Safety Tyrann Mathieu is congratulated by coach Bruce Arians and his teammates after forcing a fumble Sunday.
The Cardinals had the ball to start the second half Sunday but quickly ran into problems, with Carson Palmer throwing an interception returned to the Arizona 4-yard line.
In a 10-10 game, a seven-point deficit seemed inevitable. Instead, the Cards' defense stiffened over three downs, forcing the Rams backward three yards before a field goal. It was more of the same later in the game, when Palmer was blindsided on a Robert Quinn sack and the Cards nursing a three-point lead. The Rams, at the Cards' 22, lost a yard in three plays, and could only tie the game despite the short field.
These were the moments the Cardinals' defense wanted to stand upon from their opener. They know they need more of them.
"We went out on sudden changes and played well," safety Rashad Johnson said. "And then we go out in the series where we
could have put the game away up 24-13 and they make a long drive (for a touchdown). It's frustrating, because we had done it. There's no excuse."
Coach Bruce Arians was happy with the pair of turnovers the Cardinals forced in their first game, one (a fumble created by safety Tyrann Mathieu) that saved a touchdown and one (an interception by nose tackle Dan Williams) that scored a touchdown. And those post-turnover stands of their own impressed.
"We defended every blade of grass," Arians said.
But Arians wasn't thrilled with the poor tackling – profootballfocus.com said 184 of the Rams' 299 passing yards came after the catch – and was disappointed the Cards couldn't provide more of a pass rush.
General manager Steve Keim said the Rams used a lot of three-step drops, making it harder to get as much pressure as the Cards wanted (and one of the reasons the Cardinals needed to tackle better on short, quick throws.)
Arians said the rush can be improved by technique changes and by players playing to their strengths, noting that a couple of times players got "out of control" trying to use speed rushes instead of power and counter moves. The Cardinals also will try and use more of a rotation, such as veteran pass-rushing linebacker John Abraham getting at least 10 more snaps than the 20 he got on Sunday.
"If we can get more disruptive in the pass rush, that would be huge," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "I know we will. … If we don't get a good pass rush, we're not going to beat anybody."
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has said many times it was turnovers and points that were the biggest indicators of a good defense. The Cards were heading in that direction before the fourth quarter.
"You have an 11-point lead on the road in the fourth quarter, by all means the defense has to step up and hold that lead," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said.