After a long week following their tough road loss in Seattle, the Cardinals were poised to rebound in the NFC West against the St. Louis Rams. The St. Louis squad experienced a rough week as well. They were sent reeling following their loss to the 49ers, a team most predict to be the divisional cellar-dweller. Rams players offered no explanation for their dismal performance, most merely regurgitating the tired line of "on any given Sunday". It was obvious that they were stewing and were licking their chops at the chance of redemption versus Arizona. Both teams' Week 2 disappointment, coupled with the fact that this was a critical early season divisional match-up, made for an electric atmosphere.
The fireworks began immediately as KR Bryant Johnson fielded the opening kickoff at his own 3 and took it back to the Rams' 38-yard line. Unfortunately, the Cardinals were limited to only 3 plays after RB Edgerrin James was stuffed 2 yards behind the line on a 3rd-and-inches by LB Dexter Coakley. Arizona settled for a 48-yard Neil Rackers field goal to take the early 3-0 lead.
The Rams' first series began at their own 26, but quickly crossed in Cardinals' territory on a pass from QB Marc Bulger to WR Torry Holt down to the 42. After the big first play, the Cards' defense stiffened, with DT Kendrick Clancy making a tackle on RB Steven Jackson behind the line. That was followed by an incomplete screen attempt by Bulger, setting up a 3rd and long attempt. With LB James Darling applying heavy pressure on the blitz, Bulger forced a ill-advised pass in the direction of WR Isaac Bruce that was intercepted by CB Antrel Rolle and returned to the Rams' 45. Again, the Cardinals offense was unable to take advantage of the short field provided to them.
QB Kurt Warner's woes continued as he didn't complete a pass until the 11:15 mark in the 2nd quarter. On his first pass attempt, Warner's lack of mobility was evident, as he was hurried into a poor throw even with good protection up front. Dexter Coakley was the recipient of this gift, erasing Bulger's mistake and setting the St. Louis offense up at the Arizona 25. Coakley enjoyed a career day, issuing 13 tackles (2 sacks) as well as collecting a Marcel Shipp fumble to go along with the interception. Fortunately for the Cards, he was the only Rams player to shine in this contest.
St. Louis' front five was unable to hold the Arizona defensive line in check, as DL Leonard Little single-handedly pushed the offense out of field goal range with back-to-back sacks of Bulger. These were followed by LB Karlos Dansby's acrobatic defense of a pass intended for Holt near the goalline. Dansby saved the lead for Arizona after CB David Macklin blew the coverage and looking very confused in the process. After the stop, both teams traded punts and neither team came close to scoring again until the 2-minute warning. RB Edgerrin James took a handoff on 2nd and short from his own 35 and carried the ball to the Rams 12 before SS Corey Chavous was able to take him down. After the stoppage, TE Leonard Pope was on the receiving end of Warner's throw for the first TD of his NFL career.
When the teams took the field following the intermission, it was obvious that St. Louis was going to be fighting an uphill battle. The Cardinals defense stepped their game up, shutting down the Rams' offensive attack and only allowing one drive to march past the 50. On that drive, the visiting team was only able to get as far as the Arizona 32, where they were forced to settle for a 50 yard FG by K Jeff Wilkins. They wouldn't score again in the game. Again, Dennis Green employed the ball-control philosophy with the second-half lead, riding James (26 carries - 95 yards) and Shipp (11 carries - 67 yards, 1 TD) to the victory. Warner finished on 11-24 passing for 143 yards.
Cardinals win 17-3
The Cardinals venture outside of the NFC West for the first time when they travel to Atlanta to face the 3-0 Falcons. The Cardinals will have their hands full in this one with the key task being to slow the Vick-attack. The offense will certainly have to step it up if they hope to keep pace with this high-octane assault on turf. Coach Green knows that his team hasn't played a game yet this year in which their effort would have been enough to beat this foe. He can only hope that his receiving corps will have time to stretch the field against an aggressive Falcon squad.