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What we learned in the Arizona Cardinals 31-21 loss to the Houston Texans

Things seemed good in Houston... Until they weren’t. What we learned from the Arizona Cardinals game.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Houston Texans Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

BA must be at his wit's end. He and his staff just can't seem to get this team over the hump, as it continues to make the same kind of self-destructive mistakes, week after week. What's of highest concern, is the lack of urgency, discipline and positive energy this team displays. The FOX crew said that BA billed this game as a "playoff game" and yet, to be frank, save from the auspicious debuts of QB Blaine Gabbert, TE Ricky Seals-Jones and S Budda Baker and the continued excellence of WR Larry Fitzgerald, the overall team effort was strikingly listless, especially for a team that had 10 days to prepare for the game.

As for the critical 4th and inches call from their own 36 yard line, down 24-21 and over 6 minutes on the clock, BA's decision may have had as much to do with his growing frustration with the team's defense---that and having watched J.J. Nelson drop a wide open, perfectly thrown out pass two plays earlier, and then watching Blaine Gabbert once again throw short of the sticks on 3rd down, this time to John Brown who had no wiggle room after the catch to gain the extra yard.

BA took the loss squarely join his shoulders after the game---which could be a sign that he is starting to take more responsibility for his team's shortcomings. The Arizona reporters after the game were more assertive in their questions of BA this week, which is a sign that they too are concerned with the direction of the football team and the manner in which it is being coached. Kent Somers asked BA why BA thought he could gain a yard in the running game when the Texans were in the backfield all day pummeling the unprotected RB Adrian Peterson. BA said he rued the call...that he should have called a different play...or that he should have punted.

So, why is this team looking so out of sorts and poorly motivated? It looks, at least to me, that the players have stopped listening to the coaches. Week after week, the team comes out as flat as pancake after half-time---almost as if they don't care. This looks like a team that has been yelled at and chewed out too much. When that happens too often, there comes a point where the players just drown the coaches out.

Case in point---last year Michael Floyd suddenly had a habitual case of the drops. Now this year, more than ever, John Brown and J.J. Nelson have the same problem---to the point where BA said he will be looking at new WRs this week. Is it just pure coincidence that all three of these players, the longer they have gone in BA's system have regressed to the point of being benched or released?

On the defensive side of the ball, tackling remains the team's biggest issue---something that BA vowed would be emphasized this year from day one. What does it say about the players on the defense that rookie Budda Baker was just about the only player on the unit yesterday who was flat-out balling? How can Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu sit there today and watch themselves go so half-heartedly after tackles? On a simple WR screen pass, with the Cardinals sitting in zone and Patrick Peterson having the flat, Peterson never even got a finger on the WR, as he did everything defenders are taught not to do. He didn't break down. He ran wildly out of bounds which the WR easily side-stepped and turned into an 8-yard gain. On a number of occasions yesterday, Tyrann Mathieu was in perfect position to step up and make tackles that he used to make in his sleep, but he hesitated on several key occasions and got caught in no man's land. The question is---why does BA and James Bettcher and the staff put up with this?

What we learned yesterday is that some of the talent that BA and his staff has been sitting on is better than the players the coaches have been going with all along. QB Blaine Gabbert is a significant upgrade over Drew Stanton. Gabbert has the stronger, more accurate arm and is more mobile. (BTW---BA said yesterday before the game that when Stanton is healthy, Stanton is the starter). While S Tyvon Branch was having a very good season, he never impacted a game this year the way Budda Baker did yesterday (13 tackles, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery). Why has this brilliant young talent been sitting all year? Especially for a defense that DOES NOT TACKLE? TE Ricky Seals-Jones put on the best TE TD reception performance of the season? On an offense that has been begging for a TE to emerge as a bona fide red zone threat.

If you look back a couple of years the same thing happened with RB David Johnson. Sure, RB Chris Johnson was leading the NFL in rushing at the time, but he was slowing down considerably before he got hurt and David Johnson was just an after-thought. Once David Johnson was inserted...what did we see?

BTW---Chris Johnson was tweeting yesterday once again about the Cardinals trying to run the same old dive plays into a wall over and over---which even FOX's Ronde Barber said he noticed ad nauseam in his film prep of the Cardinals' offense.

I am going to take a moment and speculate that C Evan Boehm is an upgrade over A.Q. Shipley. That WR Chad Williams (BA said he'd be ready by Thanksgiving, well now it's Thanksgiving) is an upgrade of any of the J's (as Ronde Barber called them). That Haason Reddick is an upgrade over Kareem Martin. That Rudy Ford is an upgrade in pass coverage over Tyrann Mathieu. That D.J. Foster is an upgrade over Kerwynn Williams and Andre Ellington.

The Arizona reporters after the game were pressing Larry Fitzgerald about whether it was his intent to return next year---which is odd considering he just agreed to an $11M+ contract for 2018. Fitz said all he's thinking about right now is going against one of the top defenses in the NFL in the Jaguars'.

Could the so-called re-signing of Larry Fitzgerald to a 2018 contract be just a ploy to get season ticket holders to renew? How can Larry Fitzgerald even fathom another year of this kind of futility?

The Arizona Cardinals are a sinking ship right now. The rest of the teams in the NFC West have their QBOFs in place. The Seahawks and Rams have stronger, more athletic and aggressive defenses. The 49ers are amassing some very good young talent on defense, particularly up front. And all three teams have significantly better special teams than the Cardinals'.

More of the same from the Cardinals could set their progress back another couple of years.

Will Michael Bidwill make a coaching change this off-season? Will Bidwill give the fans something to make them eager to fill the stadium for years to come?

One name to keep a close eye on---is Pat Shurmur, the Vikings' offensive coordinator who is rolling 7s and 11s in Minnesota with Case Keenum at QB, as evidenced by their 24-7 win over the Rams yesterday. Keenum is a 2018 free agent and could join Shurmur in Arizona while Shurmur develops the Cardinals' first round selection as QBOF, be it Lamar Jackson, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield or Josh Allen.

The other name to keep an eye on is the Texans' defensive coordinator, Mike Vrabel. Hiring Vrabel as the new head coach could accomplish what the Steelers did by hiring a young Mike Tomlin to succeed Bill Cowher. Vrabel, a Bill Belichick disciple of sorts, has all the makings of an outstanding head coach.

A pipe dream could be to lure Dabo Swinney of Clemson to Arizona. if Clemson wins another NCAA Championship this year---Swinney might be tempted to take his and some of his staff's talents to the NFL. Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim have become very friendly and familiar with Swinney over the past couple of years as Swinney has invited them to his Fiesta Bowl practices. Swinney would not come cheap, however. He currently earns $8.5M a year at Clemson and has a $40M buyout, which would have to be negotiated, if at all possible.

Bidwill and Keim should have listened to Swinney about moving up to take QB Deshaun Watson. But, can you imagine the excitement in Arizona if Swinney is named head coach and the Cardinals trade up to draft QB Lamar Jackson?