Defense leads way for NFC West co-leader Rams

Cardinals quarterback Max Hall (6) fumbles the ball as he is hit by the Rams’ James Laurinaitis (55) and Fred Robbins (98) during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game in Glendale, Ariz. Hall recovered the ball but was injured on the play and did not return as the Rams defeated the Cardinals 19-6.

Cardinals quarterback Max Hall (6) fumbles the ball as he is hit by the Rams’ James Laurinaitis (55) and Fred Robbins (98) during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game in Glendale, Ariz. Hall recovered the ball but was injured on the play and did not return as the Rams defeated the Cardinals 19-6. Photo by The Associated Press.

ST. LOUIS (AP) — There was no need for rookie magic from Sam Bradford. Not the way the St. Louis Rams’ defense was playing.

The Rams lifted the pressure off the No. 1 pick’s shoulders in Sunday’s 19-6 victory at Arizona, shutting out the Cardinals the last three quarters. St. Louis had four sacks and two interceptions, constantly harassing a trio of quarterbacks in a performance that fit defensive-minded coach Steve Spagnuolo’s vision.

“That’s kind of our philosophy going into all the games, to try to get the quarterback uncomfortable back there, especially on third down,” safety Craig Dahl said. “When they changed quarterbacks, the coaches did a great job of lighting up the pressures and coming after them, not giving them time to get comfortable.”

A week after needing a last stand to hold off Denver, the defense had perhaps its best game. The surprising Rams (6-6) ended an eight-game losing streak against the Cardinals, equaled their victory total from the previous three seasons and stayed in a tie for first place in the drab NFC West — and with the tiebreaker for now over the Seahawks.

They’ve won two straight on the road after losing 16 of the previous 17.

“I think we’re starting to understand the sense of urgency that the month of December has,” defensive end James Hall said. “Every game is going to be a big game, and every game is going to be a hard fought game.”

The defense figures to get a much bigger test this week against the potent New Orleans Saints to end a string of three straight road games. Even if Bradford gets back on a trajectory that could make him one of the top rookie quarterbacks in NFL history from a statistical standpoint, the Rams don’t want to get in a shootout.

Against the Cardinals, Bradford was just so-so for a change, going 18-for-29 for 218 yards with no touchdowns, an interception and a poor passer rating of 66.3.

But he also rose to the occasion, directing an offense that burned the final 5:17 of the game.

“I think that last drive really says a lot about our offense, to come out and finish the game with the ball in our hands,” Bradford said. “I think that’s definitely an improvement from weeks past.”

Arizona was ripe for the pickings, ranked next-to-worst in the NFL in total offense this week. The Cardinals were 1-for-11 on third down conversions, the quarterbacks were a combined 11-for-29 for 148 yards. Tim Hightower had 72 yards on seven carries midway through the second quarter, then was held to nine yards on his last eight attempts.

“It seemed like they blitzed almost every other play and not just blitzed, but just moved D-linemen around,” Hightower said. “They were giving you different looks and keeping you on your toes. They’re not just going to stand there and let you come right at them and then not do anything.”

The Cardinals had minus-7 yards in nine plays in the third quarter, and Derek Anderson and Max Hall were a combined 0-for-6. Spagnuolo said some halftime adjustments paid off, and thought the unit’s toughness stood out.

The Rams jumped four spots to 14th overall in the NFL. Last season, they were 29th.

“If you have the right guys, and they gel together, and they support each other, usually all that kind of stuff comes out,” Spagnuolo said. “I think that’s what our team is doing. Most of all, I think these guys like playing with each other.”

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