Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin breaks free of Cardinals cornerback Jerraud Powers to score the first touchdown of last weekend's game, following a Cards' fumble on the opening kickoff.
The Cardinals defense wasn't ruing David Johnson for fumbling the opening kickoff in Sunday's loss to the Rams. It was hoping to bail him out.
It's been a common theme to see the defense step up in short-field situations under coach Bruce Arians. Against Chicago in Week 2, twice the Bears started drives inside the Arizona 25, and twice the Cardinals held them to field goals.
The first two plays worked as planned against the Rams -- they had a third-and-5 after starting their drive at the Arizona
17 -- but that's when the defense buckled. St. Louis quarterback Nick Foles found Tavon Austin for a 12-yard touchdown, giving the Rams a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game, and they never trailed the rest of the way.
"You talk about momentum swings and momentum kills – they had a bunch of momentum coming off that turnover," defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. "We've got to force them to kick three (points), because if they kick three that's a momentum kill. Any of those sudden changes, that's what you look at."
The Cardinals defense had been kings of the positive momentum shift through three games, leading the NFL with six interceptions and three defensive scores. It didn't force a turnover on Sunday – the Cardinals were minus-three in that category – the third time in the team's past four losses it hasn't forced a turnover.
"As a defense, we really felt like that loss was on us, because we felt like didn't make enough plays," safety Tyrann Mathieu said.
There was an element of luck to it, as Mathieu forced a fumble in the St. Louis red zone which the Rams recovered despite three Cardinals surrounding the ball. Two plays later, a fumble by Rams running back Benny Cunningham was wiped away because it was ruled his forward progress was stopped.
While it's tough to predict plays like that, Mathieu said teams are also getting a better gauge on the Cardinals defensively.
"We're a quarter into it, so everybody has our tape and understand how we play," Mathieu said. "A lot of teams are going to scheme us in certain situations that they know we'll be aggressive in. There are things we've got to learn from."
FITZ DEFLECTS THE PRAISE
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has racked up one of the best four-game stretches of his career, quieting questions about
a decline in skills. In its place have been queries about how he's been so productive, and it seems Fitzgerald would be more comfortable having to defend himself than dissect his individual success.
"You know I don't like talking about myself, man," Fitzgerald said after multiple questions about his productivity. "That's not my comfort zone."
OK, then how would a defensive back guard you now compared to earlier in your career?
"Leave (me) open, especially in the red zone," Fitzgerald quipped.
QUICK, NOT SPEEDY, HONEY BADGER
Mathieu has received plenty of accolades throughout his college and NFL career, but he's never been known as a guy with elite top-end speed. Nevertheless, he's started this season by tracking down a few speedsters, the most recent of which was Rams running back Todd Gurley on his 52-yard run.
Despite that accomplishment, Mathieu doesn't think the scouting report on him should change.
"I've just got recovery speed," he said. "I can't race Smokey (John Brown)."
ELLINGTON PRACTICES IN FULL
Running back Andre Ellington practiced fully on Thursday for the first time since spraining his knee against the Saints in the season opener. When offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin was asked if the team may ease Ellington back into the fold against the Lions, he said "I don't think B.A. eases into anything. When he wants him in there, he'll be in there."
Wide receiver J.J. Nelson (shoulder) and tight end Darren Fells (hip) were upgraded to limited participants Thursday, while defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (thigh), cornerback Justin Bethel (foot) and safety Chris Clemons (hamstring) remained limited.
For the Lions, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (calf), tight end Eric Ebron (knee), running back Joique Bell (ankle), guard Larry Warford (ankle) and linebacker Travis Lewis (ankle) did not practice. Defensive end Ezekial Ansah (shoulder), safety James Ihedigbo (quadriceps), punter Sam Martin (knee) and tight end Brandon Pettigrew (hamstring) were limited.