Special teams not so special (again) in Cardinals’ loss to Rams
GLENDALE, Ariz. — For the last couple of seasons, fans of the Arizona Cardinals have been frustrated by special teams play.
One incredibly frustrated fan maintains a website called FireAmosJones.com — a crusade against the Cardinals’ special teams coach who has served under Bruce Arians for five seasons.
The webmaster will have a lot to add to the site after Sunday’s 32-16 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The division-leading Rams thoroughly outplayed the Cardinals, in all three phases, but the disparity in the third phase was very telling.
Arizona, which dipped to 5-7 on the season, had two kicks blocked — both an extra point and a field goal attempt. On both plays, the Rams attacked right up the middle, knocking long snapper Justin Drescher onto his backside.
After falling behind 16-0, the Cardinals rallied. Elijhaa Penny capped a 63-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run — the first of his career — to put Arizona on the board. Later in the second quarter, Blaine Gabbert hit Larry Fitzgerald on a 15-yard touchdown pass that should have pulled the Cardinals to within two points, but the Rams’ Tyrunn Walker blocked the point-after.
In the fourth quarter, the Cardinals trailed, 26-16, and set up for a 45-yard field goal attempt from Phil Dawson that would have made it a one-score game. Once again, the Rams attacked the middle, with Michael Brockers doing the honors in smothering the attempt.
Many fans in the stadium and on social media immediately pointed the finger at Jones. Arians doesn’t share that view.
“It was coached up as well as you could coach it up,” Arians said of the blocked field goal. “We just didn’t execute it.”
But blocking on kicks wasn’t the only special teams deficiency Sunday.
In a stretch early in the third quarter with Los Angeles leading 19-13, the Cardinals forced a three-and-out and Rams punter Johnny Hekker — a three-time All-Pro — punted from his own 9-yard line. Hekker uncorked a 70-yard punt that sailed over the head of returner Patrick Peterson and bounced out of bounds at the 21-yard line.
Arizona did nothing on its next possession, and after Gabbert was sacked by Aaron Donald to force a punt, Cardinals punter Andy Lee got off a 40-yard punt, which Los Angeles’ Pharoh Cooper returned 30 yards to the Cardinals’ 30.
“We had poor protection down the right side,” Arians said. “We tried to cut their wing. Andy felt the pressure. That also stopped our contain guy. Our gunner didn’t make it down, so that whole side of the field was empty.
“They made a good play and we made a poor play.”
Six plays later, Rams quarterback Jared Goff hit Sammy Watkins on an 11-yard touchdown pass to balloon the lead to 13 points.
The Cardinals also got next to nothing in their return game. Peterson managed 12 yards on two returns. Brittan Golden averaged 16.5 yards on the two kickoffs Greg Zuerlein didn’t put into the end zone.
Arizona came into Sunday’s game ranked 26th in the league in kickoff return average and 23rd in punt returns.