Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE
Another week, another loss in Cards country. After shocking the NFL with a 4-0 start, the Arizona Cardinals have lost their past three to sit one game over .500 before a pivotal match up against the San Francisco 49ers. When schedules were initially release, this three game stretch was supposed to be a bit of a breather and a confidence boost before a tough stretch in the schedule. Alas, it has been anything but, as the Cardinals now seem out of breath after sprinting ahead in their first four weeks. Even in a game such as the loss against the Vikings, there are positives to take away and build upon.
1. Apparently we can run the ball - After having what Cardinals fans would describe as success running the ball last week against the Buffalo Bills, the rushing attack against the Vikings was a legitimate force. Larod Stephens-Howling had a great day running the ball, taking 20 rushes for 104 yards and a score.
Despite a mini breakout last week against Buffalo, William Powell was only given 4 carries, likely carrying over from his mistakes on the Kolb injury as well as a fumble on kickoff return. LSH was used effectively by Mike Miller, using plays designed to give the shifty Stephens-Howling space and time, and Larod did his part.
2. Working the offense towards play strengths - Did Mike Miller transform into a great OC in the span of one week? No. Should his playcalling from this game be considered good? Probably not. Were there noticeable improvements? Absolutely. The less heralded offensive players were being used much more effectively, and the playcalling was trying work with the strengths of its players, rather than the players trying to fit into the gameplan.
Housler was being fed the ball in mismatches. Roberts was lined up against LBs on multiple occasions. Doucet was moved around in a few different packages. I would have liked to see more deep shots, and more Fitzgerald, but I'm sure that will be discussed in the 5 negatives post.
3. We were the better team - This is not meant as a slight to Minnesota at all, you guys deserve the victory and have a good team. However, on Sunday the Cardinals were the better team in nearly every facet, save the final score. Even with Adrian Peterson gaining 153 yards (seriously, that guy kills the Cards), Arizona was able to outgain Minnesota by almost 150.
We're it not for a horrible decision by Skelton on the Harrison Smith interception return for a touchdown, and an untimely (and unfortunate) fumble while the Cardinals were driving and in field goal range, Arizona may have just won. Christian Ponder was held to a measly 58 passing yards, and the Vikes were only 1/10 on third down. Mistakes killed the Cardinals.
4. Bend don't break defense - Yards, shmards. Somehow, despite giving up big yards on the ground the Adrian Peterson, the Cardinals defense was still able to hold Minnesota to 14 points allowed (Smith's INT TD is on the offense). Somehow, even with a very potent rushing attack, the Cards kept Christian Ponder in check, and pick him off twice.
The defense came up huge when it needed to, giving Skelton and the offense plenty of time, opportunities, and good field position. The super explosive Percy Harvin was only able to gain 47 yards from scrimmage, granted he did also get a touchdown. Overall, it was another impressive performance by Ray Horton's crew, squandered by offensive ineptitude.
5. The Achilles heal of the team played much better - I'm sure Revenge of the Birds will still be filled with comments and posts about how crappy the offensive line is, and how a certain Hall of Famer should be relieved of his coaching duties, but hey, the OL did play better today than we've grown accustomed to. Yes, 7 sacks still sucks, and no, I'm not suggesting our prayers have been answered. I'm just saying they seemed to play better.
Simply put, the run blocking alone makes Sunday's performance easily the best of the season for the heavily criticized unit. And on various occasions their was a strong pocket for Skelton to work with, and lots of time given for the routes to develop. I may be remembering incorrectly, but it seemed as though, due to Skelton's hindered mobility, those 7 sacks accounted for a large portion of the total pressures on the QB.