The Arizona Cardinals went into St. Louis undefeated, and left with their first loss of the season. How they respond from the loss will be a statement as to the true identity of this team. Did they just start the season very lucky? Were they relying too heavily on the defense to mask the deficiencies of the O-line and run game? After giving up 17 sacks in five days time, the questions surrounding the offensive line are no longer questions they are statements. The toughness of QB Kevin Kolb is no longer in question, anyone who can take 17 aggressive hits, spit blood on the turf and keep trying to make plays is either tough as they come or insane. My guess is a little bit of both. Against the Rams the Cardinals had so many bonehead plays I'll try to identify four plays and one issue that really stood out.
1) The missed TD pass to TE Rob Housler early in the game. Kevin Kolb overthrew an open Housler running up the seam in man coverage. Housler made an attempt to bring in an ugly pass but it was too far away from his body. I think this will be the fifth time we've seen a wide open Housler in the end zone pass be overthrown from either QB.
2) The other missed TD on the same drive. Larry Fitzgerald was in man coverage to Kevin Kolbs left side, Larry beats his man and is open for a walk in score but Kevin Kolb doesn't even make the progression to the left to see if Larry is open in man coverage. In fact, he didn't even look over to the left to read the coverage presnap. He saw something that he liked on the right side and didn't even see Larry lined up in man-to-man.
3) This one is two plays. Two 4th quarter, 4th and goal or 4th and short opportunities ... wasted. No points on the board, forced plays, bad decisions all around. The first pass to Fitzgerald who is short of the goal line was ridiculous. Based on the gang tackling that the Rams displayed they should have known that the moment Fitzgerald touched the ball four yards short of the end zone he would be greeted by at least three defenders, and he was. Turnover on downs. The second scoring attempt was preempted by a 3rd-1 incomplete pass, passing on 3rd and 1, due to the Cardinals having no run game and no faith in the offensive line to get any push. The Cardinals could have got a first down and then tried to punch it in. They passed, Doucet missed it. On 4th-1 Kevin Kolb empties the back field rather than keep RB Alfonso Smith in the backfield for protection and is rewarded with a seven yard sack. Smith is a big enough body that with OL Rich Ohrnberger in as replacement FB there is a good chance they could have picked up one yard. Instead they failed to plan for protection and paid with another turnover on downs.
4) The play calling, or should I say the lack of protection called to help the struggling Offensive Tackles. In the first half Kevin Kolb missed open receivers but as the game went on, the protection melted down and the play calling failed to adjust to the increasing pressure being brought by the Rams. It's bad that they couldn't make adjustments in the first half, but coming into the second half the response to the pressure was more receiving options (i.e. less protection) rather than two TE sets or an extra lineman. There were sparks out there such as using FB Anthony Sherman as the 3rd Down Back and getting creative with TE Rob Housler in the second half. But they were trying to beat the pressure with more weapons, like fighting bullets with bullets, when what you really need is a tank.
I was listening to Jim Rome on the radio this morning while driving to work and I'm not a fan of his show, he's a smart man, but not my favorite style for sports radio. Rome's first comments this morning were about the lack of adjustments and the lack of calling max protection schemes or RB chips to help the tackles. It's a bad day when I feel that Jim Rome could have made better adjustments at half time to the play calling than the Cardinals Offensive Coordinator Mike Miller.
Of these four (five), I have to pick the two 4th quarter failures to score as the bonehead plays that did the most damage and killed any chances of winning. When you decide it's four down territory and you're down by two scores it's time to pull out your best plays, your best protection, and your best efforts. You don't waste the opportunity and throw to a man who is known for making high reaching circus catches underneath, short of the end zone, and hope he can run through three defenders. You put it in the end zone and make him jump for it so it's one-on-one and let Fitzgerald beat the defender at the highest point. Just like he's proven time and time again. The other play, you know the sack on 4th and 1, I think you do the same thing and oh yeah, keep a defender in the back field with you.
The Cardinals can rebound from this loss. It's not the end of the world, and it's not the end of the season. They are still 4-1 and leading the division. They were exposed against a rising talent and division rival and are now on the hot seat to prove the first quarter of the year wasn't a fluke.
What were some of your "favorite" bonehead plays from Week 5?