Image by Rachel Wong
OK, Rams fans. You want the good news or the bad news first?
All right, good news first: The Rams won. 3-1 is way more fun than 2-2. The Rams are tied for first in the NFC West, thanks to that 17-13 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Bad news: They really shouldn’t have won. In a reasonable world, they’d be at .500 right now. That sounds a bit harsh, so maybe some details should help clarify things. Let’s start with the positives:
How about that Brian Quick? The fifth-year starting WR has had a fairly inconspicuous career so far, never scoring more than three touchdowns in a season, according to Pro-Football Reference. Well, thanks to his clutch performance in week four, Quick has already tied that number with two touchdowns against the Cards, to add on to the one he scored the week before in Tampa Bay. It’s always nice to have some new weapons at your disposal.
It certainly helped that Case Keenum had a solid day, with a 111.2 passer rating and no interceptions, as well as the two aforementioned touchdown passes. Sure, it wasn’t Peyton — or even Eli, but probably better than Cooper — Manning-esque, and his stellar receivers inflated those stats. But for a man who’s essentially a placeholder until golden boy Jared Goff steps in next year (or sooner), it’ll do just fine.
Of course, the defensive line was stellar as per usual. Is that news anymore? DT Aaron Donald got 1.5 sacks and forced a fumble. I mean, that’s just what he does. Nothing to see here. DE Robert Quinn took a massive hit, got injured and still managed to come back before halftime. The man is made of steel, but Rams fans probably knew that.
What’s really surprising is how the Rams secondary, probably the defense’s weakest unit, came through when needed. CB Tremaine Johnson earned his first interception of the year from Arizona QB Carson Palmer, and after Palmer got taken out due to a concussion (he’ll probably return for week 5), Mark Barron had a pass from the Cards’ backup, Drew Stanton, gift-wrapped to him.
And let’s not forget, this wasn’t any team the Rams beat. It was the Cardinals, many experts’ favorite to win the division or the NFC, from sources as varied as CBS, to Bleacher Report, to SB Nation. Arizona is one of a few NFC teams that has been consistently great throughout the decade. A team that this writer picked to win the Super Bowl. So this is a huge statement win, right? Well…
The Cardinals might not be as incredible as we thought they were going to be. They now have a 1-3 record. Sure, one of those losses was to the Patriots, but the second was to the wildly unpredictable Bills. It certainly doesn’t help their championship odds now that their semi-elite QB Carson Palmer is injured. Honestly, he probably would have been able to make that miraculous 4th quarter comeback that Drew Stanton belly-flopped on. So let’s not pretend like this win was against the 1985 Bears or anything. It was more the equivalent of a win against the… I dunno, some mediocre team nobody remembers. The 1995 Bears? Sure, that works.
Let’s not forget that the Rams still employ possibly the worst tenured coach in the NFL. Based on the way Jeff Fisher coached, I wouldn’t be shocked if he secretly had money on Arizona (or was trying to get fired). He challenged two clearly incomplete passes, both of which he lost a timeout on. The two lost timeouts didn’t turn out to be necessary later in the game, but you won’t always get this lucky.
Fisher also seems to have a problem getting his players to stop committing penalties at the worst possible times. There were multiple instances, from both teams, where a fantastic offensive play from Case Keenum had to be dragged back thanks to a bonehead penalty.
Since 2010, the Rams have been one of the NFL’s top-10 most penalized teams, and even led the league in flags in 2012, according to The Football Database. I’m shocked that these rookie mistakes didn’t end up costing Los Angeles the game, and frankly, they’re lucky the Cardinals had the exact same issue all afternoon.
So what’s the final verdict? I’d lean toward a positive result, even if barely. It was an ugly win with flags flying everywhere, but it still counts as a W in the rankings. Yeah, the Cardinals aren’t that great right now, but competent teams beat incompetent teams, so the Rams did what they were supposed to do.
The litmus test should be next week’s home game against the (similarly-odd) Buffalo Bills, who did the unthinkable and shutout the Patriots. But the same Bills also gave up 37 points to the New York Jets. So maybe that game won’t prove anything. Who knows?
It’s another week on the roller coaster of confusion, a.k.a. Jeff Fisher’s Rams.
Follow Jackson Hogan on Twitter: @billbarnwell