcosm of the season for Arizona. Both sides of the ball showed flashes of talent, but proved unable to sustain any type of success, before falling flat and getting embarrassed. Arizona kept it close in the first half despite lacking any offensive success outside of a Fitzgerald touchdown pass to running back David Johnson. He added another 53 yards receiving on six receptions. Fitzgerald accounted for roughly a third of Arizona’s yards on offense. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to assist on the defensive end.
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Arizona’s defense spent nearly two-thirds of the game on the field. The Cardinals offense failed to control the football and the defense failed to show up in the second half. It was another blowout loss in a season filled with blowout losses. Arizona has now lost five games in 2018 by 20 or more points. With just one game remaining, the Cardinals have been outscored 398-201, an average of 13 points per game. It is scary to think the Cardinals still have a game on the road in Seattle to finish the season. Both sides of the ball failed miserably against the Rams, just as they have through most of the season.
What Happens Next
Hours before kickoff, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Cardinals planned to fire head coach Steve Wilks once the season ended. It had become an expected development, one many fans have clamored for over the past few weeks. It will likely be the final game for many as part of the Cardinals franchise. Arizona finishes against the Seahawks and can clinch the top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft with a loss. The way 2018 has gone, expect a Cardinals victory and a slide down the draft board.