Arizona Cardinals Recap - Week 12: Playing Down to Competition
The Arizona Cardinals are playing like a joke as of late. Any other year, I'd be completely okay with a 3 point loss to New England. But to lose to Cam Newton, whose best receiver right now is Damiere Byrd, and a Patriots defense with no identity, is down right embarrassing (imagine saying that last year). As if this loss wasn't bad enough, we had multiple opportunities to seal the game against the Pats, and we failed to do so. This isn't the first time that we've lost to a team who, on paper, we're better than. Let's look at the win-loss record of teams we've won and lost against so far this season.
*We'll take the team's record from the time we played them, not their current record*
SF 0-0 DET 0-2
WAS 1-0 CAR 1-2
NYJ 0-4 MIA 4-3
DAL 2-3 SEA 6-3
SEA 5-0 NE 6-4
Total: 15-9 Total: 15-19
Winning Percentage .625 Winning Percentage: .441
This is a testament to how the Cardinals play up or down to their competition. In reality, besides Seattle and Buffalo, we haven't beaten anyone good. In both of those games, we had a crazy turn of events in order to win those games. Against Seattle, it was Simmons clutch interception after Zane missed a game winning field goal. Against Buffalo, it was Hail Murray and D-Hop making the Bills secondary their kids. Without two key plays, the Cardinals are 4-7. Given everything I've said above, we're 6-5 holding on to the 7 seed for the NFL Playoffs. That's not good enough. We're a team that can decimate opposing defenses, and yet, we continue to sell ourselves short. Let's look back at how we put mediocrity on display Sunday in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
Photo: Arizona Cardinals
De'Vondre Campbell looked great
That's it, that's all I've got. De'Vondre was the only good part about the game yesterday. DV came out buzzing, stuffing the first play of the game at the line of scrimmage, which was immediately followed by a tackle for loss on the very next play. He would finish with 6 total tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack and 1 QB hit. He did all of this fresh off a calf injury that sidelined him against the Seahawks. It seems that DV, Jordan Hicks, and Isaiah Simmons have finally found a rotation that works for all three of them, as they all led the team in tackles.
Photo: Associated Press
Pass protection was off
Kyler couldn't run the ball
Couldn't score at the end of the first half
The offensive line, outside of penalties, has looked the best it's ever been in the past five season. DJ Humphries may be the best run blocking left tackle in the league, while Kelvin Beachum has enjoyed the best year of his career on the opposite side. The inside unit of Justin Pugh, Mason Cole, and JR Sweezy have done a good job holding up interior defensive linemen. The Patriots came in with a solid game plan with bluff blitzes and packing the line of scrimmage with defenders. This overwhelmed the offensive line, as their job in pass protection is to block the most dangerous man. In most situations, they block the man on their inside shoulder. Because of this, the widest man, usually a defensive back or outside linebacker, is left unblocked as there are not enough pass blockers on the play to pick him up. This happened constantly throughout the game, and Murray was hesitant to get out of the pocket due to a shoulder injury from the previous game. Usually teams will adjust to this and keep a running back or tight end in to pick up the extra man on a blitz. Kliff kept the protection the way it was and it result in an interception (tipped by a defensive tackle), 2 sacks, and 5 QB hits. Our receivers failed to get open in one on one situations, and this ultimately led to our offense's demise.
As I mentioned earlier, Kyler suffered a shoulder injury against Seattle. This forced him and the Cardinals to be more cautious with Murray keeping the football for himself. Because of this, a good chunk of the Cardinals offensive fire power was missing Sunday. There were only three option plays where Murray decided to keep the ball for himself, and he rarely scrambled past the line of scrimmage. In result, he finished with 31 yards on 5 carries. One key play where he decided to not keep the ball was on a third down with less than 2 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. John Simon, a Patriots edge rusher, sat to contain Murray and force him to hand the ball off. By rule, Murray made the right decision. In this situation, however, Murray needed just three yards and could have easily maneuvered his way by Simon for a first down. Was it smart that he handed the ball off? Yes, but in that situation, keeping it may have been a more productive option.
The Cardinals had the ball with 7 minutes left in the first half, leading 10-7. They did a great job moving the ball slowly downfield. Kyler made a big third down conversion where he was scampering away from Adam Butler, a Patriots defensive tackle. After Murray dropped ten yards back, he sidearmed the ball by Butler, ducked to avoid a big hit, and threw an absolute dart to tight end Dan Arnold for a 17 yard gain. Arizona continued to push the ball downfield, hitting short crossing routes and running inside zones. The Cardinals found themselves on the New England 8 yard on third down. Kyler hit Keesean Johnson on a slant route, where he fought through the Patriots defense for a touchdown. Upon further review, it was determined his knee hit the turf right before the ball crossed the goal line. This led to the Cardinals running down the clock to 3 seconds before burning their last time out. The Cardinals decided to go for it and attempt to score a touchdown. I actually agreed with this call. Arizona was getting the ball at half, and a field goal still kept it within a one possession game. Additionally, if the field goal was blocked and returned, the Patriots would be up 14-10, pending a successful extra point attempt. In the event of a fumble or interception with the main offense out there, at least there are offensive players who could catch up to whoever forced the turnover.
On fourth and goal from the one, Arizona handed the ball inside to Kenyan Drake. Lawrence Guy made an incredible play by stuffing the right guard, not allowing him to work his way up to the Ja'Whaun Bentley in the second level. Bentley stuffed Drake and four other Patriots defenders piled on top of him. It was a close call, but it was ruled short on the field. Due to the amount of bodies on top of Drake, it was unclear if he had broken the plane or not. The score remained 10-7 and the half was over. Earlier in the game, Drake broke the plane and scored, but it was ruled short. The Cardinals decided not to review it and handed him the ball on the next play anyways. Drake would end up scoring, but it makes you wonder if Drake had truly broken the plane, but due to the official ruling, this wiped a touchdown away from the Cardinals. The refs were pretty horrific the entire game, but this was the closest call they had to make and they did the best they could in this situation.
Photo: USA Today
Isaiah Simmons two big penalties
Another missed field goal when we needed it
Abysmal 4th quarter play-calling
Isaiah Simmons has played great football over the past few games. Even in this game, he racked up his second sack and had a big tackle for loss. On two plays, however, he was penalized for two dirty plays. The first one was against N'Keal Harry. On a crossing route, Simmons came in and led with his upper body for a hit against Harry. Before impact, Harry lowered his helmet into Simmons' and yellow flags were chucked all over the play. They called the penalty on Simmons for a helmet-to-helmet hit. This resulted in a first down for the Patriots, and they would score later that drive. I thought the call could have gone either way, with Harry lowering his helmet into Simmons, but that wouldn't be the worst of it.
Near the end of the game, Cam kept the ball and ran up the sidelines. Simmons came in high and caught the bottom of Newton's facemask with the top of his helmet. Simmons was called for a late hit out of bound, which I thought was a bad call since Newtown made no clear effort to get out and was still in-bounds when contact was made. Either way, it was a helmet to helmet that put the Pats in field goal range and set up Nick Folk to kick the game winner. These two penalties resulted in a 10 point swing for the Pats, resulting in a 20-17 victory. Take these two penalties away, and give the touchdown to Drake at the end of the half, and the Cardinals win 24-10. Then again, that's just a salty Cardinals fan talking. A win is a win and a loss is a loss.
If you haven't read my Week 9 recap, please feel free to check it out before reading the following section. Zane Gonzalez, as I referred to in the Week 9 blog, needs to get out of Arizona. After missing a 45 yard field goal, that is now the 5th kick in a potential game-tying or game-winning situation he has missed this season. As the field goal unit walked off, it seemed as if Aaron Brewer, the Cardinals long snapper, and Zane were sharing some words. I would be fed up if I was Aaron Brewer. If he hits his field goal against the Dolphins, and this one against the Pats, we could be sitting at 8-3. Instead, we are left to wonder what we should do about our kicker - cut him and sign a new one, if you haven't guessed by now - and how to handle a 6-5 record with the toughest stretch of our schedule coming up. Zane is not the long term solution, we need a kicker we can rely on when we need to win a ball game. The NFL is thin on kickers this year, but there are still some on the market who could do a better job than what Zane has put forth.
Kliff Kingsbury can't call a game winning drive to save his life. The only close games he won this year were because of his defense, or a beautiful play by Murray and D-Hop which he has almost zero responsibility for. Other than that, he has cost use three games in which we could have easily won if it wasn't for his terrible fourth quarter play calling. Earlier, I mentioned a play where Murray decided to hand the ball off on third down. If Murray keeps the ball, he has a chance to get around Simon and get a first. Now, it is fourth and one. Earlier, Kliff went for it to score a touchdown and missed. A smart call, even in hindsight, that didn't pay off. This situation is much different. You have a kicker who has been inconsistent in crucial moments, you are past midfield and you can spread the ball out, and you most likely won't see the same goal line defense you saw at the end of the half. Why not go for it? If you miss the field goal or get stuffed on the fourth down try, the Pats get the ball close to the same spot anyways. If you get the first, the Pats have no timeouts and you can run down the clock, attempt a shorter field goal, and possibly win the game. If Zane misses, at least you force overtime and can win it there. I'm absolutely dumbfounded by Kliff's brain. He may be one of the top offensive minds in the league when it comes to route concepts and offensive schemes, but he cannot efficiently play call in the fourth quarter.
Photo: Sports Illustrated
Stat Source: Pro Football Reference
I will say that the Cardinals were bailed out by the refs multiple times throughout the game. On a punt return TD, Anfernee Jennings was called for a blindside block on a punt return TD by Gunner Olszewski. Jennings peeled back to block Zeke Turner and laid him out. The hit looked high to me, as he hit him in the exposed part of the shoulder pad lining, where a player's neck would be. I thought the official penalty was wrong, as Zeke saw Anfernee the whole way and Anfernee did not make any movement back towards his own goal line; the two main contingencies of the penalty. The ruling should have been an unnecessary roughness, as there was no reason to level Zeke. In that situation, special teams players are taught to put their hands in the air and run in front or near the defender in order to slow him down. The same job is done, except you don't get penalized for the hit. I think calling it a penalty is bad for the sport, but is necessary for the health of the players.
In regards to defensive scheming, our base package should be Campbell and Hicks at inside linebacker, with Simmons and Budda Baker over the top. In passing packages, Hicks or DV should come out and Simmons should sub in for one of them. I think this would be a perfect defense to run, as we were able to hold the Patriots rushing offense at bay when we were in the first package, and we were also able to keep the passing attack at bay in the second package.
Defense, however, is only a third of the game. Our special teams, outside of Zane, has been great all year. Our offense has the potential to be a game breaker and we have failed to show that all season long. Murray has done a good job of protecting the ball in past games and is making smarter decisions in the passing game. Kliff needs to do a better job of calling plays in the fourth quarter, in order to put us in a position to win. In three games this year against the Dolphins, Seahawks, and Patriots, he has failed to do so. With our toughest part of our season coming up, with two games against the Rams, a game against the Giants, 49ers, and Eagles. I am not afraid of the Giants or Eagles, but one of those teams could shock us. Pair those games up with good Rams team, and a 49ers team that is getting better every week, we could see ourselves fall from 6-3 in Week 11, to 8-8 by the end of the season. We need to step our game up, or we will be sitting at home watching our divisional rivals compete for the Lombardi Trophy.