posted on September 09, 2013 01:31
The Monday Morning Scrappy Utilityman
What a weekend for St. Louis sports.
The Cardinals swept their way into first place by knocking the Pirates off that perch.
The Rams came back from a 24-13 4th quarter deficit to beat Arizona.
And Missouri and Illinois both won.
Considering that all of the above were up for grabs heading into the weekend, the fact that every team won every game played is not only a mathematical improbability, but in this particular case, quite important.
If any of the above had lost their games (or in the case of the Cardinals, their series), it would’ve been a huge step backward. Instead, the Cardinals leapt into first place. The Rams avoided a disastrous loss both from a season standpoint and a public relations standpoint. And Missouri and Illinois both got wins that they had to have…but for different reasons.
Absolute destruction of the Pittsburgh Pirates this weekend at Busch Stadium.
The numbers aren’t as glaring as they would’ve been without Jake Westbrook giving up a bunch of runs in mop-up time Friday night, but the Cardinals outscored the Pirates 26-10 this weekend. Seven of those Pirates’ 10 runs came after the Cardinals were up 12-1 in the series opener.
While the offense put it on the Pirates in a big way, the return of Adam Wainwright to form, the continuing success of Joe Kelly, and the emergence of Michael Wacha are what gives me the most excitement for the remainder of the 2013 campaign.
Kelly and Wacha weren’t on the cover of Sports Illustrated back in May, but they may be #2 and #3 in the Cardinal rotation come October.
Wacha dominated the Pirates yesterday, and after shutting them out for seven innings, he hasn’t allowed a run in 19.2 consecutive innings pitched.
Wainwright looked as bad as he ever has in his previous two starts---both against the Reds---but he also shut down the Pirates for seven innings in his outing Saturday night.
If Wainwright wasn’t right Saturday, that would’ve been a monster problem. His return to form is absurdly encouraging.
And then there’s Joe Kelly.
After allowing just one run in six innings Friday night to get the win, Kelly now is 8-0 with a 2.10 ERA since getting his first start in late June.
It was the effort of Kelly, Wainwright, and Wacha that handcuffed the Pirates. And it was that effort that looms as the most exciting element of the weekend.
Great stat from Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch and CBS Sports 920:
“Cards have five starts of 6 IP or more with 1 ER or less in last 8 games. Had only 8 such starts in previous 42 games following All-Star Break.”
That trend can’t be understated…especially considering the situations with a) Lance Lynn and b) Allen Craig.
19 games left. 16 with teams with a losing record. 12 at home. And, if they can keep this momentum going, with struggles from the Braves and Dodgers lately, the best record in the National League is within reach.
Considering the hype surrounding the offense…
Considering the fact that they were down 24-13 going into the 4th Quarter…
Considering the fans were doing more booing than cheering heading into the final 15 minutes…
And considering the next three games are at Atlanta, at Dallas, and vs. San Francisco, I’ll put the 4th Quarter response of the Rams in coming back to beat the Cardinals up there with one of the most important 15 minutes of football the team has played in awhile.
It may sound odd, but I thought it at the moment…and maybe it’s just a coincidence…but I thought that the Cardinals going up 24-13 was an actual positive for the Rams both yesterday and perhaps for the season.
Because it forced Brian Schottenheimer to go from whatever bizarrely conservative play calling strategy he started the first 43 minutes with to letting Sam Bradford play with his new toys.
You can point to a number of different “plays of the game,” but the one that stood out most to me was the final play of the 3rd Quarter. Down 24-13 and facing 2nd and 9 from their own 32, the Rams were jacking around with time ticking off to the final seconds of the quarter. I actually initially thought they were going to let the clock run out…which would’ve been infuriating/baffling. Instead, Bradford hit a wide open Jared Cook for a 36 yard gain to the Arizona 32.
Four plays later, the Rams were in the end zone. Three of those plays were pass plays.
The momentum carried over the rest of the way. The offense and defense delivered in that critical quarter.
Robert Quinn owned Levi Brown throughout the game…and that ownership culminated with a critical forced fumble in the 4th Quarter. Three sacks and that forced fumble for the 2011 first round pick. Carson Palmer had a big day, but without the pressure from Quinn, it would’ve been even bigger.
And on the other side of the field, minus the deflection in the end zone for the pick six, Sam Bradford had quite a day. His offensive line kept him upright despite Arizona giving them different looks on 3rd downs and bringing pressure constantly. And, his receivers---especially his tight end---brought in the football 27 times for 299 yards. Bradford finished with a 100.7 QB rating.
I thought this postgame quote from Bradford put the victory in perspective and showed how things are different in 2013 than 2010, 2011, or 2012:
“I think in the past people looked at us…we had to play pretty close to perfect to win a game, especially a game like this. We blew so many opportunities today. Obviously, the turnover giving them the seven points didn’t help. I think it shows we’ve got a lot to correct, but with the guys we have in this locker room now there’s no doubt that we can overcome that.”
Yep. The Rams had penalties galore…Cortland Finnegan in particular. They lost a sure touchdown when Jared Cook failed to protect the ball in the final five yards. And they gave up a seven points on an interception deep in their own territory by Bradford.
And yet there they were after the game victorious…despite playing far from a perfect game.
My hope is that the way they played once the reigns were taken off the offense late in the 3rd Quarter will lead to more of that next week in Atlanta.
Furthermore, maybe I’m off the mark here, but I think Arizona is going to be a better team than I gave them credit for heading into the game. In other words, this was a better win than I thought it was going to be…because the opponent was a better team than I thought they were going to be.
Carson Palmer changes that whole offense. Larry Fitzgerald was rendered damn near worthless with the mess of a QB situation and offensive line last year. Different ballgame this year.
And, on defense, those are some of the best corners you’ll find.
Despite that, the Rams were able to put up 27 points and come back from an 11-point deficit.
They scored 27 points or more just three times out of their 16 games last year.
This year they scored 27 in the opener with Chris Givens only catching two balls for 27 yards, with Jared Cook fumbling inside the 10, and with a strangely conservative game plan for almost the entirety of the first three quarters.
It may not have been aesthetically pleasing, but it was a necessary victory. And if anything, it proved to the team and the fans that even when they don’t play their best, they can not only win…they now can come back.
This season has the opportunity to have much higher potential if James Franklin can play like he has for the first two games.
On the other hand, that potential can be reduced by the defense if it doesn’t tighten up.
However, when they needed him Saturday against Toledo, James Franklin delivered with a strong performance reminiscent of 2011 Franklin.
Here’s a fun fact courtesy of Dave Matter of the Post-Dispatch: Franklin had 122 yards on the ground all of last season. He already had 121 in two games this year.
The play of the game came on one of Franklin’s runs when he delivered a forearm shiver on Toledo safety Ross Madison.
"I was going to go out of bounds, but I saw him and was just like, 'I'm going for it,' " Franklin said.
His teammates loved it.
"I just finished my dude and looked at the sideline and I was like, 'There's no way,' " offensive lineman Max Copeland said. "And then, 'Boom!'"
His team responded.
The Tigers pulled away and put away a Toledo team that had lost 24-6 to Florida in Gainesville a week earlier.
They get a bye this Saturday before heading to Bloomington to take on Indiana on the 21st. The Hoosiers lost 41-35 at home to Navy Saturday.
Gary Pinkel, in a candid postgame, conveyed the importance of one of the games on the schedule that many, including myself, considered a swing game heading into the season.
“It’s going to be a huge football game for us. We’ll get the whole game plan in this week with our players. We’ll get double the work and preparation. It’s going to be obviously a very, very big game. Every game’s a big game. It’s not like baseball or the NBA. We have 12 games and have to take advantage of each and every one. We’re 2-0, but we have to get better.”
The Fighting Illini put it on Cincinnati. No other way to describe it. I was looking at this game as one to bet on…but not to bet on Illinois. I was thinking Cincinnati (-8). Good thing I didn’t. Illinois crushed the Bearcats 45-17 and racked up 522 yards of offense.
Cincinnati Head Coach Tommy Tuberville praised the Illini across the board.
“You’ve got to give Illinois a lot of credit. They did a lot of things on offense. They did a good job coaching on both sides. Third down beat us in the first half and really in the second half.”
Nathan Scheelhaase has had a hell of a start to his senior season, and former Missouri offensive co-ordinator and Western Michigan Head Coach Bill Cubit has something going with the QB in his fourth year under center for the Illini.
The Illini went up 21-0 on Cincinnati and never looked back.
Illinois will have quite a chance to send a message Saturday at Soldier Field when they host #19 Washington.
-Cortland Finnegan would’ve been the talk of the town---and not in a good way---had the Rams not come back. Finnegan was burned throughout the game…and also had three penalties including two personal fouls. Well, Finnegan made it clear after the game that he knew he screwed up:
“I just can’t do that. I’ve got it all out of my system. We’ve got 15 more (games), you won’t get another one out of me. You don’t want to hurt the team. I did that today. I’m glad we got a win. You’ve just got to learn from that.”
-I loved the over of the Cardinals and Rams yesterday, and I love it Sunday in Atlanta. The total is 47. Barring injuries, that game is going over 47.
-For the record, the Falcons are a seven point favorite.
-The Reds are on fire, and this week they get three against the Cubs and three against the Brewers. Oh, boy.
-Meanwhile the Pirates have to start the week by traveling to Texas.
-The only two undefeated teams in the SEC East are Missouri and Tennessee. We may need to get Rondo on regularly this year.
-For the game you may be looking forward to now but will be sick of hearing about by Saturday, Alabama is an 8.5 point favorite in College Station Saturday.
-Illinois is a 10.5 point underdog Saturday at Soldier Field against #19 Washington.
-And, finally, if you missed it Saturday night, it’s the must see interview of the year to date with Brent Musberger, Kirk Herbstreit, and, obviously, Eminem. Marshall Mathers’ expression at the start of the interview is as good as broadcast excellence can get:
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