The Cardinals opened up the 2011 NFL season with a win on Sunday, defeating the Carolina Panthers 28-21. While there are many things we can take out of this game that are great (including the victory), there was also a plethora of mistakes made on both offense and defense.
The Cardinals will look to correct some of these errors when they visit the Washington Redskins next week, but for now, let's take a look at what Arizona could have done better against the Panthers.
Red Zone Blunders:
The Cardinals had some trouble scoring when they were inside the opponent's 20 yard line yesterday. Yes, Beanie Wells bulled his way into the end zone on the first drive for the Cardinals, but later, he fumbled the ball and the Panthers were able to recover it. Whether or not the pitch was bad or Beanie just missed the catch is up for debate (I think it was a combination of both), but these are the type of offensive glitches the Cardinals will need to work out.
Getting The Ball To Larry Fitzgerald:
Fitz was only able to reel in three passes during Kevin Kolb's Cardinals debut, which was a bit odd to see. Needless to say, Fitzgerald was in double coverage throughout the entire game, but with the way the preseason went, I thought Kolb might have been able to find a way to get Fitz the ball. His first reception came just before the two minute warning of the first half. One would have to think that the Cardinals will have a better gameplan for Fitzgerald to get more open next week, because he is our best player and the ball needs to be in his hands.
Getting the Pass Rush On Cam Newton:
OK, I know what you're thinking. The Cardinals were able to tally up four sacks on Cam yesterday afternoon and they got plenty of pressure on him. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the game and there were plays that the pressure was there, but then there were some that it seemed like Newton had all day. He was able to pick off our secondary at will and because of that, Newton had a big day and made this game a lot closer than it should have been. Newton was able to convert plenty of third and longs yesterday. I don't know if it was a poor zone defense or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that cannot become a theme for the Cardinals this season. Getting pressure on the opponent's signal caller without blitzing the entire defense is going to be key.
Many of you have already noted this in some of the other posts, so I'll just continue beating the dead horse. Cam Newton broke an NFL record yesterday by throwing for 422 yards in his NFL debut. Part of that was because of the aforementioned lack of pressure on some plays and part of that was due to inexperience in the Cardinals secondary. Both Patrick Peterson and A.J. Jefferson gave up some plays and Newton was able to pick on them. The only cure for those two young players is time. Once they get a few more NFL snaps under their belts, they should improve in the coverage game. For now, Ray Horton and the rest of the defensive gurus need to find a better system when dealing with opposing tight ends, both Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen picked on our corners and safeties yesterday.
While the Panthers suffered the big injury today (Jon Beason tore his achilles and is expected to be out for the season), the Cardinals got a little banged up as well. Both LaRod Stephens-Howling and Daryl Washington left the game with separate injuries. LaSH apparently hurt his hand and bicep during a play and will be evaluated tomorrow.
Daryl Washington's injury causes a bit more concern. During the second half, according to Kent Somers, Washinton strained a calf muscle. No word has been given on the severity of the injury, but I would hope it was nothing serious. Washington was by far one of our best players on defense against Carolina, seeing him miss any amount of time would leave a major hole in the linebacker corps.
All around, it was an exciting game. We are certainly glad the Cardinals were able to get off to a 1-0 start and I look forward to seeing this team improve as the season wears on.