Another day, another game where the Cardinals offense shoots itself in the foot. Whether it was the offensive penalties, failure to protect and produce against the worst defense in the league, or the pure selfishness and stupidity of some players, it was a recipe for disaster for the Arizona Cardinals.
If the Cards want to be great, which they very well can be, then the offense needs to start gelling together. Kyler is an incredible athlete, but he can't do it all. It starts up front with the offensive line. The line has been a key reason why our offense has made a 180 from the past two seasons, however, that was not on display Thursday night. Below are the good, the bad, and the ugly moments from our battle with the Seattle Seahawks.
Photo: Arizona Cardinals
Isaiah Simmons plays his best game
Larry Fitzgerald starts to get utilized more
Finally! Our first pick is getting some significant playing time, and he's making the most of it. Isaiah came up big with 10 total tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 QB hit, and 1 sack, all on just 45 defensive snaps. This means Simmons made a play on 27% of the defensive snaps he was in for (according to footballguys.com). He was buzzing around the ball and proved why he should be getting more playing time. When watching the game, you can see Isaiah towering over other defenders, and looking massive when sacking Russell Wilson and stopping Carlos Hyde. He is an athletic freak that is quickly getting up to NFL speed.
Fitz has had a rough season. With the addition of D-Hop, he has seen minimal targets compared to the rest of his career. He went from being the constant #1 receiver to the #3 role, while being utilized more as a blocker and a gadget player. Most of his routes are no longer the hot route - or the main target - when he is on the field. If he is targeted first, if at all, it is either a screen or some other short route. This has led to a significant decline in his production as a receiver. Below is a graph with Fitz's receiving numbers ten games into 2019 and ten games into 2020:
Source: Pro Football Reference
Being 37 years of age is definitely not helping his production either, however, he found a way to put up solid numbers in both games against Seattle. Oddly enough, Fitz had the same amount of receptions (8) and the same amount of yards (62) in Week 7 and Week 11 against the Seahawks. Fitz also did a solid job blocking, minus one holding call. Fitz is not the player he once was, but he can still go out and put on a good performance.
The Cardinals played mistake free football, as far as turnovers are concerned. There were a few close calls, Kenyan Drake's touchdown that was initially ruled a fumble, and a few errant throws by Murray, but all in all, it was nice to see the Cardinals be smarter with the football. If our offense can stay on this pace, and minimize mistakes outside of turnovers, this offense can become a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.
No pass rush pressure/contain after the first quarter
Not targeting Deandre Hopkins enough
No room for Kyler Murray to scramble
The Cardinals pass rush looked menacing during the first quarter. Russell Wilson was brought down 3 times, once by Angelo Blackson, Isaiah Simmons, and Michael Dogbe. Despite hitting Wilson an additional 8 times throughout the game, he was given too much room to scramble, and when the Cards ran contain, he had too much time to throw. This is a result in missing key defensive tackles Jordan Phillips and Corey Peters. Wilson ran the ball 10 times for 42 yards, most of which came on scrambles. This also gave Wilson the opportunity to find receivers down field after getting out of the pocket (ie. DK Metcalf's touchdown in the first quarter). Not having Chandler Jones and other pass rushers had a major effect on our defensive production, and it was on full display in Week 11.
Kliff Kingsbury: Let's make a great trade for the best receiver in the league and pair him up with the reigning Rookie of the Year.
Also Kliff Kingsbury: Let's have Deandre Hopkins run routes that only work if Kyler has 5 seconds to throw the ball or if Kyler can get out of the pocket if he gets pressured.
The routes D-Hop had to run against the Seahawks were absolutely ridiculous. Granted, he was going up against Tre Flowers, the Seahawks' third best cornerback, but that's no excuse to have most of his routes go 15+ yards upfield. During most pass plays, the Seahawks played one high safety, which usually means they are in Cover 1 or Cover 3; unless it is a bluff or show defense (usually the defensive backs will rotate into Cover 2 or 4 after the snap in this scenario). This means most of D-Hops routes were one-on-one. The result? 5 catches for 51 yards and 0 TDs. Most of this is not Deandre's fault either. It's poor game planning and route concepts against the worst defense in the league. In all fairness, what coach wouldn't try to go deep with the NFL's best receiver against a subpar corner? I get the decision, but the execution was not there, and it was apparent there was no backup plan in case Murray got pressured, which he very well did.
Speaking of Kyler getting pressured, he also didn't have anywhere to run with the ball. The addition of Carlos Dunlap, who had 2 sacks - including the game winning sack - Thursday night, has proven to be a solid pickup for a mediocre defensive line. Some of his best plays didn't even register a sack or pressure; it came when he helped collapsed the pocket, while not allowing Murray to scramble outside of the contain. Dunlap's strength and speed as an edge rusher are a great combination for stopping mobile quarterbacks, especially one as elusive as Kyler. The offensive line play was spotty all night long, and Dunlap did not make it any easier for the big boys up front.
Dre Kirkpatrick unsportsmanlike conduct
Cornerbacks are too old or too slow
The Cardinals are the most penalized team in the NFL. This is a testament to Kliff's idea of conditioning and discipline techniques throughout the practice week. Until he can rally the troops and get them in order, the Cardinals will continue to commit penalties and lose close games.
On offense, the Cardinals committed 8 penalties. 4 were false starts (DJ Humphries had two, Justin Pugh and Dan Arnold had one a piece), 3 offensive holds (Justin Pugh, Larry Fitzgerald, and JR Sweezy - which resulted in a safety), and 1 intentional grounding (Kyler Murray). Almost every penalty resulted in the Cardinals having to punt later on that same set of downs, not even later in the drive. DJ Humphries also had a terrible game, and committing 2 false starts only heightened his poor play. You could see Kyler becoming more and more frustrated as the game went on, especially as he was dealing with a banged up shoulder after he absorbed a hit in the first quarter. Add all of these shortcomings together, and you get a high potential offense playing like a bottom tier team.
Dre Kirkpatrick, along with some other corners on our roster, are washed up, but bring in veteran experience. Against the Seahawks, Dre played like anything but a veteran. Besides getting cooked by Tyler Lockett for most of the night, he decided to tack on an taunting penalty as well. On a crucial third down, at the Arizona 37 yard line, Lockett caught a short out route. After Dre whiffed past Lockett on an open field tackle, Simmons and Budda Baker brought Lockett to the turf to force fourth down at the 32 yard line. After the play, Dre stood over Lockett, looked down and appeared to say something to him. DK Metcalf got close to Dre, but never made contact with him. Dre took a swing at DK after they exchanged some words. The scuffle was broken up, but Dre went back for more. He fought through three of his teammates to throw one more punch at DK. This resulted in a 15 yard penalty and an automatic first down for Seattle at the 17 yard line. Two plays later, Carlos Hyde burst through two wimpy tackle attempts by the Cardinals and scored a touchdown.
This penalty swung the game by 4 points, with Seattle getting 7 with the touchdown and extra point, rather than settling for 3 with a 50 yard field goal. This changed the game as the Cardinals were forced to pass the ball on 4th and 10 at the end of the game while down 28-21, rather than kicking a chip-shot field goal, to tie the game 24-24 and force overtime. This is the difference between the Cardinals holding first place in the NFC West and falling back down to third place, while barely holding on to a wild card spot.
Patrick Peterson: 30 years old 40 yard dash: 4.34 (2011)
Dre Kirkpatrick: 31 years old 40 yard dash: 4.51 (2012)
Byron Murphy Jr.: 22 years old 40 yard dash: 4.55 (2019)
Johnathan Joseph: 36 years old 40 yard dash: 4.31 (2006)
Robert Alford (IR): 32 years old 40 yard dash: 4.39 (2013)
Kevin Peterson (IR): 26 years old 40 yard dash: 4.58 (2016)
Average age: 29.5 years old Average 40: 4.45 (Dating back up to 9 years ago)
The Arizona Cardinals are too thin in cornerback roster spots, too old and too slow to keep up with elite receivers in the NFL. Patrick Peterson was one of the most feared corners in the NFL until 2019. Now, the former three time First Team All-Pro, is getting beat more often than not against most receivers he has faced this season. DK Metcalf (4.33) and Tyler Lockett (4.40) are two of the fastest receivers in the league, and their speed was on display against a weak Arizona secondary unit. In order to become a feared defense again, the Cardinals will need to target young corners in the draft or in free agency. A young, fast corner that comes to mind is Emmanuel Mosley (24 years old, 4.47 40 yard dash at pro day). Mosley went undrafted in 2018, but has quickly proven to be a starting-caliber cornerback in the NFL. He had a solid postseason for the 49ers last year, according to Pro Football Reference, allowing a 72.2 quarterback rating through three playoff games. He has been battling a few injuries this year, so I doubt San Francisco will want to keep him on board going into 2021. He would be a great addition to an aging Cardinals secondary.
The Cardinals are a good football team. They have the tools to be a top 5 team if they want to. The offensive mistakes need to get tightened up, and the pass defense needs to be adjusted. Arizona's season-long struggles have come from these two categories. Kyler is not a one man show, as much as we'd like him to be, and he needs help from his supporting cast.
A good ten day break between games should bode well for the Cardinals, who travel to New England to take on a battered Patriots squad. This is a must-win game for Arizona, as the Seahawks play the hapless Eagles, and the Rams play the injured 49ers. If the Cardinals have the same offensive success that the Texans had, they will be able to run up the scoreboard and blow out the Patriots.
On a side note, this season, the Cardinals have 3 games in the Northeast. They played at MetLife against the Jets earlier this year, they play the Pats at Gillette this week, and they go to MetLife again to play the Giants in Week 14. Of course, it's the same year that COVID-19 has become a global pandemic. Unfortunately, I will not be able to see the Cardinals play at all this year, but it is for the collective goal to eradicate this nasty virus from our world. Please, wash your hands, wear a mask, do your job and stay safe so we all can enjoy some tailgating, hooting-and-hollering, and memorable Sunday football again.