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Rams vs. Cardinals takeaways: Improvements in defense, turnovers and special teams

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The Rams defeated the Arizona Cardinals 20-12 on Sunday at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

Here’s what we learned from the Rams’ victory:

Defense is developing effective depth

With several key defensive backs sidelined because of injuries, the Rams prevented quarterback Kyler Murray from making explosive plays and limited the Cardinals to four field goals.

Rookie Derion Kendrick, Robert Rochell, Grant Haley and Terrell Burgess stepped in and complemented star cornerback Jalen Ramsey and safeties Nick Scott and Taylor Rapp.

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Edge rusher Takkarist McKinley, who signed with the Rams last week, played for the first time since an Achilles injury last December while playing for the Cleveland Browns.

Aaron Donald reaches 100 sacks

Aaron Donald joined the 100 club by sacking Murray for a 15-yard loss in the first quarter.

The NFL made sacks an official statistic in 1982. Donald and Andre Tippett are tied at No. 39 on the league’s all-time list.

By the count of Profootballreference.com, which tabulated sacks since 1960, Donald is tied for 59th with Tippett and Alex Karras.

Cam Akers can still run, but he must not fumble

Coach Sean McVay, said after the season opener that he wanted Cam Akers to play with more urgency.

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Against the Cardinals, Akers rushed for 61 yards and a touchdown in 12 carries. McVay put the ball in Akers’ hands six times during a third-quarter scoring drive.

Later in the game, with a chance to seal the victory, Akers fumbled at the goal line. It harkened to last season‘s playoffs, when Akers fumbled twice in a divisional-round victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The mistakes were largely overlooked because of the Rams’ dramatic comeback in the final minutes.

Matthew Stafford eliminates turnovers

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford didn’t turn the ball over Sunday after five of his passes were intercepted during the first two games of the season.

(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

After entering the game with a league-high five interceptions, Matthew Stafford played without major error.

He completed 18 of 25 passes for 249 yards.

Stafford’s best play came in the third quarter, when he escaped a sack and completed a third-down, sidearm pass to Cooper Kupp to ignite a pivotal scoring drive.

Receivers Skowronek and Powell are weapons

The absence of receiver Van Jefferson was supposed to create pass-catching opportunities for Ben Skowronek and Tutu Atwell.

Skowronek caught four passes for a team-best 66 yards, including one for 32 yards. Atwell was targeted once, but the long pass fell incomplete.

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Brandon Powell, primarily a kick returner last season, caught three passes for 27 yards.

Rams should not have released Kendall Blanton

Kendall Blanton was cut in August, the Rams opting to keep Brycen Hopkins as Tyler Higbee’s backup.

But after Hopkins was suspended last week for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, the Rams signed Blanton from the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad.

On Sunday, Blanton was targeted once and turned the catch into a 28-yard gain that helped set up a field goal.

Special teams make big strides

Michael Hoecht, a reserve defensive lineman, blocked a punt on the first series, giving the Rams good field position for a scoring drive.

Powell averaged 14.3 yards for three punt returns and had a 31-yard kickoff return.

Kicker Matt Gay kicked two field goals. He has made all four of his attempts this season.

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