Before everyone jumps off the bandwagon, I'd advise everyone to take a step back and take a deep breath. This was bound to happen sometime and Thursday's game seemed like the perfect chance with Arizona traveling cross-country on three days rest following their sloppiest performance of the season.
Nonetheless, great teams find a way to defeat inferior opponents no matter the circumstances. So if anything, the Cardinals proved Thursday that they aren't truly among the NFL's elite (or at least not yet).
As long as Arizona takes this as a learning opportunity, they should be just fine for the rest of 2012. So keeping with that theme of growing and maturing, let's learn from the negatives first to get the bad news out of the way:
1) Offensive line play - Sorry to play the Captain Obvious role, but I'd put this in the negatives five times over if my editor wouldn't fire me. The Cardinals offensive line played as bad Thursday as any five men have collectively played in the history of modern football. St. Louis had only sacked the quarterback six times coming into this one, but still managed to bring Kevin Kolb down a franchise record-tying nine times. The tackles were revolving doors, the guards weren't helping the tackles and neither Kolb nor the run game could ever get in sync because of it. Mark my words, the Cardinals are an extremely talented team in a lot of aspects, but this line is the fatal flaw that will prevent Arizona from getting back to the playoffs.
2) Ryan Williams - You're probably thinking this is unfair considering I just put the offensive line on blast, but Williams didn't do anything with the few chances they gave him. The Rams were 26th in the NFL against the run coming in but Williams managed to only total 33 yards on his 14 carries. Adding injury to insult, Williams left the game with a shoulder injury following his best run of the day (a 12-yard scamper). The Cardinals are going to need a lot more from Williams over the next couple weeks or Kolb is going to be cripple by the time Beanie Wells rejoins the team.
3) Offensive Play-Calling - So, what was up with that Larry Fitzgerald short post play on fourth-and-goal that came up about two-and-a-half yards shy of the six yards they needed? Truly dreadful. Beyond that, offensive coordinator Mike Miller failed to call very many screens or draws to prevent the defense from teeing off on Kolb's face (and when they did call a draw, it went for 12 yards in the fourth). And despite being down by only a touchdown for most of this one, Miller was quick to abandon the Cardinals quick passing attack that's been so effective all year round until the fourth quarter rolled around. This horrendous offensive line play CAN be overcame as Arizona has proven over their first four games but on Thursday, the play-calling didn't give Kolb much of a chance.
4) Kevin Kolb's Tendency To Throw Towards The Wrong Shoulder - Very specific, I know, but I counted this occurrence on at least six different occasions. Kolb blew two scoring opportunities early by forcing Rob Housler and Andre Roberts to readjust on the fly despite the fact that they were about as wide open as receivers can come. And the funny thing was, on both those occasions, Kolb actually had more than enough time to put the ball where it needed to be. If he makes the right reads on just half of those plays, we could be talking about an entirely different ball game.
5) Jay Feely - Feels a little cruel to get on man that had made 19 straight field goals but his miss tonight changed the entire forecast of the game. Feely had a chance at a layup of a 40-yarder in the middle of the second that would have put the game at 10-6, but he hooked it wide left. The Cardinals are a team that likes to hang around until the other team slips up, but on Thursday night, Feely killed his team's momentum before it could ever really get started. The man is still as reliable as they come, but you can't leave points on the field in a defensive struggle like this one.
1) Quick Start On Offense - The Cardinals responded to the Rams' quick score with their longest opening drive of the season (63 yards). Yes, it unfortunately only ended in a field goal, their only points of the game, but the Cardinals had three of their seven third down conversions on that drive. Kolb and Williams were each effective and the line actually did their job in both departments (shocking, I know). Now if only they could get in the end zone to begin a game...
2) Receiver Separation - Don't blame the pass-catchers for the Cardinals only putting up three points. Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Rob Housler were getting open on the reg, but due to Kolb's inaccuracies and the offensive line's inability to give their quarterback any time, most of this separation was wasted. Still, it's an encouraging sign considering how excellent the Rams secondary has been this season.
3) Secondary play - Sure, a pessimist would point out the two big plays they gave up to Sam Bradford, but how about this stat: 12 straight incompletions for Bradford from the second quarter until the end of the third. A lot of that can be attributed to the loss of Danny Amendola, but this secondary did all they could before they got caught creeping up on some Steven Jackson runs. Need more evidence? Go look at that clutch interception from Patrick Peterson.
4) Kevin Kolb's Toughness - I dare you to look me in the eyes after this one and tell me that you still think that Kolb is fragile. Seriously, I dare you. Kolb attempted 50 passes and was probably hit in almost half of them with the Rams racking up their nine sacks in the process. Despite the beating, Kolb never left for a snap, playing through a bloody lip and never looking too jittery despite realizing his pocket would inevitably collapse every time. I'd venture to guess that even most prizefighters would have tapped out before the second quarter was over, so kudos to Kolb.
5) Kevin Kolb's Fourth Quarter Play - Admit it, despite all the obvious negativity, there was part of you that thought Kolb and the Cardiac Cardinals might just pull off another miracle during their first drive of the fourth quarter. Ultimately, it did fall short of the end zone, but Kolb still managed to go 11-of-14 with 111 in the final fifteen minutes of this game. Those are some pretty impressive numbers considering Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins play cornerback for St. Louis and the Cardinals had no semblance of a run game to fool them with. He may not have put up any points, but he still allowed his team to somehow remain competitive. And that fight is something that Cardinal fans should be proud of.