Let's take a look at what little went right and what all went wrong in the decisive loss against the Falcons.
1) David Johnson
DJ has made this section every week I have written this article, and for good reason. The Cardinals offense revolves around him. On the ground, DJ rushed 13 times for 58 yards. And in the 2nd half, when the team seemed to abandon the run, DJ continued to produce, ending with 8 catches for 103 yards (leading both teams by far). DJ is arguably the most versatile player in the NFL, definitely one of the most talented players in the league, and one that gives me hope for coming seasons.
2) Carson Palmer
Minus a garbage time interception at the end of the game, Palmer was actually decent. He did what he could behind a line that just refused to give him any time at all to work with. Palmer finished the day 25-45 for 289 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. That's not outstanding, but it's manageable, and it's all we can really expect at this point.
We will likely never see 2015 Carson Palmer outside of highlight reels. But against the Falcons, Palmer did what he needed to do to keep the team in the game. This off-season, the Front Office will have to gear this team around an average Palmer as we move forward into the 2017 season.
3) Chandler Catanzaro
I have given Catanzaro his fair share of grief for his many missed field goals this season. However, as of late he has been alright. Against the Falcons, he went 2-2 on FGs (including a clutch 54-yard kick at the very end of the 1st half). Credit where credit is due.
4) D.J. Swearinger
Outside of a bad missed interception (and potential pick 6), Swearinger was one of the bright spots on the defensive side of the ball. He had 7 tackles, 1 sack, and an interception on the day. The hard-hitting safety has definitely been one of the defense's more productive players this season.
1) Offensive Line
They seemed to start the game well, but deteriorated as time progressed. While Palmer was only sacked twice, he was hurried and under pressure on what seemed like every single play. He also dropped back a total of 43 times, which is just atrocious. Towards the end of the game, even the announcers were commenting on how many hard hits he had taken. The line is injured, so I really don't know what I expect from them, but this off-season, we definitely need to revamp the entire unit. And maybe it's time for the rookies to play (Evan Boehm and Cole Toner)?
Special shout-out: TE Jermaine Gresham has been awful in pass protection this year. And I mean awful.
2) The receiving corps
Outside of Larry Fitzgerald, the wide receivers have been an utter disappointment this season. Michael Floyd started the game well, then proceeded to drop more key passes (like on 4th down late in the game). J.J. Nelson seems to be a one-trick pony; he has his speed and not much else. I don't know whether the fact that David Johnson is the second leading receiver on this team is a testament to DJ's abilities as a player, or a perfect example of how much this receiving corps has underwhelmed this year, but this off-season I'm hoping the team finds a true #2 WR.
3) The secondary
CB Patrick Peterson did his job against the Falcons #1 WR, limiting Julio Jones to just 4 receptions for 35 yards. However, he was called on a couple untimely pass interference penalties, and he was also primarily at fault for allowing WR Taylor Gabriel's 35 yard touchdown in the 2nd quarter. In general, the Cardinals secondary did not seem in-sync with one another.
Peterson is of course a stud, and I hate having to include him in this section. And Tyrann Mathieu is a fine safety. But outside of them, we may need to explore other options at CB and S this off-season.
4) Third down efficiency
This has been a problem all season. The offense went 4-11 on 3rd downs. That is not a good rate, and a problem I have consistently seen this year.
1) Special Teams
With the exception of Justin Bethel, I would be fine seeing everyone else cut. They have lost us so many games this season I am now numb to it. Drew Butler continued to be a liability at punter. The returners continued to bring in dismal results. And in the 4th quarter, down 13-24 and with a chance to potentially come back, Calais Campbell jumped offsides on a punt, handing the ball right back to the Falcons. They then proceeded to score, thus putting the game away. I am so sick of being angry at Special Teams. I would be very surprised to see Amos Jones keep his job as Special Teams Coach for much longer.
There were definitely times when I thought the refs were being completely one-sided in their calls. But looking past that, the team still had 8 penalties called on them, costing the team a total of 60 yards. Several of these penalties came after big gains on offense. It's hard enough going up against one of the top offenses in the NFL. Don't make it harder for yourself by committing dumb penalties.
3) Playoff Hopes
Last week's loss against the Vikings was when I really lost most hope for the season, but this loss finished off any dreams I had of 2016 playoff glory. While the team has not been mathematically eliminated, they are all but done. It's time to start looking to the off-season, specifically the draft and free agency.
And while I'll always be a believer in the "there's always next year" motto, this has truly been one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history. And that is the ugliest fact of them all.