In a locker room that was mostly empty before Kliff Kingsbury had even finished speaking to the media, Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks just shook his head.
“You can’t have games like that,” Hicks said after the Cardinals were smacked by the Rams, 34-7, at State Farm Stadium Sunday in their first game following the bye. “You can’t come out and not execute. You can’t come out like that. It’s embarrassing.
“All cylinders we were off. It’s unacceptable.”
The idea that the loss – the Cardinals’ fifth straight – was not acceptable was the theme of postgame. Kingsbury said the same, noting that it was the first game all season he didn’t think his team didn’t at least compete.
Offensively, it was a shock, given that the Cardinals (3-8-1) and quarterback Kyler Murray had been on a good stretch. That was derailed quickly on a day in which the Rams (7-5) outgained the Cards, 549 yards to 198.
But the defensive problems stood out, allowing Rams quarterback Jared Goff – who went without a touchdown pass in three November games – to pass for an astounding 323 yards in the first half alone en route to 424 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Goff was at 405 yards with 8:44 left in the third quarter, and threw only one pass in the fourth quarter before sitting for good with the big lead.
Wide receiver Robert Woods had 13 catches for 172 yards, and tight end Tyler Higbee had a career-high 107 yards on seven catches – all in the first half.
The Cardinals’ defense has struggled against the pass all season, but Sunday felt like the low point.
Hicks quickly batted down the idea that defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s schemes were a problem.
“It’s execution,” Hicks said. “We were getting things that we practiced (against). We just didn’t execute. We’ve got to grow. We’ve got to mature fast.”
Hicks added that it wasn’t as if the Cardinals haven’t shown some growth over the season already. But the frustration was apparent on his face when he was asked why the Cards’ defense was still having so many problems with executing the gameplan.
“I’d say it’s communication, I’d say … man, it’s tough,” Hicks said, searching for his answer. “A lot of it is communication. A lot of it is guys being on the same page. When anybody is running wide open, most of the time, it’s a bust. Most of the time somebody is supposed to have that person. When one or two people are playing something different, playing a different leverage than what everyone else is playing, then you are exposed. That quick.”
As far as Higbee and the Cardinals’ weekly problems covering the tight end no matter the skill level, Kingsbury acknowledged “any answer I can give isn’t good enough at this point.”
“Anything I can say at this point would fall upon deaf ears and it should,” Kingsbury added. “We’ve just got to get it fixed.”
It’s the second time in five games the Cardinals have surrendered 500 yards of offense, after the Saints also reached that mark. And Goff is the second NFC West quarterback in a row to throw for 400 yards. 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo also had 424 in the Cardinals’ game before the bye. Higbee scored the 13th touchdown surrendered to a tight end in 12 games.
“The communication still has to get better as a whole unit on the defensive side,” rookie cornerback Byron Murphy said. “We can’t keep going back and forth. We have to stick to it.”
Rams coach Sean McVay has found a way to undercut the Cardinals’ defense ever since coming to Los Angeles. Since McVay took over, the Rams have won all five meetings by scores of 33-0, 32-16, 34-0, 31-9 and now 34-7 – and the Cards trailed, 34-0, Sunday, before Murray broke off a 15-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
While the defense couldn’t hold up, the Cardinals’ offense didn’t provide any hope either. Murray, who said his sore hamstring didn’t bother him at all, completed 19-of-34 passes for 163 yards, was sacked six times, and threw an interception. He also was fortunate when one other potential pick was dropped, and two more that were picked but negated by Rams’ penalties.
As for the one interception, Murray admitted he never should have thrown it.
“Bad ball. Bad day,” the rookie said.
That went all around.
“From the jump we were kind of just flat,” Murray said. “They obviously came out with more energy than us. They wanted it more. They played harder than us. Can’t do that against a good team.”
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said he didn’t want to say the Cardinals didn’t compete, but everyone knew it wasn’t good enough against the reigning NFC champions, who were coming off a beatdown in Baltimore the previous Monday night.
“When you play against teams that are that talented, there is no margin for error,” Fitzgerald said.
That was tangibly proven Sunday.
“We didn't have the juice,” Kingsbury said. “Fans deserve better, the community deserves better than a product like that after a month (away) and coming back home.”
Images from the Week 13 matchup at State Farm Stadium