1. Pass Protection. Will BA give some pass protection help to LT John Wetzel on WOLB Jabaal Sheard? Last week Wetzel struggled versus Ziggy Ansah and Anthony Zettel. Few adjustments were made, particularly on a key 3rd and 6 to start the 4th quarter, when Zettel out-quicked Wetzel and sacked Palmer.
From the first series the immediate struggles RT Jared Veldheer was having, it was looking like the Cardinals were going to have a tough time protecting Palmer. To the question of BA offering pass protection help, the answer remains: little to none. There were occasions in the spread where the TE or the slot WR was in position to chip on the DE, but no, they did not. On one of the sacks Veldheer gave up, Ifeanyi Momah was lined up next to Veldheer and all Momah had to do is pop the DE once to prevent his burst, but instead Momah released and the DE raced past Veldheer off the edge. This stubbornness on BA's part is a major concern moving forward. The line did settle down in the second half, otherwise today's main storyline would have been how a QB with 6 practices managed to outplay and beat a veteran former #1 pick in the draft QB with 5 years in the system.
2. RB By Committee. Will the Cardinals get some production fro the new RB by committee, featuring Kerwynn Williams, Andre Ellington, Chris Johnson and Elijhaaa Penny? BA raved about the Colts' front 7 this week, saying how well they handled Todd Gurley last week. Will the Cardinals be able to move the ball on the ground or the air with their RBs?
Chris Johnson emerged as the primary RB. he started the second half and ran for 11/44/4.0...which could have been 12/64/5.3 had TE Troy Niklas not held on CJ's nice bounce out run. Kerwynn Williams ran hard but did not find creases. Ellington had one good 8 yard run up the left B gap. Penny's one big play, a crisscross pass play in the red zone was nullified when RG Evan Boehm jumped off-sides.
3. Defensive Matchups. Will the Cardinals pass rushers Markus Golden and Chandler Jones have a big day versus Jacoby Brissett? Can they keep him in the pocket? How do the Cardinals' secondary match up with the Colts' skill players? Last week, Golden Tate had a productive day versus the Cardinals and James Bettcher did not counter by switching Patrick Peterson over to him. This week, it would seem a given that Peterson cover T.Y. Hilton, the Colts' speedy and versatile WR. That would mean Justin Bethel would match up with Donte Moncrief. But, herein lies the main issue for the Cardinals. Who plays centerfield? Last week Antione Bethea was used there and was ineffective. This week in man coverage it would seem that the best option the Cardinals have for covering TE Jack Doyle is Tyvon Branch, as Branch has the size and speed to blanket Doyle, while Tyrann Matthieu might be more of a mismatch for Doyle. Can Mathieu play centerfield? That has not been a strength for him to this point, and is he fast and rangy enough? How about Budda Baker? Budda compensates for a lack of blazing speed with excellent anticipation and a nice for the ball. But, he only was given two snaps on defense last week. The speediest option is Rudy Ford, but is he ready to assume a key role? The Colts reportedly are starting their 1st round draft pick FS Malik Hooker who was taken at #15. Because the Cardinals appear to still lack a true centerfielder, will they regret passing on Malik Hooker? If LB Haason Reddick has another good day tackling and covering Frank Gore and Marlon Mack, then the Hooker debate could be all the more moot, particularly if Budda Baker can pick up the slack at FS.
* Markus Golden had tackling issues, otherwise he could have had at least 2 sacks.
* Chandler Jones took charge and recorded 6 tackles and 2 sacks.
* Brissett was able to break the pocket pretty easily whenever he tried to. His bootlegs were easy completions to the TE. The OLB (Golden) did not keep contain and for whatever reason the TE on those plays seems always open versus the Cardinals. The only defender I saw cover this play in pre-season was Cap Capi.
* Patrick Peterson did a good job covering T.Y. Hilton, but needs to not give up so much cushion in the zone defense, as Kamar Aiken caught an easy pass in Peterson's zone. Peterson should drool at his chances in zones, ones he otherwise rarely gets.
* Justin Bethel did a good job on Donte Moncrief.
* Tryann Mathieu got closer and stronger in underneath coverage as the game went on. You could see him getting closer to picking one off on Brissett's last possession of regulation. Brissett threw that pass into the turf near HB's feet. Then, HB made the game winning pick on a similar crossing route to Moncrief. So smart it was of Badger to get what he could out of the return and then fall down.
* Tyvon Branch and Antoine Bethea took turns again at FS and this week neither was burned by a deep pass. Tyron Mathieu was used exclusively underneath, which is where he plays best. As was Budda Baker who made a superb chase down tackle of Moncrief on a key 3rd and 8 late in the game. Baker drives through the man on his tackles, something this defense needs more of.
* I thought James Bettcher would put Branch on TE Jack Doyle, but I only saw that one time, as Mathieu, Dansby and Reddick tried to stick with Doyle. Covering the TEs was a real issue for the Cardinals. At one point Brissett was 7/7 throwing to the TEs.
* As for the Colts' FS Malik Hooker, yes he had the big interception of Palmer's ill-advised floater, which pretty much any FS should have made. Otherwise, Hooker was not a major factor in the game. With the versatility that Haason Reddick offers as a chaser, cover man and cat-quick rusher, imo, Reddick was a stronger choice at #13 than Hooker. But, the Cardinals still need to find a true centerfielder.
4. Special Teams. Will the Cardinals win the special teams battle? Last week the Cardinals fared well on special teams, but suffered a real momentum setback when Phil Dawson shanked the 32 yard field goal attempt right before the end of the first half. Punter Andy Lee was excellent and the cover teams were solid, thanks to tackles by Penny and Ford. Will the Cardinals have turned a corner here or will they be lamenting more game changing gaffes?
* The first STs gaffe came quickly when DT Rodney Gunter got called for illegal leverage on the FG attempt, which then led to the Colts' TD and their 7-0 lead.
* The Colts' punter Rigoberto Sanchez was never pressured and continued to flip the field on the Cardinals. The Cardinals always seem to give the opposing punter a total and complete comfort zone.
* Andy Lee was good...but the punt coverage was spotty until ST's star of the game Budda Baker took care of things. The Cardinals dodged a major bullet late in the game at 13-13 when the Colts has what looked to be a sure and easy punt block up the left side, where for some reason the Cardinals' punt team always seems vulnerable, yet the blocker mysteriously pulled up and whiffed.
* The last STs gaffe came after BA kept taking -1 yard kneel downs and then sent the FG team in on 4th down. Sending them in on 3rd down is the smartest option, because if there is a bad snap the holder can throw an incomplete pass and they can try the kick again. It first felt like BA was freezing his own kicker sand then Chuck Pagano called the TO in the nick of time. And then Phil Dawson, who in this game preferred to kick from the left hash marks, pushed the kick wide right. Dawson said after the game that so much had been said about the Cardinals' kicking woes of the past that it has just kind of "built up" on him.
* To Dawson's credit, he split the uprights on the game winner, which was a thing of beauty to Cardinals' fans like myself who by that time needed a ventilator and a three shots of Jack Daniels.
5. QB Play. Will Carson Palmer bounce back from his turnover prone week 1 performance? While he will be missing RB David Johnson, WR John Brown, LT D.J. Humphries, RG Mike Iupati and (quite probably) TE Jermaine Gresham, the focus of the offense should be on spreading the ball around and taking whatever the Colts' defense gives them. Jared Goff was able to find holes in the Colts' secondary last week. Will Palmer be able to do so this week? Will he find a rhythm? If not, would BA be amenable to turn to Blaine Gabbert for a spark? Would Gabbert even be active this week? With as many injuries as the Cardinals currently have, maybe Gabbert will dress for this one. Could Gabbert's presence be an added incentive for Palmer to produce at a higher level, they way it was for Drew Stanton to produce at a higher level this pre-season?
* More of the same offensive struggles for Carson Palmer for most of the game...which prompted BA at half-time and post-game to summarize the team's deficiencies on offense as "it's the QB."
* The whole offense was out of sync. Veldheer giving up early pressure set a poor tone. Ellington going in motion when the ball was snapped. Palmer nearly getting picked off throwing the ball late on the out passes to Ellington and Jaron Brown. Ifeanyi Momah with a drop (but made up for it later with a superb corner pass, catch and run). Bohem off-sides in red zone. Nelson not dragging his second foot in the end zone (tough play, but just missed by a fraction of an inch). Palmer getting flushed by a 3 man rush in the red zone and throwing the ball away. The curious fade pass to Fitz on 4th and 1. While a 50/50 ball like that to Fitz is always a good gamble, wasn't there a play in BA's bag of tricks that had a better percentage on 4th and 1?
* Then came the unforced "floater" from Palmer which reminds us that this is a normal occurrence from him...it is what it is. Other teams have said and been so right that Palmer will throw 3-4 passes a game that can be readily picked off. This one was very reminiscent of another game in which the Cardinals lost to a backup QB. In 2015 at Pittsburgh, while losing to Landry Jones the Cardinals were 1st and 10 in the red zone late in the game where a FG would at least tie the game and Palmer on 1st and 10 floated a ball over the middle to Gresham and the Steeler's FS could have fair caught it, it was such an easy interception.
* Are the Cardinals good enough on defense and STs to continue to have to compensate for Palmer's 3-4 bad throws into coverage a game? For the past 18 games, that answer is clearly no.
* Now let's be real about this comeback win -- the offense was still so out of sorts in the 4th quarter that BA was electing to run the ball up the middle for 4 yards a pop down 13-3, and then IT happened...on 3rd and 2 with all sorts of confusion at the line of scrimmage, Palmer fumbles the snap, and an absolute miracle occurred...it was like the Red Sea parting just in the nick of time and Palmer had the presence of mind to pick the ball up and barrel forward for the first down. BA rightfully called this play a total "FUBAR."
* Let's face it, if Palmer does what QB are always taught to do as in dive on the ball or the Colts hop on the fumble, the game is over.
* From that point on, Palmer was dang good. I mean dang good. Great passes to J.J. Nelson, what a thing of beauty that perfect TD pass and catch by Nelson was. Palmer waited patiently for that coverage and when he got it he nailed it. The succeeding passes to Golden and Jaron Brown (aided by a roughing the passer penalty) to get the Cardinals in good field position to tie the game, and then to possibly win the game.
* The good news is that late and forced throws to Jaron Brown (one early and one late in the game) and Andre Ellington that weren't picked off didn't wind up ruining the game like those kids of passes did last week versus Detroit.
* I asked prior to the game whether it would be good to dress Blaine Gabbert and I still feel 100& certain that it would. If the Cardinals are ever going to shake Carson Palmer out of his 3-4 potential "palmovers" a game it will be because there is another QB on the roster the coaches would turn to. That QB is not Drew Stanton, even though BA had Stanton warming up in the 4th quarter. That QB is Blaine Gabbert, who throws a quicker, faster ball than Palmer and who can readily and quickly escape pressure with is feet. if Jacoby Brissett can play good football on 6 days of practice, Blaine Gabbert can play good football on 6 months of practice. But, just Gabbert's presence might be the only thing to snap Palmer out of his prolonged funk.
* And while we are at it---how about opening up the RT competition---could Ulrich John be a better option than Veldheer who clearly is struggling? When D.J. Humphries returns, is John Wetzel the stronger option at RT? Wetzel is one of the best run blockers on the team and he settled down in pass protection yesterday, as he did versus the Falcons' starters in pre-season. Moreover the Cardinals have to do something about their interior pass rush. Weren't Robert Nkemdiche, Olsen Pierre and Rodney Gunter supposed to help? Where have they been? Not only did Corey Peters stop moving his feet on his pass rush, passes were going right over his head without him at least raising his hands to try to bat or re-direct the pass. The coaching of the inside pass rush has been glaringly bad. Poor technique, effort and situational awareness. Plus, any scrambling QB can slip easily right pass the DTs because they allow themselves to be stuck in mud and to quit on the plays.
* This game was a miracle win. It was, for the most part, undeserved. There are games that teams deserve to win, and this one wasn't one of those games for the Cardinals. The defense gave up a long, time consuming drive that put the Colts up 13-3 several minutes deep into the 4th quarter. A #50 (who is that?) holds on the kickoff and pins the Cardinals' offense deep. BA was so fed up with the offense at that point that he was running the ball and the clock down with 7 minutes left, down 13-3. Then came FUBAR. Unreal. Will BA and the team be able to capitalize on this gratuity or will they go right back to playing 3+ quarters of listless, disorganized and uninspired football?