Arizona Cardinals Lose to 49ers 20-16: Offensive Breakdown

In 2008 the Arizona Cardinals offense averaged 26.7 points per game and scored at least 21 points 12 times during the regular season (including both time that they played the 49ers) and if they could have managed 21 points yesterday, the Red Birds would be sitting at 1-0 instead of 0-1. Unfortunately for the home team though the Cardinals managed just 16 points and despite a solid defensive effort they struggled to move the ball, establish any kind of ground game or convert third downs. There were some brights spots but overall the dark clouds loom much larger than the small silver lining.

  • 3rd Down Conversions: The Cardinals converted just four of 14 third down attempts and were a very putrid one for seven during the first half. The average distance on third downs was 7.9 yards and every single attempt included Kurt Warner dropping back for a pass attempt. Of those 14 attempts he completed seven passes for 86 yards and threw an interception.
  • First Down Production: Oddly enough though the Cards were quite efficient on first downs. Warner was 11 for 16 for 135 yards (counting a five yard sack). Of the 29 first down plays during the game the offense averaged 5.7 yards per play which is surprising considering the average distance on third down attempts.
  • Kurt Warner's Rythm:While I would never try to make excuses for Kurt's mediocre performance yesterday, I did get the feeling that he wasn't playing as poorly as some are talking about today. His final numbers (26 for 44 with 288 yards, one TD and two picks) were certainly hurt by some drops (four by my count) and another pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage. These five instances plus a couple miscommunications were enough to keep the offense off balance most of yesterday's contest. If a couple of those drops are turned into receptions then Warner's completion percentage is right up around his normal mid-to-upper 60's.
  • Lack of Pass Protection:Yet another factor in Warner's uneven day was some very poor play by the Cards offensive line. Levi Brown stood out as the worst performance but Mike Gandy and Reggie Wellseach took their turn letting their respective defender fly by them en route to Warner. To often the Niners were able to bring pressure without having to blitz and in the past, that has basically been the death of Warner. He's cerebral enough to recognize almost any blitz and hurt a defense by getting rid of the ball before they can get to him but when a front four can bring pressure and still drop six or seven into coverage, he's too often just a sitting duck. To be honest though Warner did hold onto the ball too long trying to wait for receivers to open up down field.
  • Running Game:For the most part the Cards running game looked very much the same as it was in 2008. Tim Hightower carried the ball six times for 17 yards during the first half but contributed just two carries for negative two yards in the second half. Chris Wells had a decent second half with six carries for 29 yards in the second half after one carry for no gain in the first half. To make a long story short the Cardinals running game consisted of two carries, both by Wells, during the Cardinals lone TD drive that covered 23 yards. Both runs were on first down downs and both were run behind Levi Brown.
  • Hightower vs. Wells:I know that there has been some talk about Wells needing to start over Hightower, but I'd slightly tap the breaks on that talk for now. The first reason is pretty clear, there's a good chance that carries will be split anyways. After all Hightower officially "started" yesterday but the carries were split eight to seven and a single 15 yard run was really the only difference between the two. Five of Hightower's eight carries went for two yards or less with one going for negative yardage while three of Well's seven carries were of the two yard or less variety with two of them going for negative yardage. At this point it's also fair to say that Hightower is the better back out of the backfield and a better pass protector. Basically if the carries are going to be split rather evenly and Hightower is going to be a threat of the backfield, there isn't much point in making a change quite yet.
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    Overall there's no sense sugar coating an offensive performance that was much more bad than good but there are a couple of things to remember. First the Niners always play the Cardinals very well, especially defensively and their secondary, for whatever reason, always play Larry Fitzgerald very well. Secondly the offense wasn't exactly stellar in last season's opener yet they still managed to have quite a year. It's obviously too early to panic and too early to start calling for anyone's job. It's a downer to drop a division game at home after being perfect against the NFC West last year but one loss is not reason to forget how talented this team is and how good they can be this season. What were your thoughts after yesterday's game? Are you panicking?   

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