I know it’s rather early to say this but spending nearly two days of my life with this game convinced me it was very much a battle of the also-rans. There were weaknesses in abundance on both sides, although there were also a few unexpected areas that provided highlights. Most notable in the good news column was the Rams’ secondary, which, despite hardly ever getting pressure from just the front four, held up well.
Losing four fumbles may suggest Arizona should have won this with ease, but that’s really not the case. Barring one unbelievable drive — on which they ran the ball five times for 76 yards and a TD as St. Louis all but forgot its defensive ends and linebackers had responsibility for outside contain — the running game was average and the defense struggled to get to the QB without bringing blitzes.
In addition, although the basic statistics say otherwise, the Cardinals’ QB had a very poor day. Here’s why:
Derek Anderson went 22 of 41 for 298 yards, a TD and no interceptions. Not a bad start, many may say, but this is another example of statistics lying. They don’t tell you about the three balls he threw behind his receivers, his two under-throws, another two that sailed and the three times he threw into traffic (two of which were dropped by defenders). Simply put, he was all over the place. A good indication of how good a QB really is by looking at what he does in the area between the numbers up to 10 yards — it’s usually the areas where most rookies struggle, as they haven’t got either the savvy to understand what’s going on or the touch required if they do. Here Anderson rated an awful -2.5.
On the other side of the ball, things were even worse for OLB Clark Haggans. He can be an in-and-out player but he rated -5.7 and we’ve never graded him so low previously. The 17 times he dropped in coverage he did OK, but he got very little pressure from 40 rushes (a hit and a hurry) and didn’t honor his run-stopping responsibilities (-1.7). Given his previous inconsistent play he may bounce straight back, but making Joey Porter look threatening is a feat not many can achieve.
A positive for Arizona was the play of CB Greg Toler. The team has been searching for a partner for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for some time and initial indications of finding their man were promising. He did little that was spectacular but was solid in all aspects of play, from run support (+0.2) to coverage, where he was thrown at a whopping 14 times. He gave up 8 receptions and some yardage (78) but one 39-yarder aside, it was all in front of him.
If Anderson’s numbers outright lied, then Sam Bradford‘s told a few untruths as well. Including his 3 interceptions, he didn’t make anywhere near as many bad throws as Anderson and rarely looked like a rookie. Of the picks, only the first one could be labeled truly bad — the latter two were due more to having to force the pace than any bad decision on his part. Also considering he had 5 of his passes dropped, his play could generally be characterized as calm, solid and perhaps a little conservative but overall very positive for the future.
The offensive line will have much stiffer tests than the Cardinals’ pass rush but again the signs were positive, with no lineman grading lower than -1.9 (Jason Brown). Indeed, the play of RT Jason Smith was a significant positive for the Rams. He held Haggans (and the other left-side rushers) to a single hit on 58 pass drops, and with that performance was our top-rated tackle in Week 1 with a +2.4 grade.
DRE James Hall is 33 years old but still plays almost every snap. He comes inside on passing downs to DRT and will always generate some pressure just based on veteran nous and persistence. That said, it doesn’t look like he’ll be flying around the edge on even the least nimble-footed left tackles this year. Here he got a hit and 2 hurries on 38 rushes. But one pressure was an inside bull rush, another came on a stunt, and the hit that came around the edge was against Levi Brown and of the 3.5 second variety. This wouldn’t be too much of an issue if he wasn’t still one of the team’s two best pass-rushers. Or his run defense held up. But in this game he struggled there, too, with a -1.9 rating.
For Arizona, Dan Williams rotated at NT with Bryan Robinson. He got 17 plays and did OK in all areas. The other draft picks to see the field were Daryl Washington, who started at LILB and had a good first day at the office (+1.9 overall), and reserve TE Jim Dray, who was used on special teams. In addition, free agent WR Stephen Williams not only made the roster but saw 14 plays on offense and was targeted twice without making a catch.
St. Louis had four other draft picks beyond Bradford get on the field for non-special teams plays. Rodger Saffold started at LT and played well for a first game, WR Mardy Gilyard got nine snaps but no catches, TE Michael Hoomanawanui was in for four of the first seven offensive plays (1 reception for 8 yards) before getting injured and George Selvie came at DRE on passing downs.
Toler and Rodgers-Cromartie played the first half almost exclusively at LCB and RCB, respectively, before swapping and doing the reverse for the second.