ReFo: ARZ @ STL, Week 1
Ben Stockwell looks at a dynamite performance from Robert Quinn, the improved situation a QB for the Cardinals, and Jared Cook's breakout performance in the ReFocused.
ReFo: ARZ @ STL, Week 1
The two teams lurking in the shadows of the NFC West got their regular season schedules underway with an entertaining encounter in St Louis. The game didn’t necessarily have everything but it had an awful lot. Spectacular catches, dominant pass rushing, great defensive effort and a pick six from a nose tackle; could you ask for much more from a season opener?
Well if you are a fan of the Arizona Cardinals then you could hope for a win but it was the Rams who came out on top in this one even though they didn’t make as much of their opportunities off of turnovers as the Cardinals managed. To an extent the Rams made harder work of this than they needed to but both showed signs of improvement from last season, while also showing the areas that will likely keep them behind the elite of the division in Seattle and San Francisco.
For the Cardinals in particular it would have been hard not to upgrade their quarterback debacle from last season, but Carson Palmer showed glimpses of a chemistry with the Cardinals’ talented receiving corps that could lead to great things for Arizona fans, and anyone who has them on their fantasy team this season. With positives and negatives to dig into here are the takeaway points from this first NFC West divisional game of the 2013 season.
Arizona – Three Performances of Note
Mathieu Makes a Positive First Impression
First impressions are pivotal in all aspects of life and for a player coming from a troubled past 12 months, Tyrann Mathieu (+0.8)couldn’t have made a better first impression with Arizona fans. On the Rams’ second series Jared Cook got in behind Karlos Dansby, down the middle between the safeties, and looked to be steaming to the end zone for his own good first impression. Showing great effort and hustle, Mathieu not only ran Cook down but got a hand in to punch the ball out, forcing a fumble that led to a touchback. Not just a tremendous effort play from a player with plenty to prove, but a player with a reputation for being a playmaker in college doing just that in his first quarter of action in the NFL. Mathieu was plenty busy the rest of the way as he logged 42 snaps and seven tackles. He did miss a tackle and lost track of Tavon Austin on a deep-route that led to a pass interference penalty but he can be pleased enough with a solid first outing with the Cardinals.
Palmer and Company Off to a Fast Start
This time last year the Cardinals were coming off an opening week victory, but the quarterback position is in an immeasurably healthier position in 2013. Carson Palmer fed the ball into Larry Fitzgerald (+3.0 receiving) getting him 14 targets but unlike last season he got him the ball accurately and allowed Fitzgerald to do the sort of damage we all know he is capable of. Palmer also got the ball down the field to Michael Floyd who came up with just one of the game’s spectacular catches, giving the former first round pick a strong start to his second season. Rounding out the trio of targets for Palmer was Andre Roberts (+3.9 receiving) who was efficient on his 9 targets (8 receptions, 97 yards) and consistently came up with tough catches to keep the chains moving. Roberts came up with seven first downs and one of his two that didn’t pick up a first down collected 16 yards on a tough sideline catch as T.J. McDonald closed for a hit. Even the continuing poor pass protection up front couldn’t derail a promising start from a revamped passing attack.
Answers Still Needed Up Front
Speaking of that poor offensive line play it only seems fair to devote a section of this article to the Cardinals’ continuing struggles in the trenches. Every single offensive lineman graded negatively overall while only Daryn Colledge (+1.3) and Lyle Sendlein (+0.2) graded positively in pass protection. Each tackle surrendered five pressures with Levi Brown (-2.8) and Eric Winston (-3.8) getting 2013 off to rough starts against the Rams hard charging defensive ends. The offensive line let up pressure on 15 of the 44 drop-backs but there were multiple defenders getting pressure on a number of those plays to make that pressure appear much worse. In addition to the struggles in pass protection the run blocking was poor to boot with Colledge (-3.4 run blocking) in particular struggling. Only Brown (+1.1) took any credit for his run blocking performance. Calling this line a work in progress would be generous.
St Louis – Three Performances of Note
Robert Quinn’s Favorite Opponents
You can’t totally fault the start that Robert Quinn (+8.2) made to the season against the Cardinals, but I bet he wishes he could play them every week. Last season Quinn’s highest grade of the season by far was his +8.0 mark at home to the Cardinals, a game in which he took D’Anthony Batiste to pieces in a similar fashion to what he did to Levi Brown. Matching his sack and hit total from that game, Quinn fell short of the six hurries he added but the two forced fumbles from this game should make up for that drop off. There is no bad thing to say about Quinn’s display, he destroyed Levi Brown on his return to an NFL field after missing the 2012 season. However, we now need to see him do this against other opponents. Quinn’s next highest grade last season was +4.3 against Green Bay and he only graded positive in one other game. Is this game against Arizona the first act of a breakout season or will this be another false dawn?
Other Defensive Stalwarts Struggle
While Robert Quinn was amassing another haul of pressure at the Cardinals’ expense, a couple of the Rams’ veteran defenders were having a tough opener. At corner Cortland Finnegan (-6.3) struggled desperately with his coverage, his run defense and his discipline. He and fellow starting corner Janoris Jenkins (+1.9 coverage) both surrendered 2 receptions including a touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald. But while Jenkins also registered two pass defenses and had four incompletions on six targets to Fitzgerald, Finnegan let up both targets for 28 yards. For the game Finnegan let up 96 yards on seven targets, surrendering first downs or a touchdown with each reception. Not alone with his Week 1 struggles James Laurinaitis (-3.3) also got off to a particularly poor start, especially in coverage where he was caught out in play action too often opening up the middle of the field to Carson Palmer.
Cook Rebounds From a Rough Start
I started out these performances of note talking about Tyrann Mathieu’s first impression stealing away a touchdown and a great first impression from Jared Cook. Well the Rams’ new signing at tight end certainly rebounded to get the start he would have been hoping for. After the amount of money they handed to him, Cook was always likely to be a featured target and his 10 targets are sure to get tongues wagging about a big season ahead. Getting a lot of joy against Cardinals’ linebackers Cook made good on the athletic mismatch that the Titans’ struggled to make best use of in his time in Tennessee. While his run blocking was poor (-2.4) which hurt his overall grade he will be excused that to an extent by Rams fans if he continues to make this sort of impact in the passing game.
-First round pick Tavon Austin registered 45 snaps off of the bench and snagged four of his five targets from the slot for 30 yards.
-What a difference 12 months makes; this time last year Darnell Dockett opened the season with 10 pressures (3 Ht, 7 Hu) and six stops against the Seahawks, earning a +9.8 overall grade. Yesterday he got just one hurry, missed a tackle and a earned a -6.2 overall grade.
–Michael Brockers notched the highest run defense grade of the game at +3.7 with three stops in a disruptive display at the heart of the Rams’ defensive line.
PFF Game Ball
You can only beat what’s put in front of you and Robert Quinn did just that, consistently, and while maximizing the pressure he got at every turn.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.