The Arizona Cardinals' east coast road trip didn't start out the way that we had hoped and they failed to start the season 3-0 for the first time in a quarter century but Sunday's loss to the Redskins wasn't all bad. In the end a loss is a loss and that's ultimately what a team and a coaching staff are graded on, but the Cardinals played a one score game down the wire against a team that was in the playoffs last year. This wasn't a game that they gave away, like last year, but there were certainly some missed opportunities and we'll take a much deeper look at the game over the next couple of days but for now here are some quick observations.
Running Game: Edge and Hightower had their best game of the season
yesterday, averaging five yards a carry. Both of them had a gain of at least ten yards and did a really good job of cutting back and taking what the defense was giving them, while getting every single yard that they could. It was obvious from the very first drive that the game plan was centered around moving the ball on the ground. They finished with 23 carries for 116 yards (5.0 ypc) and only one carry for negative yards. By the end of the game though I was torn between being encouraged by the running game and at the same time wondering if that success was coming as a detriment to Kurt Warner and the passing game.
- Run Defense: Looking at the overall stats, this may sound like a backhanded slap, but I thought the defense did a good job of limiting the Redskins running game. Clinton Portis was held to just 68 yards on 21 carries (3.24 ypc) and if it weren't for a couple of Jason Campbell scrambles (4 for 26) and a Devin Thomas reverse (16 yards) the overall stats would have looked better. Limiting Portis seemed to be a big key and his 87 total yards were well below his average.
- 'Gadget Plays': Ken Whisenhunt made a name for himself with the 'gadget play' in Pittsburgh and they're starting to become a regular part of the offense. We saw a WR pass, set up by a backward lateral, and Antrel Rolle caught a pass (although it was negated by a Washington penalty). I've always loved the 'trick' plays because even if they don't work, it forces a defense to spend time during the week preparing for them.
Turnovers: We knew it was going to happen eventually and several guys predicted that it would happen his week, but turnovers finally bit the Cardinals. Two turnovers (one pick and one fumble) led to ten Redskins points and both turnovers came at inopportune times and at bad spots on the field. The first, an Edgerrin James fumble, gave the Skins the ball at the Arizona 34 and they'd gain only four yards before kicking a field goal to take a 10-0 lead. The second turnover was even more discouraging and deeper in Cardinal territory. One drive after the Cardinals tied up the score and seemingly had all the momentum, Warner under threw a deep pass to Breaston, leading to an interception that was returned to the Cardinal 15 yard line. Breaston acknowledged after the game that he didn't do much to try and break up the interception, but regardless of whose fault it was the Skins scored the winning touchdown just 48 seconds later.
Penalties: The Cardinals six penalties for 42 yards doesn't seem like a big problem when you just glance at the numbers but if you look at when and how each one occurred, they killed the momentum of this game. They had one touchdown called back because of a delay of game penalty and those seven points ended up being the difference in the game. Three of
the penalties were on punt or kick returns ending up in 32 yards of lost field position and each time pinned the Cardinal offense inside their own 20.
- Defensive Pressure: I was hopeful all week that the Cardinal defense would come out blitzing early and keep Jason Campbell under duress all game long, but that didn't seem to be the game plan. Late in the first quarter the Cardinals picked up their first sack and a couple of plays later Antonio Smith hit Campbell as he was throwing. For the rest of the half he looked nervous and uncomfortable in the pocket, but it felt like the Cardinals were more concerned with limiting the big play instead of coming after Jason Campbell. After the sack, Campbell misfired on five of his next six passes to end the first half, which is pretty amazing considering that he finished with just eight incompletions.
Thoughts? Agree/Disagree? Are you more encouraged by the good things that you saw or just bummed that the Cardinals let a close game slip through their fingers?