Man, Cardinals coaches, players and fans saw today what a timely trade, the return of the left side of the offensive line and a whole lotta smelling salts on the sideline before the game can do to wake a team up after a 5-game snooze.
After Steve Keim pulled off the Adrian Peterson trade the question I posed was whether BA would try to make Peterson adapt to BA's offense or whether BA would ask Peterson for his input and thus would cater the offense to Peterson's style. That question was answered almost immediately in the game, as Peterson lined up in his customary launching pad perch 7 yards behind the center and looked 100% comfortable and confident in his ability to find the creases and bust through them. Peterson's 26/134/5.2/2 TD performance was inspiring. Credit Steve Keim for the trade at a time when the Cardinals needed a boost, Bruce Arians for getting Peterson comfortable and ready to go and the Cardinals' offensive line (Humphries, Boone, Shipley, Watford and Veldheer) for getting off the ball on the snap and for sustaining their blocks as they are taught to do.
Carson Palmer's play in the first half was also inspiring: 13/13, 210 yards, 2 TDs. Even a hail mary duck of a pass was caught for a TD by an alert John Brown, who came back to snag it and then tippy-toe around the CB into the end zone.
In the second half, the offense became unglued time and time again, thanks to an ill-advised under thrown deep ball interception, a myriad of penalties and a ridiculously stupid play call to throw a quick slant to Larry Fitzgerald on 1st and long following a penalty that put Fitz in harm's way (just like last week when he nearly got his head taken off) and got him stood up and taking a high hit and getting stripped as he tried to cover up to the turf, which led to a scoop and run TD. This was the lone blemish for what was a stellar day for Fitz 10/138/13.8/1 TD.
Fitz and Peterson should continue to live together as Felix and Oscar...for they combined for a whopping 272 yards and 3 TD.
What remains thoroughly perplexing is BA's and Carson Palmer's insistence of hiking the ball practically every snap on one. It nearly cost them on the goal line when Palmer fumbled the snap...it cost them on several other occasions in the 2nd half, most particularly on the 4th and 2 out pass that Palmer nearly threw for a pick six in the direction of a completely blanketed John Brown.
The Cardinals' defense was good in the 1st half when they weren't playing zone coverage. Patrick Peterson was doing a very good job on Mike Evans as was shutting him out, while Justin Bethel with Antoine Bethea over the top were containing specter DeSean Jackson, in fact, so well that Bethea recorded his third interception in the last three games and dropped another when he couldn't control the catch after hitting the turf.
The problem with the Cardinals zones is that the players aren't looking properly coached in the coverage. Rule number one for the underneath players is to backpedal as deep as they can with the first wave of receivers until they can pass them off to the deep safeties. Then, they are to pick up first man in their zone underneath. The Cardinals' underneath men are standing in cement and once they get passed by the WRs, the deep safeties are too deep in their drops to close the gaps.
Rule number 2 is the hook zone LBers need to pick up a WR or TE crossing through their zone and shadow him to the boundary of their zone. For whatever reason, Karlos Dansby has been crossing the faces of the WRs and TE and losing them, rather than picking them up and running with them. Deone Bucannon was much improved this week in all aspects of his game...he was more decisive and more productive in finishing off plays. And he was the best in the zone at keeping the plays in front of him.
Rule number 3 is the deep safeties cannot give up too much cushion or it's an easy pitch and catch all day, such as the easy 14 yards out passes they gave up to TE Cameron Brate. But, if the underneath men don't backpedal and a run with the first receivers at least for 5 yards, it makes the safety's job much more difficult.
The Cardinals' lax, passive play versus backup QBs continued in full array this week as Ryan Fitzpatrick passed for 22/32/290/3TD/2 INT in his relief of injured starter James Winston, who was lit up by DE Chandler Jones and OLB Haason Reddick when they converged simultaneously on Winston off a scramble.
Jones and Reddick were very active off the edges and very athletic on the perimeter. Reddick needs a spin move and needs to rip his way back to the QB when he rushes a little wide of the pocket. He had one of the better RTs in the NFL (Demar Dotson) on him much of the time, which was quite a challenge.
The Cardinals are still looking for an inside rusher. Corey Peters is textbook versus the run and Frostee Rucker and John Mauro are solid run stuffers, but they have yet to prove they can be a factor this year as pass rushers. Olsen Pierre showed some flashes the past two games, but he was out injured this week. Not happy to see Xavier Williams get injured as he has been playing his best ball in recent weeks.
With Patrick Peterson sidelined with a quad injury, credit Tramon Williams for making what now could be seen as the deciding play of the game with his nifty interception of Fitzpatrick, jumping Evans' hook route inside the Bucs' 5-yard line. This led to Adrian Peterson’s 2nd TD.
As for special teams, they deserve a lot of credit this week. Phil Dawson was a perfect 1/1 on FGs and 5/5 on XPTs. Andy Lee boomed one punt 53 yards (with a net of 43) and his pooch punt, artfully high pointed and corralled on the 1-yard line by gunner Budda Baker set up Tramon Williams' interception and what turned out to be the game winning TD run by Peterson.
In addition, let it be noted that Amos Jones and the staff did (almost) exactly what they were supposed to do on the on-side kicks. The up men are supposed to take out the first threats and let the ball bounce into the all hands players. The first one was hairy because it didn't bounce 10 yards and it hit a Buc on the leg which gave the Cardinals the ball right on that spot (illegal touching). It wasn't until after the ball was touched by a Buc that Ifeanyi Momah tried to hop on the ball. In retrospect, Momah would have been better off letting the ball go. Hopefully that's a lesson learned the happy way.
On the second kick, with most Cardinals' fans now on breathalyzers (following Justin Bethel's poor coverage of the Mike Evans's go route TD), the up men took out the threats and the ball bounced right into the arms of All-Word Hands guy Larry Fitzgerald. Plus, more great coaching, as Fitz didn't take knee right away so as to get the clock under 2:00...which allowed the Cardinals to run out the clock and send the fans home excited, relieved and exhausted.
This week's game in London versus the Rams is an important division game as the Rams are leading the division with a 4-2 record. The Rams' victory at Jacksonville today was the result of 2 STs TDs, one on a 99-yard kickoff return by Pharoh Cooper to start the game and another TD off a blocked punt. The Cardinals are going to need good, strong play in all three phases and a 60-minute effort playing in front of the Queen and Prince Harry. This week's modified theme abroad: "no risk-it, no crumpets." Or---if you prefer the Williams Wallace variation: "no stones, no scones."