NFC West: Rams-Cardinals

Rams' Long definitely made strides

January, 22, 2010
1/22/10
2:02
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A confession: I spent some of Thursday night re-watching the Week 16 game between the Rams and Cardinals.

Chris Long bordered on dominant at times, a reminder that the 2008 first-round choice showed improvement during his second season with the Rams.

Six plays stood out. I've broken them down in the chart.

Silver linings: Rams at Cardinals

December, 28, 2009
12/28/09
9:57
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The facts: The Rams fell to 1-14 with a 31-10 road defeat to the Cardinals in Week 16.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • The Rams got pressure on Kurt Warner even though they were without both starting defensive ends.
  • Chris Long collected his fifth sack in the Rams' last eight games. He has 5.0 for the season, one more than he had as a rookie in 2008.
  • The Rams converted 43 percent of the time on third down, a higher conversion rate than the Cardinals managed.
  • Receiver Brandon Gibson made an acrobatic grab for a 21-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
  • Rookie Chris Ogbonnaya had an 18-yard run in his regular-season debut.
  • The Rams downed four of Donnie Jones' five punts inside the 20.
  • The Rams held Larry Fitzgerald without a catch longer than 12 yards.
Looking ahead: The Rams face the 49ers at home in Week 17.

Wrap-up: Cardinals 31, Rams 10

December, 27, 2009
12/27/09
7:03
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The Cardinals reached a significant milestone by claiming their 10th victory of the season, their first season since 1976 with double-digit victories.

They will likely emerge as the fourth seed in the NFC, but there's a chance they could claim the second or third seed.

As the fourth seed, the Cardinals could face the Packers in the wild-card round. Green Bay visits Arizona in Week 17, leading to potentially intriguing scenarios. For Arizona, beating the Packers in Week 17 could conceivably head off a rematch a week later.

The Cardinals are a bit difficult to figure right now. They're clearly less explosive offensively than they were last season, but they are winning more consistently and by more varied means. And their running game is superior.

The Rams made Arizona work three-plus quarters for the victory even though Steven Jackson did not play. Brandon Gibson's leaping touchdown grab provided a rare highlight in the passing game for St. Louis. Still, the Cardinals were never seriously threatened.

The Rams moved closer to securing the No. 1 overall choice in the 2010 draft after Tampa Bay upset New Orleans. The Lions are also in the running. Strength of schedule, not head-to-head results, determines draft order for teams with the same records.

Gibson's acrobatic TD grab helps Rams

December, 27, 2009
12/27/09
5:51
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Rams fans looking for signs of improvement can cling to Brandon Gibson's leaping grab for a 21-yard touchdown reception at Arizona.

Officials initially ruled Gibson out of bounds. The ruling changed on a replay reversal.

This was probably the most impressive play by a Rams wide receiver all season. The Rams need to see these sorts of plays from some of their younger players. Gibson, acquired from the Eagles during the season, definitely looks the part.

Rams make right call with Null

December, 27, 2009
12/27/09
4:07
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Keith Null is starting at quarterback for the Rams ahead of Kyle Boller.

That makes sense.

Rams' Jackson inactive against Cardinals

December, 27, 2009
12/27/09
2:45
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The Rams have named running back Steven Jackson inactive against Arizona, a move that protects Jackson from his own resolve to play.

Jackson
Jackson has fought through a herniated disc in his back, finding ways to play on Sundays after missing practice throughout the week.

Jackson surely would have given it a shot against Arizona if left active. Running behind a depleted offensive line was making his job even tougher and exposing Jackson to additional punishment.

Samkon Gado starts for Jackson.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The more I watch the Cardinals, the more I wonder whether they'll draft a tight end in the first few rounds of the next draft.

Leonard Pope, Ben Patrick, Stephen Spach and Jerame Tuman each offer one or more skills the Cardinals find valuable. Finding one well-rounded tight end might make this offense even more effective, particularly in opening up running lanes. Another part of me thinks the Cardinals' style of offense simply doesn't lend itself to becoming a strong running team.

The Cardinals never thought they would be designing pass plays for Spach this season. They did so against the Rams. Overall, Arizona used one or more tight ends for about 70 percent of the snaps against the Rams, a high figure for a team that regularly uses four-receiver packages.

The Cardinals averaged 11.7 yards per pass attempt with one back, three receivers and a tight end. This was their preferred grouping on second down. Warner completed 7 of 7 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown from this group on second down alone. This included passes of 8 and 7 yards for Spach. Arizona gained 3 yards in three carries from this group (also on second down). Imagine if the Cardinals added a top-flight tight end.

Overall, the Cardinals would be more adaptable, in my view, if they could move the ball effectively by ground and air without using three- and four-receiver groupings so frequently. They averaged 6.0 yards per carry against the Rams on eight rushes with two backs, two receivers and a tight end. Four pass plays from this group produced one completion for zero yards. Arizona has previously put up good passing numbers from this group, albeit with a very small sample size. Warner seems most comfortable spreading the field.

Note: Download the Cardinals' full personnel report for Week 13 right here.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Hayes

The Cardinals' defense scored more points than the Rams' offense during Arizona's division-clinching victory over St. Louis in Week 14.

Linebacker Gerald Hayes didn't find the end zone, but he helped the Cardinals get there with two forced fumbles. Darnell Dockett returned one of the fumbles for a touchdown. Teammate Karlos Dansby recovered the other fumble.

The league responded by naming Hayes its defensive player of the week for the NFC. Hayes finished the game with 11 tackles, a half-sack and one tackle for loss.

You called it: Make room on Wall of Fame

December, 8, 2008
12/08/08
12:20
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Move over, Elion245 and Leesters. Time to make room on the Wall of Fame for habitat730, who predicted the Cardinals' 34-10 victory over the Rams in the "You called it" for Week 14.

Sixty-one people predicted at least one NFC West outcome correctly. Of those, only habitat730 predicted the score exactly. The updated WOF:

  • Elion245. Forecast the Redskins' 20-17 victory over the Seahawks in Week 12.
  • Leesters. Forecast the Bears' 27-3 victory over the Rams in Week 12.
  • habitat730. Forecast the Cardinals' 34-10 victory over the Rams in We 12.

We had a few close calls this week. Digitool predicted a 23-21 victory for the Patriots over the Seahawks (24-21 actual score). Gamos34 predicted a 24-13 victory for the 49ers over the Jets (24-14 actual score).

Twenty-five people predicted all three outcomes involving NFC West teams. Of those, gamos34 came closest on average to hitting all three scores. Gamos34's predictions: Cardinals 31-10, Patriots 27-17, 49ers 24-13. That equated to missing each score by an average of 3.7 points per game. Well done.

Guardian hawk came within five points per game: Cardinals 31-10, Patriots 24-13, 49ers 21-13. TheRooster58 came within 5.7 points per game (Cardinals 34-13, Patriots 23-17, 49ers 27-20) before crowing about it in the comments section: "wow, aside from the seattle game, I'd say i did pretty good."

Six people came within three points of hitting the Rams-Cardinals score. Gamer929 was one of them. "If Josh Brown didn't miss that field goal," Gamer929 wrote, "I would have been right on with the Cards Rams game. I will hate him even more, leave Seattle, now this?"

Thanks for playing. We'll start taking predictions for Week 15 later in the week.

The fine print: Those submitting predictions must pick the winner correctly for their scores to be considered. Scoring is easy to calculate. The difference between a 20-17 prediction and a 31-14 outcome would be 14 points. We would calculate this by adding the difference between 20 and 31 to the difference between 17 and 14.

Silver linings: Rams at Cardinals

December, 8, 2008
12/08/08
10:07
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The facts: The Rams' record fell to 2-11 following a 34-10 road defeat to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 14.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.

  • Rams cornerback Ron Bartell picked off a pass to set up the Rams' lone touchdown. Bartell has generally played well this season.
  • Derek Stanley gained 33 yards on his lone punt return. He also had a 34-yard kickoff return.
  • Torry Holt reached five receptions in a game for the fifth time this season. His overall numbers are down, but Holt has 50 receptions for the 10th time in 10 NFL seasons.
  • Officials assessed only one penalty against the Rams, easily a season low. Yes, guard Richie Incognito was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, but the penalty was offsetting, so it didn't hurt the Rams. Officials had assessed 21 penalties against the Rams over their three previous games.
Looking ahead: The Rams face the Seahawks at the Edward Jones Dome in Week 15.

Around the NFC West: Rams hand it over

December, 8, 2008
12/08/08
9:31
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says St. Louis watched its former quarterback and former team celebrate a division title. Torry Holt says he's happy for Kurt Warner.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Cardinals' title-clinching victory over the Rams was a surreal experience for someone from St. Louis.

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says the Rams handed a division title to the Cardinals. Gordon: "Losing to the Cardinals was nothing new. Our Town's old team, still owned by William V. (For Victory) Bidwill, spanked the Rams, 34-13, earlier this season at The Ed."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Steven Jackson took responsibility for his fumbles, acknowledging that he was trying to get something going against a tough run defense.

Also from Coats: A report card featuring a C-plus grade for Marc Bulger and a B-minus grade for the Rams' coaching staff.

Steve Korte of Ramblings offers a report card featuring a B-minus grade for the Rams' linebackers.

3k of Turf Show Times gives the Rams' offensive line an A-minus grade even though the running game never got going.

Around the NFC West: Cards break through

December, 8, 2008
12/08/08
8:59
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Edgerrin James proved there's still a place for him in the Cardinals' offense.

More from Somers: The Cardinals weren't sure how to react after finally winning a division title.

Also from Somers: James says it's "not about me" in reference to his diminished role this season.

Still more from Somers: The Cardinals' offense wasn't at its best, with Kurt Warner missing open receivers, throwing an interception and suffering two more delay-of-game penalties.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic dedicates the Cardinals' victory to long-suffering fans who sat through years of losing. Bickley gives much of the credit to team president Michael Bidwill.

Also from Bickley: A quick look at the play of the game, courtesy of linebacker Gerald Hayes.

Richard Obert of the Arizona Republic says the Arizona defense made the key plays in putting away the Rams. Hayes forced two Steven Jackson fumbles in a span of three plays. Darnell Dockett returned the second fumble for a touchdown.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the setting was perfect for the Cardinals, playing at home on alumni weekend, to celebrate their NFC West title.

Also from Urban: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's 99-yard interception return put an exclamation point on the victory.

More from Urban: Winning a division title brought out the emotions in Adrian Wilson, who has suffered through some tough seasons in Arizona.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune says the Cardinals might have killed their losing culture by winning a division title.

Also from Tulumello: The Cardinals' offense did not score in the second half. Not that it mattered.

Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune counts the ways Arizona made progress through its victory.

Rapid Reaction: Cardinals 34, Rams 10

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
7:12
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals are finally NFC West champions and they won't be apologizing for taking longer than expected to wrap up the division title.

Handing the Rams their 11th defeat in 13 games doesn't suddenly remake the Cardinals into an NFC favorite. But with a 5-1 record at University of Phoenix Stadium, Arizona takes renewed confidence into its Week 15 home game against the Vikings.

Arizona continued to struggle running the football from a numbers standpoint despite enjoying moderate success on its opening drive. But with Kurt Warner completing better than 70 percent of his passes, the passing game appears closer to finding a rhythm.

The Cardinals will need more of the same against the Vikings, particularly if Minnesota defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams continue to elude an NFL suspension.

The Vikings and Cardinals are fighting for the third seed in the NFC race. The outcome of their game could determine which team would face the top seed in the division round, should either team prevail in a first-round game.

About that Arizona ground game

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
4:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals ran the ball six times for 40 yards on their opening 76-yard touchdown drive against the Rams, mixing J.J. Arrington and Tim Hightower.

Running the ball against St. Louis would not distinguish the Cardinals from other teams, but any yards on the ground count as progress for Arizona, regardless of the opponent. Handing off six times in 10 plays to open the game suggests the Cardinals agree.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Some tweaking has taken the usual postgame breakdowns to another level in terms of analyzing personnel use across situations.

I'll offer for download a reworked version of the Cardinals' personnel breakdown against the Rams from Week 9 this season. We can now match production across personnel groups to down (and distance for third downs).

Example: We can now see that Arizona used the four-receiver package featuring J.J. Arrington five times on first down, once on second down and three times on third down. Within the third-down group, we see Arizona used it once on third-and-3 to third-and-6, twice on third-and-7 to third-and-10 and once from third-and-11 or longer.

We see that Tim Hightower's involvement with this personnel group featured five of six plays on first or second down. We can also see how the Cardinals used their one-back, three-receiver offense -- mostly on second down and mostly with Hightower.

When you compare this information across groups, you get a more nuanced look at how a team uses its players on offense. I have also added breakdowns focusing on I-formation, offset-I, empty backfields, split backfields, etc. Those are toward the bottom of the sheet.

The next project is setting up a file that will allow for this type of analysis across a full season. It's just a matter of tweaking some formulas as time permits. As always, your ideas are appreciated. I added the I-formation and offset-I features on request and can generally add other features within reason.

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