Analysis: No touchdowns, no comeback for Arizona Cardinals in Week 3 loss to Rams
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray threw a career high 58 passes on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, and it seemed like far too many for the offense to have the success it needed to win.
The Cardinals (1-2) lost 20-12, dominating in time of possession but unable to score a touchdown for their 11th loss in the past 12 meetings against the Rams. It was also their eighth straight home loss to Los Angeles.
A win seemed within reach, but the Cardinals simply weren't good enough on offense to stage another comeback, as they did last week at Las Vegas.
A 13-6 halftime deficit must have felt comforting, however. After all, being down 20-0 against the Raiders last week and 23-7 to Kansas City in Week 1 looked much worse. And just as they did in what turned out to be a thrilling overtime win over the Raiders, the Cardinals turned things around on offense and defense after a slow start.
Only they got field goals, not touchdowns.
"If I knew why we have slow starts, I'd let you guys know," Cardinals safety Budda Baker told reporters.
The Rams, who went three-and-out on three consecutive drives between the second and third quarters, found a rhythm on offense with the ground game, and a 14-yard Cam Akers touchdown run gave them enough of a cushion for the win.
The Cardinals dragged out drives that didn't lead to the end zone, they lost veteran wide receiver A.J. Green to a knee injury that further depleted that group, and Pro Bowl running back James Conner had his third straight game in which he was not a factor.
"Close, little things that are all fixable, which is encouraging this early in the season. But I just think consistency on offense is what we're fighting for," Kingsbury said. "We have really good players and I like what we're doing schematically. We've got to make sure we're maximizing the players and figuring out exactly who we are."
Murray stays in pocket
Murray was effective with his legs against the Raiders, extending plays and putting points on the scoreboard with a touchdown run and two-point conversion run.
But on Sunday, Murray didn't run the ball until late in the fourth quarter, a two-yard carry and a six-yard run after looking downfield for a receiver.
At times Murray seemed too locked in on good friend and top receiving threat Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, and while Brown had a big game statistically, some throws his way didn't work out.
Murray said him running the ball isn't just being mobile and making plays.
"It doesn't work like that," Murray said. "They're (the Rams) smart, they rush me different than other guys. That breaks down during the course of the game, and that's when it's easier for me to get out and do stuff like that."
Defense gashed, but hangs tough
A defense that surrendered touchdowns on their opponents' opening drives in Week 1 and Week 2 improved on Sunday, forced into a tough spot after a blocked punt. The Cardinals held the Rams to a field goal after Los Angeles had the ball at the Arizona 4-yard line.
The Rams made plays in crucial moments, but the Cardinals defense gave the team a chance with Baker's forced fumble recovered by Jalen Thompson in the fourth quarter.
Arizona gave up chunk plays of 32, 28, two for 26 yards and a 20-yard end around for a touchdown. But they didn't let the Rams run away on the scoreboard.
"You've just got to focus on your job and focus on your assignments, and that's what we did," Cardinals cornerback Marco Wilson said. "We had a great plan set out, we just went out there to execute it to the best of our ability."
Slow start on offense
The Cardinals started the game on offense much the same way as they did in Weeks 1 and 2. They couldn't put together a good drive in the first quarter while the Rams, as did the Kansas City Chiefs and Las Vegas Raiders previously, put together early scoring drives.
"We've got to figure that out. You play the world champs and spot them, go three-and-out, blocked punt, that's a tough way to start the game," Kingsbury said. "We've got to figure that out collectively."
An 18-play drive in the fourth quarter at Las Vegas produced a touchdown. In contrast, a 19-play, 75-yard drive only resulted in a field goal, after a misfire to Zach Ertz in the end zone and dropped pass by Conner near the goal line. A 17-play drive in the fourth quarter only netted another field goal, as did a 16-play third-quarter drive.
And yet the Cardinals trailed by just four in the third quarter. But they never got closer.
"In a game where it was close and tight, we needed '7,' (from a touchdown)," Cardinals offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum said. "We got down into the score zone, it's tighter down there. So routes have to be tighter, protection has to tighter, timing has to be better and we didn't do so in that regard."
Fourth-down up and down
The Cardinals converted 4 of 5 fourth downs, but couldn't get one in the fourth quarter that cost them some time off the clock.
After the Cardinals opted not to kick a field goal at the point, Murray threw incomplete to Brown on fourth-and-4 from the Rams' 26-yard line with Arizona down 20-9.
"I just didn't think field goals would get it done against them," Kingsbury said. "I liked the play call, I liked what we had, it just didn't work out."