ReFo: Cardinals @ Rams, Week 15
The Arizona Cardinals moved a step closer to their first playoff berth since 2009 last night with a hard-fought, and at times just plain ugly, win over the St. Louis Rams. Two teams built on strong defenses and shaky offenses conspired to give us the NFL’s first touchdown-less game for two years with rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro taking all four of his opportunities to ensure the Cardinals will stay at least a game ahead of the Seahawks in the NFC West.
For the Rams, this was another disappointing defeat to show off both the promise of their defense but also how devoid of life and ideas they are on the offensive side to balance that. Rookies Aaron Donald and E.J. Gaines shone again but a futile offensive performance saw them slip to 6-8, ensuring that the franchise’s streak without a winning record will stretch to 11 seasons.
Arizona Cardinals – Performances of Note
Frostee Rucker, DE: +4.6
Breakdown: Not renowned for his work as a pass rusher Rucker has put in two strong games getting after the quarterback in five days. Backing up a two-sack display against the Chiefs on Sunday, Rucker collected three pressures last night (1 Sk, 2 Hu) and was stout against the run, registering three stops including the fumble forced from Tre Mason late in the first quarter.
Signature Play: Rucker had the beating of Davin Joseph all night, registering his sack at Q3 4.14 fighting through Joseph’s attempt to hold him to take down Shaun Hill.
Patrick Peterson, CB: +1.8
Breakdown: This has been a tough season for Peterson but he took advantage of a favorable matchup against an anemic passing attack to post the kind of figures that people would expect to see more often. Giving up 22 of his 32 yards on one catch to Kenny Britt when the Rams receiver beat him immediately off the line of scrimmage, Peterson only surrendered one more catch on eight targets.
Signature Stat: In two games against the Rams this season Peterson has intercepted as many passes as he has allowed completions; 3/14 for 37 yards and three picks.
Chandler Catanzaro, K: +1.5
Breakdown: When your offense isn’t punching the ball across the goal line you need your kicker to pick you up and Catanzaro did just that, nailing all four field goals with three of those from beyond 40 yards. This was a welcome return to form for the rookie who clanged two kicks from inside 40 off the uprights on Sunday against the Chiefs.
Signature Stat: For the season Catanzaro is 12-of-14 from beyond 40 yards.
St. Louis Rams – Performances of Note
Aaron Donald, DT: +3.4
Breakdown: Entering last night’s game as our top-graded defensive tackle, Donald extended the gap with one of his best pass rushing games of the season. Working against all three of the Cardinals’ interior offensive linemen, Donald collected four pressures (1 Sk, 3 Hu) and had the beating of Jonathan Cooper another couple of times without being able to finish for a pressure.
Signature Stat: Showing no signs of hitting the rookie wall, Donald has earned three of his five highest grades of the season since Week 10.
Davin Joseph, RG: -6.3
Breakdown: Joseph’s foray into our Team of the Week for his display against San Diego in Week 12 is disappearing in the rearview mirror at this point with three straight negatively-graded games a return to all too familiar form. Starting badly — surrendering a tackle for loss to Frostee Rucker early in the first quarter — it rarely got better for Joseph who gave up as many pressures last night (four) as he had in his last six starts combined.
Signature Stat: His stellar display against the Chargers was one of only two positively graded starts all season for Joseph, which compares to six starts that earned an overall grade of -2.5 or worse.
E.J. Gaines, CB: +1.1
Breakdown: But for a missed tackle on Kerwynn Williams late in the third quarter this grade would have been even higher with Gaines shining in coverage once again. Targeted six times he surrendered five catches but at less than 4 yards per reception. The Cardinals’ passing game centered around getting the ball into Larry Fitzgerald’s hands on short passes and Gaines limited him to three catches for 9 yards when he was in primary coverage.
Signature Stat: With two games to play, Gaines has the second-highest overall grade of any rookie corner, his +5.3 season grade trails only K’Waun Williams’ +6.3 on 600 fewer snaps than Gaines.
PFF Game Ball
The Cardinals won this game in the trenches and Frostee Rucker led the way on defense with his highest-graded performance since Week 7 of 2009 (+5.4 against the Bears).
Follow Ben on Twitter: @PFF_Ben