There's two truths to the past couple of weeks:
Kyler Murray is not the same player he was at the midpoint of the season
The Cards are 1-4 since I started writing recaps
The offense is stagnant, the defense has injuries all over, special teams are decent - minus one particular player - and the play calling is flat. To make matters worse, we are out of playoff contention for the time being. Going into Week 7, Arizona was 4-2, while Minnesota was 1-5. Now both teams have the same record, with Minnesota stealing the 7 seed due to having a better divisional record. At this point, it doesn't seem like anything can go right for the Cardinals. It reminds me of our 2012 season, where we started 4-0 and finished 5-11. We started 5-2 this year, now we sit at 6-6. How did we get here? Find out what happened this week below in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
Dan Arnold played great
The defense put up a fight
D-Hop finally caught a touchdown
Dan Arnold has been the perfect tight end for our offense. He has the build of a receiver, but holds his own when blocking. We have been feeding him the ball more and more, which has led him to the best game of his career. Arnold played efficiently in the pass game with 2 catches for 61 yards and 2 TDs, while also sealing off the edge on multiple run plays. Despite getting less playing time as of late, he has capitalized at a higher rate than he did earlier in the season. In the first six games, Arnold played around 51% of all offensive snaps, tallying 9 catches for 97 yards and 0 TDs (he didn't have any receptions Weeks 5 and 6). In the next six games, He has played significantly less with only 31% of offensive snaps played, almost half as many as he played the previous six games. Despite this, he has put up 11 catches for 189 yards and 3 TDs. He has been a key piece in our offense the past two weeks with the absence of Larry Fitzgerald.
Against one of the most efficient offenses in the league, the Cardinals defense played stout...for the first three quarters. Although The Cards recorded only one sack, the defense applied pressure and did a good job of swarming to the ball. Cam Akers, the main bell cow for the Rams, averaged only 3.4 yards per carry. In addition, any receiver with more than four catches averaged less than 10 yards per catch, and Cooper Kupp was the only one with more than 9 yards per catch. The defense's downfall, however, was that they were on the field for way too long. The Rams offense was held to only 17 points in the first three quarters, while turning the ball over on downs twice in the first half, and missing a field goal later in the game. When the fourth quarter came around, Jared Goff ran in a TD to make it a ten point game. After the Cardinals recovered a fumble on punt, and then scored a TD right after, the Rams offense cranked downfield and capped it off with a 38 yard TD run by Darrell Henderson. These two fourth quarter touchdowns would be enough to put the game away. To put icing on the cake, Troy Hill picked off Kyler Murray and took it to the house to seal the deal. Until that point, the defense looked solid. The defense has played better and better every game, despite the constant injuries at every position.
D-Hop needed to score. His last TD was Hail Murray in Week 10, and his last one before that was in Week 7. So over the past six games, D-Hop only has 3 TDs. Regardless, seeing him put up points is good sign. When Murray's shoulder heals up and he can scramble like he did early this season, expect these two to start popping off. For the game, D-Hop has 8 catches, the most he's had since Week 7, for only 52 yards. This lack in production has led to our offense losing its' identity; not that it ever had one though. The offense has not been able to shine in the wake of D-Hop's struggles. Hopefully this is a step in the right direction.
Photo: Arizona Cardinals
Time of possession was one sided
Kyler's passing inefficiencies
Run game is non-existent
Speaking of getting our offense stepping in the right direction, time of possession is a huge part of that. During Sunday's loss, the Cardinals had the ball for only 21:07, where the Rams had the ball for nearly double that time (38:53). This wore out our defense and prevented our offense from getting in a rhythm. This difference in time of possession resulted in 21 points for the Rams in the fourth quarter. If the Cardinals want to get back in the win column, they need to do a better job of slowing down the offense and wearing out other defenses. This offense does great when we go no huddle, but they are even more efficient when they slow the game down.
A big piece of the offense being more efficient is Kyler Murray. You can kiss his MVP bid goodbye after his lackluster play over the past few weeks. Despite throwing 3 TDs, his completion percentage was garbage. Kyler hit only 21 out of 39 passes, and some throws were wide open. Most of the time, he was pressured and had to chuck the ball away, or he just flat out missed a receiver. Yes, he has been dealing with shoulder issues, but we have two solid running backs that can carry the load. Besides Kyler's five carries, we only ran the ball sixteen other times, accounting for 33% of our total plays. For an air raid offense, this is typical to see, but the NFL has quickly caught up to speed on how to stop this style offense. If Kyler can pick up the slack and be just 10% more accurate, we can start winning ball games.
As I mentioned above, the run game is not there. With Kyler's ability to scramble being diminished, defenses are being more aggressive in their run commits. Instead of keeping at the run in order to wear out the defense and open possible play action opportunities, the Cardinals abandoned the run and were locked down. Kliff needs to trust that Kyler's shoulder will be okay, and he needs to trust the run game. When that happens, along with slowing the game down and giving Kyler better chances to be more efficient, this offense can go back to being a threat again.
Photo: The San Diego Union-Tribune
Kyler Murray's costly turnovers late
Secondary got sliced and diced
Zane has to go
Over the past several weeks, Kyler has done a great job of keeping the ball with our offense. Late in the game Sunday, he took a big sack that resulted in a fumble recovery by the Rams, and then threw a bad pick six into double coverage. Troy Hill cut on an out route and had a perfect angle on the ball. With no one near him, he took it all the way for a TD to win the game. I think this is a hiccup in Murray's ball security, but still a red flag moving forward. Kyler is young, so he will learn when to take certain risks while down in a football game.
What else is new? The secondary got murdered again. Jared Goff finished 37/47 with 351 yards and a TD. Goff was also able to find 9 different receivers and only threw one errant pass. Losing Jonathan Joseph early in the game didn't help our cause either. Jospeh has been great taking over for Dre Kirkpatrick at the #2 cornerback spot. It is too late to make anymore drastic changes to our defensive scheme, so looking towards this year's free agency period and draft is all we can do for now. We need more speed and better man coverage corners. With the speed we have at linebacker and on the edge, this would elevate our defense's performance.
I sound like a broken record here. Get rid of Zane. He missed another easy 48 yarder. If he hits that field goal, the Cardinals are down by a touchdown with 2 minutes left. A tall order, but it's not like we haven't done that before. To boot, maybe Kyler doesn't throw that pick and gives himself time to make proper reads, instead of trying to hurry the ball downfield since he's down by two possessions. In addition, Zane is in the bottom five for field goal percentage (72.7%) for qualifying kickers. Plain and simple, get rid of Zane, I don't care if we take a rookie at this point.
Photo: The Arizona Republic
There was a pretty cool thing that (almost) happened at the end of the game. The Cardinal lined up for an onside kick. As Zane Gonzalez put his hand in the air to signal the kicker, Aaron Brewer, the Cardinals long snapper, who was lined up to the left of Zane, took one step, kicked, and bounced the ball on the ground and into the air. The ball went right into the hands of a Rams player, giving the Cardinals no shot at generating a turnover. If the ball spiked a little bit higher, they might have had a chance to recover the kick.
In closing, since I started writing these blogs, the Cardinals have sucked. We could be 0-5, if not for D-Hop and Murray making an unbelievable play. Do I be superstitious and stop writing the blogs? Nah, I'm not superstitious, but I am a little stitious. For those reasons, I'm gonna put the blame on the Cardinals. They need to play better in all three phases.
Offense: Slow the game down, run more
Defense: Keep doing your thing, we'll get it together
Special Teams: You too, just get rid of Zane
Simple as that. Yes, I'm just a writer, but running the ball and stopping the run have been key staples to successful football teams since the game was invented. If the Cardinals do this, they just may have a shot at redeeming their playoff hopes.