Defensive scheming still evident. It's been a tough season for the Rams' defense. I'm inclined to think personnel, not scheming, is primarily at fault. The coaching staff continues to draw up blitzes producing free shots on opposing quarterbacks. That was the case about five minutes into the game when the Rams brought safety Darian Stewart to the line of scrimmage at the last moment, suggesting seven defenders could be coming on a blitz. Two defenders on the left side dropped into coverage, leaving Cardinals right guard Rex Hadnot with nobody to block. The left guard and left tackle went in opposite directions to pick up their rushers, leaving a free path for Stewart to shoot into the backfield unblocked. Stewart sacked quarterback John Skelton quickly, killing the drive.
Defense vulnerable on early downs. The Rams allowed 5.1 yards per play on first down, 8.1 yards per play on second down and 3.9 yards per play on third down. They allowed only 3.2 yards per play and no plays longer than 14 yards when using sub packages on defense, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But with Beanie Wells gashing the Rams' base defense, it's clear St. Louis needs the most improvement from its front seven, even while injuries at cornerback get most of the attention.
Stewart could be missed in run game. The 228 yards Wells gained could have been much more without a couple open-field tackles by Stewart, the Rams' big-hitting, somewhat inconsistent safety. A concussion will prevent Stewart from playing against San Francisco.
Rough one for Laurinaitis. The Cardinals, specifically left guard Daryn Colledge, effectively blocked Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. I'll be interested in seeing how Laurinaitis fares when the 49ers' left guard, Mike Iupati, comes his way. Inside linebackers benefit or suffer from the defensive tackles playing in front of them. The Rams were without Justin Bannan in the Arizona game. Fred Robbins, coming off a career-best performance in 2010, hasn't stood out this season.
Sharing the blame for punt return. Patrick Peterson's 80-yard touchdown on a punt return stretched a 13-10 Cardinals lead to 20-10 late in the third quarter. So many factors beyond punt coverage enabled the return. Two plays before the return, guard Jason Brown and tackle Harvey Dahl whiffed on their blocks, allowing the Cardinals to tackle Steven Jackson for a loss, setting up third-and-long. Peterson made a physical tackle to stop the Rams short on third down. And with the Rams facing fourth-and-1, a false-start penalty against C.J. Ah You prompted the Cardinals to change their personnel. Arizona had its defense on the field to prevent against a fake on fourth-and-1. The punt-return team came onto the field once Ah You's penalty changed the situation to fourth-and-6.
I'll be heading over to Candlestick Park shortly. No NFC West teams play early games this week. Sounds like a chance to check out the tailgating scene. The forecast calls for clear skies, moderate temperatures and the 49ers' first NFC West title since 2002.