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Energy or execution? Cardinals get raided by Rams through the air

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp pulls in a catch as Arizona Cardinals strong safety Budda Baker (32) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A ticked-off Los Angeles Rams team turning around on a short week to beat the Arizona Cardinals doesn’t sound surprising.

They’ve thumped the Cardinals by an average of 26.4 points over the last five meetings after a 34-7 win at State Farm Stadium on Sunday.

But to Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury, the offense putting up 81 yards of offense through three quarters and a defense allowing historically bad numbers to a 7-5 ballclub — regardless of its Super Bowl appearance just a year ago — did surprise.

“First game all year I didn’t think we competed the way we’re able to,” Kingsbury said Sunday. “I didn’t think we had the juice, coaches or players.”

“We didn’t play like we’ve been playing with the same intensity, effort, passion, the things we’ve had all year. Even when execution wasn’t there, we fought (before the Rams game). We didn’t look like the same team tonight.”

The Rams finished with 549 total yards and 424 of those through the air. Quarterback Jared Goff went 32-of-43 with two touchdowns and no interceptions as Arizona’s coverage broke down time and time again.

Only 10 times has the Cardinals franchise allowed more net total yards or net passing yards in a game.

It didn’t take long to see red flags as the Rams marched down the field on its first three possessions — even if they stalled twice and went 1-of-2 on field goals. It just didn’t end until the score was 34-0 not even halfway through the third quarter.

Chunk plays came with frequency as Arizona defenders broke down in coverage before the snap and later as receivers ran through Arizona’s zones.

It wasn’t like Arizona’s offense was doing the defense any favors. It had 63 total yards at halftime. By the end of the game, rookie quarterback Kyler Murray produced his worse outing of the year with 163 passing yards, six sacks taken and a pick-six.

Still, the Cardinals had allowed the Rams to tally 390 total yards by halftime.

“All cylinders we were off,” Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “We were getting things we had practiced. It’s communication, it’s taking what we’ve done in practice and applying it in the game.

“I think you say lack of energy, I say lack of execution,” Hicks added. “We have to do a better job of executing, and like I said, doing what we practiced. We practiced 95% of plays where guys were running wide open. It’s unacceptable.”

Six Rams receivers had catches of 20 yards or more. Tight end Tyler Higbee set career highs with seven catches for 107 yards, including an easy touchdown when Arizona linebacker Haason Reddick fell down in coverage.

That, of course, continued a troubling theme for the NFL’s worst defense against pass-catching tight ends.

“Any answer I can give isn’t good enough at this point,” Kingsbury said. “Anything I can say at this point will fall upon deaf ears and it should.”

Receiver Robert Woods led the Rams’ aerial attack with 13 catches for 172 yards, and his biggest play came on a 3rd-and-9 at Los Angeles’ own 9-yard line.

Woods caught a screen pass on the left side that was snuffed out by Arizona, but he looped across the field and used a Goff block on Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson to spring him for a 48-yard gain. Cooper Kupp finished that drive by beating Peterson in man coverage with an out route in the end zone to put the Rams ahead, 27-0, halfway through the third.

Murray threw a pick-six to rookie Taylor Rapp two plays into Arizona’s next drive to all but seal the loss.

The Cardinals’ individual struggles defensively weren’t limited to Peterson. Chandler Jones and Jonathan Bullard split Arizona’s lone sack as the Rams got the ball out of Goff’s hands quickly.

Kingsbury remained optimistic the defense can improve without massive personnel changes.

While he said the coaching and playing must improve, though, he was still miffed regarding the out-of-character effort coming off a bye week relatively healthy.

“This is a game I feel like the energy wasn’t there,” rookie corner Byron Murphy added. “From the first play of the game we all have to be on the same page. The energy has to be high, and as a whole team we have to be better.”

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