Sunday, September 18, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

TEMPE, Ariz. – After watching its offense fail time and again to put the ball in the end zone against the Rams on Sunday, Arizona wouldn’t have to look too far to find someone who knows the empty feeling of coming up blank in the red zone.

In fact, all the Cardinals would have to do is look to anyone on the Rams for help in working through that frustration.

After watching its offense struggle to put the ball in the end zone in a loss to San Francisco last week, St. Louis knew all about the aggravation the Cardinals were experiencing.

Not that Arizona was about to get an ounce of sympathy from anyone on the Rams’ sideline.

“We had some great red zone defense,” defensive end Leonard Little said. “It was a big difference in today’s game. When they got in the red zone and we needed a stop we were able to stop them. We had great red zone defense and today that really helped us out.”

It did more than help the Rams out, it really did win the game. Four times the Cardinals ventured inside the Rams’ 20-yard line and each time Arizona was unable to breakthrough for a touchdown.

Those struggles mirrored the Rams’ problems from a week ago when they were only able to put the ball in the end zone once in five tries. That forced Arizona kicker Neil Rackers to have a big day, something that more often than not is an ominous sign for the offense.

Rackers ended up booting field goals on three of those red zone trips with kicks of 29, 26 and 35 yards.

“When you put yourself in a situation where your back is against the wall and you come out and hold them to three points then you have done your job,” strong safety Adam Archuleta said.

Archuleta was a big reason for the defense’s biggest red zone stand late in the game. With the Rams clinging to a 17-12 lead and less than a minute to play, Arizona worked its way to the St. Louis 5 with a fresh set of downs and 27 seconds to play.

On first-and-goal Archuleta shot through the offensive line for a sack and a 5-yard loss that left Arizona flustered. On the next play the Cardinals took a false start penalty that led to a 10-second clock runoff. Game over.

“Our red zone defense had been tough all game so I knew we were going to come up with a big play,” defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. “I was on the sidelines telling everyone that we were not going to let them get in. We didn’t let them get in the whole game. We are not going to let them get in now.

“We did let them get in the red zone a lot. It was a little too close. You would rather not have to win like that, but coach put the responsibility on the defense. The game was in our hands and we came through.”

BEATING THE HEAT: One of the biggest issues the Rams expected to face with a mid-September trip to Arizona for a day game was the possibility of oppressive heat in the desert.

Maybe the Cardinals’ red zone offense did let them down, but the sun certainly didn’t.

“It was hot,” Pickett said. “It’s still hot even right here.”

The Rams had originally planned to use a cooling system that would help keep the players’ core temperatures to a minimum, but that system was not in place at game time. Pickett said he wished there had been something to help out.

“We didn’t have them,” Pickett said. “We had the fans that were blowing, but they were blowing hot air, you know.”

The game time temperature was 94 degrees, but the humidity wasn’t too bad. Some sidelines reports, though, said the temperature reached as high as 118 degrees during the game.

That heat might have caused more than one of the cases of “stomach illness” that the Rams suffered during the game.

Left tackle Orlando Pace, cornerback Chris Johnson and left guard Tom Nütten all struggled with said illness at various times during the game, but none missed serious time because of it.

HODGES IMPROVES: Rookie punter Reggie Hodges had his best game as a pro (including the preseason). Hodges’ gross average of 42.9 yards is solid in itself, but it was even better when you consider the net average.

Hodges’ net average was 40.1 yards, an impressive number that means that Arizona’s Reggie Swinton was getting little on returns. Swinton finished with three returns for 19 yards with a long of 10 yards.

Those numbers can be attributed to the amount of hangtime Hodges was getting on his punts as well as the improved coverage units getting down field to make tackles.

INJURIES: In addition to the stomach illnesses the Rams suffered during the game, they had a number of scares on the injury front. Fortunately, none of those injuries turned out to be serious and everyone that left the game returned in short order.

Cornerbacks Travis Fisher and DeJuan Groce left the game at separate times for different injuries. Fisher went to the locker room for X-rays on his elbow, but he returned after those came back negative. Groce left with a hamstring injury, but also returned in short order.

Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa left midway through the game to take intravenous fluids, but also returned.

INACTIVES: The Rams’ pregame inactives were cornerbacks Terry Fair and Ronald Bartell, running back Aveion Cason, safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, offensive linemen Rex Tucker and Alex Barron and defensive lineman Brian Howard.

With Barron, Bartell and Atogwe inactive and Richie Incognito unsigned, the Rams’ four top draft picks were unavailable for Sunday’s game.