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Offensive Analysis: Cardinals 26-14 Loss to the Chiefs

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports


  • When was the last time we Cardinals’ fans have seen long, time consuming opening drive TDs in both the 1st and 3rd quarters?
  • The significance of these TD drives is the most positive takeaway of the game. First, it means that the players are responding very well to OC Byron Leftwich, who is clearly a major upgrade in just two games of calling playing than 19 year NFL veteran Mike McCoy.
  • Secondly, the 3rd quarter opening drive TD signifies an ability to make half-time adjustments, something that even Bruce Arians was failing at more often than not the past two seasons. Additionally, these 7 points matched the total number of 3rd quarter points the Cardinals have scored all year in 9 games.
  • These TD drives were punctuated by a steady mix of run and pass—-Leftwich’s timely use of the FB Derrick Coleman, a more diverse package of plays for RB David Johnson, solid offensive line play and a young QB in Josh Rosen who, when right, is moving his feet to create clear passing lanes and delivering strikes with deft touch—-even taking some off the ball when he needs to, like on the TD throw to David Johnson on a perfectly executed rub route.
  • Perhaps the player on offense who is playing and running the hardest and toughest remains WR Larry Fitzgerald who grinned out every one of his 50 yards on 6 receptions—-which allowed him to lead-frog Terrell Owens as the NFL’s number 2 all-time leader in receiving yards.
  • Rookie C Mason Cole continues to be a steady presence in the pivot and helped to settle down newly inserted guards Jeremy Vujnovich and Oday Aboushi who were bound to have their struggles at time versus a stout Chiefs’ defensive line. Regardless of the makeshift lineup, the Cardinals were able to run the ball effectively, as David Johnson rushed for 21/98/4.7/1 TD.
  • 3rd down conversions—-Leftwich and Rosen are making big progress there. Obviously this has been a point of emphasis. 7-14 on the game. At Arrowhead Stadium, that is danged impressive.


  • Obviously it was a rough day for veteran RT Andre Smith, who gave up 1 sack, 4 QB hits and numerous other pressures from DE Dee Ford, while incurring 3 holding penalties. The irony of the day’s broadcast was hearing Bruce Arians’ color commentary that “because of Leftwich’s limited time as OC, too bad he isn’t able to provide help for Smith in containing Ford.” OK—-where to begin on that one. First of all, the Cardinals had two weeks to prepare for this game. Anyone and everyone who knows football would know that going into this game Andre Smith was going to have his hands full (bad pun intended) all day with Dee Ford. Secondly, just as with Arians’ offense—-there is never a chip block! Never! Rewind to the Sunday Night Football game last year versus the Cowboys. DeMarcus Lawrence blew up RT Jared Veldheer play after play with no adjustments from BA other than trying TE Jermaine Gresham one-on-one on Lawrence and getting an even worse result.
  • Steve Keim’s building of this offensive line, knowing this group was going to have to protect the fragile Sam Bradford and eventually the 1st round rookie QB remains a mind boggling conundrum of the highest order. LT D.J. Humphries was coming off an MCL and dislocated knee injury, LG Mike Iupati was coming off a year on the IR after years of faltering health, RG Justin Pugh was coming off a back injury that landed him on the IR last year and RT Andre Smith had struggled so badly in Cincy at RT that they moved him to RG—-as a backup. One just simply cannot place any level of trust in Keim’s offensive line decisions. Keim has already indicated that he is going to pick up Humphries’ 5th year option—-which is going to be $10M. How is this year’s $8.7M for oft-injured drone Bucannon working out? Humphries has been oft-injured and average at best when healthy—-and the Cardinals are going to reward “average play” with $10M?
  • When was the last time the Cardinals had a guard start in all 16 games? The Cardinals’ revolving door at guard is astonishing. Tackle hasn’t been much better, either. It sure doesn’t help that draft picks Earl Watford, Cole Toner, Dorian Johnson and Will Holden are all gone—-and that one valuable constant, John Wetzel, (who should have been the starting RT all along) tried to play through a neck injury at guard and is now on the IR.
  • The screen pass interception was obviously the key turning point in the game—-but, it was a call that should have never happened. First of all, it was clear on previous screen plays to David Johnson that the Chiefs had done their film study and were highly prepared for the screens. Rosen even badly overthrew one of them—-the other he skimmed into the sod. Secondly, by that point in the game with how heavily Leftwich was leaning on Johnson—-and having just passed to Johnson up the left sideline for 24 yards—-all eyes were on Johnson and especially to that left side. Plus, why risk throwing any pass in that situation without a crystal clear passing lane? Compound the matter was watching LT D.J. Humphries lock on to Justin Houston when he is supposed to bait Houston to the QB, slip off the block and get his butt downfield to block.
  • The flip reverse to J.J. Nelson was a regrettable play call and design in that situation—especially if you leave DE Dee Ford unblocked away from the flow—-he’s not going to crash down if the initial flow is away. He is going to be sitting right in the middle of the play. That skidded the brakes on what was looking like a good drive.
  • Rosen’s strip fumble (with arm moving forward) late in the 1st half while in FG range—-was the end to another promising drive. To Josh’s credit, he protected the ball very well after that, particularly when he was getting hammered in the 2nd half.
  • While it was great to see David Johnson rush for 98 yards and catch for 85 yards, this heavy a focus of the offense on Johnson was reminder that it didn’t help produce as many wins as one would have thought or hoped in 2016. Yes—-David Johnson needs to be more involved and given a more diversified role. But now, Leftwich needs to use Johnson as much as a decoy than as a ball carrier. One of the worst stats of this game was Christian Kirk’s line of 2 catches for 8 yards. His best catch was called back by one of Smith’s holding penalties. But still, Kirk showed up big-time in both wins this year and is a key to the Cardinals’ chances for winning games.
  • Now at the risk of sounding picky—-it looks very clear that David Johnson, like Patrick Peterson, is doing a lot of three quarter speed running on the field. There are times when a RB needs to hit the hole NOW—-showing that extra gear, especially in the open field. For those of you who watched the Rams/Seahawks game yesterday, look at the number of times Todd Gurley went into turbo mode. As we know holes close so quickly in the NFL—-that if a RB is running 34 speed—-he’s not going to bust the hole.


  • Forget about J.J. Nelson on reverses—-give them to Christian Kirk instead—-in jet sweep mode.
  • Too bad Rosen had to hurry his throw into the end zone for Trent Sherfield. Sherfield was open. Give more snaps to him and fewer to Nelson.
  • Keep using the FB a few times a drive and keep the defense honest by play action passing to Coleman. Coleman is a good receiver and is sneaky fast.
  • Been suggesting this for a could of weeks now—-the coaches have to give Josh Rosen two more ways to beat the pass rush: (1) design some QB runs from the pocket—-watch how the Seahawks do it with Wilson. Sure, Wilson is quicker...but Rosen is no slouch—-and if he pops a couple of runs, it will back the pass rush off. Late in the game the Chiefs were in a 4 man rush, 5 man-to-man defense under with 2 deep safeties—-and whenever a defense plays man to man underneath, the worry is leaving vacated parts the field wide open for a scrambling QB. If you never threaten to run—-the defense can play man to man with two deep all day. (2) Double team the play side DE—-and off the shotgun snap—-shift the pocket to the edge of that tackle box to that side—-this will buy Rosen an extra second or two, and it puts him on the edge of the tackle box where he has an immediate escape route—-plus it puts him 3-4 more yards away from the backside DE. Plus, an occasional sprint out pass would buy Rosen some extra time. The key is—-give Rosen more of a chance to be aggressive via his feet. His feet are as valuable as his arm.
  • Leftwich deserves a lot credit—-he is doing a superb job this early on the job—-like with the couple draws he ran yesterday, one on a key 3rd down conversion in the 2nd half. But Rosen needs more options which will give him more confidence when the pass rush is full bore.
  • Who would have thought it—-but the offense was better prepared to start the game than the defense. That’s with Leftwich on the job a mere two weeks. And credit BA for the fact that his offensive assistants Byron Leftwich and Freddie Kitchens as interim offensive coordinators are off to very good starts—-ironically both of them using RBs named Johnson (David and Duke) in more diverse ways than their predecessors (McCoy and Todd Haley) ever did.