Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson makes an interception while battling Rams receiver Kenny Britt during the Cards' 27-3 win Sunday.
ST. LOUIS – The Cardinals only allowed 13 points last weekend to the 49ers but it never felt quite right.
San Francisco's off-the-street running back Shaun Draughn had a little too much room to run and its quarterback, former backup Blaine Gabbert, had flashes of impressive production.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson brought the defense in on an off day to straighten out the issues, and it seems the details were fixed and the message heeded. While the Cardinals' offense had trouble turning yards into points in the first half on Sunday against the Rams, the outcome never seemed in doubt because the defense dominated from the first snap.
The Rams had just nine first downs and a field goal in the Cardinals' 27-3 victory at the Edward Jones Dome. It was a
season-low for points allowed, eclipsing the seven given up to the 49ers in Week 3.
"Coming into this game, everybody was focused," Peterson said. "We knew that this team couldn't beat us straight up, running the ball or dropping back and just throwing the ball. We knew they would come out and try some gimmicks, try to get our eyes in different spots, mix direction here and there. But for the most part, everybody was dialed in. Everybody was keyed on their assignment from the first play to the last play. It was complete focus for 60 minutes."
There was no facet of the game in which the defense struggled. Rams running back Todd Gurley shook loose for a 34-yard run in the third quarter, but was otherwise held to seven yards on his other eight carries.
Rams quarterback Nick Foles was 15-of-35 passing for 146 yards with an interception and nearly a couple more.
"It's kind of a broken-record thing here with the offense," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "We have to get the offense fixed."
Gurley had a monster second half in the first meeting between the teams, and threatened to again with the big run in the third quarter when he breezed untouched into the secondary. But he never got loose again, and Foles had few windows to throw into when St. Louis went to the passing game.
"I think we found our identity," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "We're a team that can stop the run, force people to throw
the ball and that's what we want."
Rashad Johnson raced over from his free safety position to pick off Foles on a deep pass intended for Kenny Britt in the first quarter. The interception was his fifth on the season, which broke a tie with Mathieu for the team lead. It was the only turnover the Cardinals forced and they didn't register a sack, but it didn't matter. The talent level was so much higher on the Cardinals that the Rams couldn't get anything going.
The Rams' best drive of the game was in the fourth quarter when they got inside the Cardinals' 10, but Foles' completion on fourth-and-goal ended up four yards short of the end zone. The Cardinals likely would have won even if they gave up the score, but the defense relished the chance to make the final stand.
"That was huge," defensive tackle Calais Campbell said. "We take a lot of pride in our defense, and the way we played (Sunday), it was great."
The Cardinals have the type of talent on defense to show this well consistently, but have decried intensity lulls which have come back to bite them. The loss against the Steelers will always stand out, but even playing uninspired in the win over the 49ers rubbed the group the wrong way.
"Last week, we knew we could have done a lot better," cornerback Justin Bethel said. "We knew we could have shut them out. We set high goals for this defense. When we don't get those goals, we definitely go back and figure out what we need to fix."
Peterson's meeting worked, and he thinks this type of dominance and focus can become a common theme down the stretch, beginning with next week's game against the Vikings.
"It's a mentality," Peterson said. "We set the standard today. We'll see if we can do it Thursday night."