First things first, a 'W' is a 'W' and for a 1-2 team that has playoffs aspirations, any win is a welcome sign. The Arizona Cardinals entered Sunday's contest with the Houston Texans desperately needing to defend their home turf and the final score on the board says that they did just that, but was it enough? Thirty minutes into the game it looked like a cake walk. Kurt Warner was near perfect, the defense was playing lights out and the Cardinals were seemed to be on their way to a dominating shutout. By the time the final gun sounded though the Cardinals needed a defensive touchdown and a last second goal line stand to escape with the victory. So what happened to the Cardinals dominant offense?
First Half Perfection: For the first thirty minutes the Cardinals were almost flawless. Kurt Warner was 20 of 23 for 262 yards and two touchdowns (a sparkling 143.1 QB rating) and the defense simply dominant. The offense put together four drives of at least 48 yards while the defense allowed just one such drive to the Texans. The only black mark for the offense was a fumble deep in Texans' territory from Anquan Boldin, but even with the turnover the Cardinals led 21-0 at the break. At the start of the second half though everything changed.
Leading by three scores and the Texans' defense on it's heels the Cardinals offense seemed poised to deliver the knockout blow. After all the Cardinals offense had scored two quick touchdowns in the final two minutes of the first half and they were getting the ball to start the second half. What followed next though was nothing short of shocking.
The Cardinals threw conservative out the window and chose to throw the ball even more than they had in the first half. Warner would throw the ball nine times before they attempted their first running play of the second half and despite a six yard gain by Wells on a first down, they'd attempt two more passes before punting the ball back to the Texans. By the end of the game the Cardinals had thrown the ball 16 times in the second half and run the ball just twice (not counting two Kurt Warner kneel downs to end the game).
First Drive of the 2nd Half: Three KW passes leads to just two yards on two completions. They'd use just two minutes of the clock.
Second Drive of the 2nd Half: Three more KW passes with just one completion, one offensive pass interference call and a punt after using just 1:22 of the clock.
- Third Drive of the 2nd Half: After three more KW passes leads to a first down the Cardinals attempt their first running play of the second half (almost exactly 13 minutes into the quarter). Beanie Wells gains six yards on first down but a second down pass is incomplete and Warner is sacked on third down. They'd be forced to punt again after using less than three minutes worth of clock time. \
Fourth Drive of the 2nd Half: This drive starts off with a Tim Hightower run which nets three yards and then Warner follows with back to back incompletions. The Cardinals would punt for the fourth time in the second half after using less than a minute worth of clock time.
Fifth Drive of the 2nd Half: By this time the Texans have tied the game and the Cardinals desperately need to put together some kind of drive not only to attempt to put some points on the board but also to give their defense a break. The offense has a good starting point (their own 40) but three more KW passes (two of which are incomplete) lead to the fifth punt in as many drives after exactly one minute of clock time.
The Cardinals offense wouldn't touch the ball again until the defense scored a TD and delivered an amazing goal line stand. After two KW kneel downs/QB dives the game was over. In the end a win is a win but what can we carry forward from this offensive performance, if anything?
Why Didn't They Run the Ball? - As everyone should except the big question today is why didn't the Cardinals come out and establish some kind of running game. Why not pound the rock, shorten the game and keep the Texans' offense off the field? While none of us will ever know how that strategy would have played out, the players and staff did have a semi-reasonable explanation afterwords. Warner said that the Texans defense was stacking the box with a safety which meant that at least one of this wide receivers was single covered. Given the choice between playing to their strength (passing) with 'favorable' match-ups or trying to employ their weakness (running) with an 'unfavorable' match-up, they chose the former. Since their decision backfired and almost cost them the game, we are all second guessing them today. Before you call for Whiz's head (as a play caller) or curse Warner for his effect on the running game, I ask you this: If the Cardinals had run the ball 16 times during the second half versus just two passes and similarly struggled to move ball, would you have praised them for getting conservative and trying to limp to the finish line?