Hard to Start: Arizona Cardinals Stall, Lose by 28 to Philadelphia Eagles

The Arizona Cardinals are 7-5 and can clinch the NFC West division with a San Francisco loss in Buffalo this week.

Considered alone, the above statement is bliss for the long suffering Arizona Cardinals franchise that hasn't won a divisional title in 33 years. 

After getting overwhelmed and dominated by an old division rival, the Philadelphia Eagles, to the tune of a four touchdown difference in score, the above statement loses some of it's warm, fuzziness — unless it a steaming heap of coyote feces, then there's plenty of warm-fuzzies to be plucked from the Cardinals' Thanksgiving performance.

The Cardinals played like a 16-year old trying to start a manual transmission car in the third gear:  a lot of stalls, on both sides of the ball.  The offense attempted to get a running game generated (to no effect, 25 yards on ten carries) at the cost of putting Kurt Warner in 3rd-and-long with an active Eagles defense harrying him nearly every down.  The Eagles' tactics worked all night, forcing Warner into three interceptions, two of them early in the game as the Eagles rushed out to a 21-point lead.  The Cardinals' defense were unable to put pressure on McNabb or contain the running game, as Brian Westbrook had four touchdowns on the night, a couple each via rushing and receiving.  Donovan McNabb looked like he was back in Super Bowl bound form completing 27 of 39 passes for 260 yards and four touchdowns.  Clearly, the Eagles were primed and ready to go while the Cardinals seemed passive and hesitant. 

It may be easy to blame the Cardinals' performance on a short week, a Giants hangover, and playing on the East Coast.  All these things aside, it is still disappointing to see a playoff-bound team play at this level.  The playoffs are a whole different "beast", but it is how the Cardinals dine on the regular season match-ups that sets the table for the post-season.  At this point, I wonder if the Cardinals will be eating with sporks.

An assortment of random thoughts I jotted down as I watched this game off of TiVo:

Turnovers Differential -3    Three INTs from Kurt in a colder environment only keeps with his career-long trends of lovin' the domes.   Anquan Boldin's fumble when the game was 34-20 and it seemed the Cards were going to make a move was a spirit crusher for the viewers at home trying to keep down dinner and for the Cardinals defense.

Dropped Passes  Is colder weather to blame?  Anquan had one of his worst dropped ball games in awhile.  Steve Breaston and Jerhame Urban had some key drops as well.

Pope Sighting  Not the Roman Catholic one either but the one wearing #82 for Arizona.  His 25-yard reception set up the Cardinals' first score.  Can he do that some more?

McNabb's Feet  The Cardinals' pass rush was fairly feeble, only generating one shared sack for Antonio Smith and Chike Okeafor.  Pressure would get in the vicinity but Donovan's feet would get him out of danger or even pick up some valuable yardage.  It truly was a night of the "good" McNabb for the Eagles.

Three and Out to Start Second Half  Ouch.  Where's that halftime adjustment, coaches?  No, not you Andy Reid and Co.!

Shameful Punting  The Cardinals have a few extra days to prepare for the next game.  Perhaps there will be a few punters in Tempe trying out.  Four punts for a net yardage of 33.5 yards...only three yards less than the gross yardage.  A 23-yarder sticks out in my mind and another short punt that bounced so oddly that an Eagle assumed it had hit another Eagle and tried to fall on the ball.  That induced mistake gave the Cardinals their second TD drive.  So thank you Dirk Johnson...for a pathetic punt?!

Warner's Short Game Was Shut Down  Kurt seemed to lose his comfort zone with the quick pressure on him and how well the Eagles were covering the short passing game.  The frequent drops by the receivers didn't help either.  I'm surprised the Cardinals didn't try some deeper routes earlier in the game as they worked well enough in the second half while the Cards tried to get back in the game.

Ralph Brown IS a Backup For a Reason  Brown was schooled all game by the Eagles' receivers.  Consistently his assignment was catching the ball with five yards of separation because Ralph couldn't keep his feet on the Eagles' litterbox-like field.

Larry Fitzgerald  Not the best game for yardage at only 65 (40 yards came on a bomb in the second half), but Larry made some great catches when the rest of the corps were not.

JJ Arrington On Kickoffs  Arrington had consistently good kick-off returns that helped the Cardinals offset Dirk Johnson' pathetic punting.  JJ has been giving the kick-off return duties for the remainder of the season which bodes well with that part of the Special Teams game.

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Thoughts, comments, considerations?  It's hard to believe the team that tied the Bengals a couple of weeks ago pasted the Cardinals so soundly on Thanksgiving.  I hope that this performance is the reality check the team needs to get themselves refocused on finishing the season strong and hitting post-season buffet with something stronger than a spork.  The Rams are up next and the Rams are good for curing all that ails a team.  Right Niners?

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