Five Takeaways: Rams 17-13 Win over Cardinals

Posted Oct 3, 2016

Team insider Myles Simmons breaks down five key points from Los Angeles' third straight win in 2016.

With Sunday’s victory over the Cardinals, the Rams improved to 3-1 on the young season — the first time the club has reached that mark since 2006. There was plenty involved in the 17-13 win that gave Los Angeles a 2-1 record in the NFC West. With that in mind, here are five takeaways from Week 4 — one for each turnover L.A. forced at Arizona.

1) Three phases work together

As it is with any team, the Rams are at their best when the offense, defense, and special teams work in tandem. That happened on Sunday when the Rams got their go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The Cardinals had the ball on 3rd-and-6 from their own 39-yard line with 5:40 remaining when defensive tackle Aaron Donald and defensive end Eugene Sims combined to split a sack on quarterback Carson Palmer. The QB takedown resulted in a nine-yard loss, pushing Arizona back to its own 30.

Then the Rams received a 47-yard punt return from wide receiver Tavon Austin — who may have taken the ball to the house if not for Arizona’s Ifenya Momah grabbing Austin’s facemask to bring him down at the home team’s 34. Still, the resulting 15-yard penalty put Los Angeles in the red zone at the Cardinals’ 19.

From there, running back Todd Gurley kept the drive alive on 3rd-and-8 by catching a pass in the flat, making a hard cut, and driving his legs to push a pair of would-be tacklers past the first-down marker. And wide receiver Brian Quick finished the series off by catching a back-shoulder fade in the end zone for his second touchdown of the game.

In many ways, the series was reminiscent of what the Rams did Week 16 of 2015 at Seattle when the club used a sack and punt return to get good field position and set the offense up for a touchdown. If L.A. can keep its phases working together like that, it should lead to more success going forward.

2) The emergence of Brian Quick

Speaking of Quick, the fifth-year wide receiver has emerged as a significant playmaker for the Rams over the least two games. Last week at Tampa Bay, Quick broke the ice with a 44-yard touchdown reception to cap Los Angeles’ opening drive and added a second nine-yard catch where he elevated significantly to reel in quarterback Case Keenum’s pass.

On Sunday, Quick made two more catches and both went for touchdowns. In the first quarter, the wideout caught a mid-range pass toward the right sideline, made a pair of defenders miss, and sprinted down field to pay dirt. Then he elevated on the fade in the end zone for the game-winning score.

“He’s really had a really solid couple weeks on the practice field making those kind of plays,” head coach Jeff Fisher said. “So I think in Brian’s case, the game’s started to slow down a little bit for him. And now you’ve got to just go make those plays.”

Quick has been through a lot over the last two years, from a season-ending shoulder injury in 2014 to working himself back into the rotation last year, to issues dropping passes in the 2016 preseason. But the work he put in is starting to pay dividends, and his teammates are thrilled to see it.

“I’m super happy for him. Every time he scores, it feels like I score,” fellow wideout Kenny Britt said. “His confidence is starting to grow. And every week you see him getting better and better.”

“I’m happy for the big fella,” Austin said. “The year [he got hurt] he was having a tremendous year. But it feels good for him to be out there opening it up for everybody else. That’s the good thing about it.”

3) 5 takeaways

Los Angeles’ defense has shown a proclivity for coming up with big plays through the first four games, and that continued on Sunday as the unit forced Arizona into five turnovers — three interceptions, and two fumbles.

Fisher said postgame the Rams figured Palmer would want to get the ball to the outside, so the defense would have to limit yards gained on those plays. But getting takeaways was clearly significant as well.

“Carson, against us, likes to put the ball outside. So we didn’t feel like we were going to lose the game if that was the case. And he did a nice job with it,” Fisher said. “But the great thing for us was just getting the turnovers at that point — turnovers, getting off the field.”

L.A. ended four of the Cardinals six second-half drives with takeaways, and five of their last eight going back into the second quarter.

To list them all in order: Cornerback Trumaine Johnson caught his first interception of the season. Donald forced a fumble on his first sack of the year, which Sims recovered. Defensive tackle Dominique Easley forced his second fumble in two weeks, which linebacker Josh Forrest recovered. Linebacker Mark Barron recorded his second interception in two weeks. And safety T.J. McDonald finished the game with an interception on quarterback Drew Stanton’s Hail Mary pass in the back of the end zone.

After Sunday’s performance, the Rams are now tied at No. 2 with nine takeaways this season — four interceptions and five fumble recoveries.

4) Gurley involved in passing game

There’s no question that the Rams had a tough time getting their ground attack going in the first quarter of the season. And it’s undoubtedly going to be a focus as the offense looks to improve going forward. With the way teams have stacked the box for Gurley, it’s clear that the Rams will have to make plays on the outside in order to open up running lanes for the 2015 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.

However, the Rams found ways to keep Gurley involved through the passing game on Sunday, and that was a key factor in the victory.

“I mean, obviously the running game hasn’t been going as well,” Gurley said. “But, hey, got a couple passes out of the backfield, which was key — and we got the win.”

“He’s really close on a couple of those on the screen passes — really close to going a long way,” Fisher said. “So, we’re going to continue to do that.”

The running back caught five passes on five targets for 49 yards — including two key third-down receptions that kept drives alive. One was a wheel route that went 33 yards. The second came on the Rams’ go-ahead scoring drive, both of which Keenum seemed quite impressed with.

“Yeah, there were two third downs that he converted. That [33-yard reception] was an incredible catch. And the next one, I think … was a third-down to win the game. And the second effort there, too,” Keenum said. “So not only get him the ball in the backfield, but get him the ball out in space where he can make a guy miss. And he fought for two yards that won us a game there at the very end.”

5) Winning first quarter of the season complete

Around the league, many players, coaches, and front-office personnel describe splitting the season into four quarters and wanting to secure winning records in each of them. Well, the Rams have been able to do that in 2016’s first four games by going 3-1.

Considering how the season began, the Rams appear encouraged that the club has gone on a three-game winning streak and and there is plenty room to grow.

“I feel like we came out and we made a statement for ourselves,” Barron said. “We started off 2-1, but to be 3-1, I think that puts you in a different light as a team. So I think that is great for us as an organization, as a team, as everything. That just keeps building confidence for the team.”

“It says we’re fighters,” Keenum said. “We’ve been on the road two times in a row. So we’re not going to dwell on the fact of where we are. We’re looking ahead. We’re looking to where we’re going.”

After two weeks away, the club will have a chance to extend that winning streak against Buffalo playing in front of the fans in the Coliseum for only the second time this season. With three of the Rams’ first four games on the road, the team seems ready to play in Los Angeles once again.

“Now we’re going home and have a chance to play in front of our fans — seems like it’s been forever,” Fisher said. “And we’ve got a good opponent who has won some games the last couple weeks. So it’s going to be a challenge for us.”

“I think everybody in that locker room is going to take this flight, recover, and honestly be looking forward to this next week coming home,” Keenum said. “I think the Coliseum will be rocking. And I’m excited to get out in front of the home fans again.”