As I sit here today, the day before Thanksgiving, I think about the Arizona Cardinals and their abysmal 2010 season. I think about all the hype heading into the year, at the possibility of achieving a third straight division crown. All of the offseason changes and all of the rational thoughts by us fans made this season feel like it could be a special one -- but then reality struck a chord.
The Cardinals have fallen back into the mantra of "the same ole Cardinals". Or have they? With success coming as often as snow in Arizona, us fans have nothing to base this season off of. Good teams occasionally face the dreaded "rebuilding season", but are the Cardinals a good team? Is this just one season where we must wait till the next? All of these questions have swirled around my head lately. Ken Whisenhunt has directed an amazing team since 2007, but this year seems different. So I ask myself: why have the Cardinals struggled so much this season?
Their current record is 3-7 but we all know it could easily be 5-5. Being up 24-10 in the final minutes of the game against the Minnesota Vikings, the Cardinals had a chance to seal a victory. Instead, Brett Favre squeezed another fourth quarter comeback out of his 41-year old arm and won the game in overtime. The week before, after storming back to take a fourth quarter lead, Derek Anderson had a chance to defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers late in the game. As it turned out, Anderson forced an ill-advised throw into double coverage and gave the Bucs another victory.
When the Cardinals lost 31-13 to the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday, I declared it a result of their poor play. However the numbers showed otherwise. Anderson threw nearly 300 yards with a touchdown and no picks. The rushing game topped 100 yards. They also won the time of possession battle and didn't commit a turnover. So how exactly did the Cardinals lose so badly?
I will attempt to answer that question after the jump...
Two key stats stuck out like a sore thumb: penalties and third down conversions -- something that has plagued the Cardinals all season. They committed 11 penalties for 96 yards and only converted 26% of their third downs. It doesn't end there. The Cardinals have the second-worst third down percentage in the league at 28.8%. Their 71 total penalties resulting in 568 yards given up is the 24th worst in the league. In comparison, the Atlanta Falcons(8-2), who are considered the best team right now, are second in third down conversions(48.8%) and have committed the least penalties at just 38.
These two stats have single-handily murdered the Cardinals chances this season and as a result, leave them dead last in the league with a 26:40 time of possession average. The defense is spending too much time on the field while the offense isn't getting enough. And if you're wondering, the Falcons have the second-best time of possession at 33:34. When everything's all said and done, the stats are a result of the players and coaches performances on and off the field. I'm not making excuses for them, but I needed to pinpoint the reasons why.
The low time of possession is a direct result of the poor play on third down. The poor play on third down could be effected by all the penalties, but that's not only it. Play-calling could stand to be more-creative and keep opposing defenses guessing. Derek Anderson hasn't helped either. His 53.7% completion rating is the worst out of any starting quarterback in the league. That itself will lower the Cardinals overall completions on downs.
Unfortunately it's too late to make a quarterback change that will improve this team. Max Hall didn't work and throwing John Skelton to the wolves wouldn't help either. Ken Whisenhunt can mix things up however. Throwing in a new formation or a trick play from time to time may help. I wouldn't be opposed to going for it on fourth and 1 at midfield when you have nothing to lose anyway. For this season, Anderson is our man. I can't say it would work in the future however. He's a back- up at best and can occasionally make a good throw mixed in with the bad.
Albeit Anderson isn't the only one at fault. The offensive line can't protect right now, the running game has been lacking, and numerous play-makers on offense have been out with injuries. Getting back to the penalties, we all know what they do to drives -- end them for the offense and continue them for the defense. It's all about football-smarts and discipline. Take Gerald Hayes if you will. In the first half, Chiefs' tight end Jake O'Connell was tied up with Hayes out of Bounds. Rather then walking away, Hayes shoved O'Connell and tacked on a 15-yard penalty to their drive, in which they later scored. Unlike a phantom holding call, personal foul penalties are the worse considering they are 100% avoidable. That's what hurts this team the most.
These numbers can improve, but I don't know if we will see it happen anytime this season. What do you believe is the main reason why the Cardinals have struggled so much this year?