Sunday’s game against the Chiefs was a lot closer than most were predicting—it was a one-score game in the 4th quarter and we wound up covering the Vegas spread. But still, unless you believe in moral victories, a loss is a loss, and the Cardinals fell 26-14.
It was an interesting game, a closer-than-expected road loss to one of the best teams in the league. Were the Chiefs just going through the motions, looking ahead to a megahyped Monday Night Football matchup against the Rams next week? Perhaps. It’s hard to say for sure given how poorly the Cardinals have played this season.
While the offense looked much better on the field, on paper the numbers were indistinguishable from the Mike McCoy days—260 total yards, 14 points. And though the defense held the vaunted Chiefs attack to season-low yardage and point totals, they still gave up several big plays and couldn’t generate any turnovers.
So what did we really learn from this game? I think there are a few developments we can take away from this game that will impact how the team does over its final seven games. Here are the three biggest such takeaways.
David Johnson Is Back
The DJ resurgence got started before the bye in the win against the 49ers. Lord Byron’s first game as OC was the first game DJ had at least 15 carries and 4 receptions. Modest totals, but such was the incomprehensible ineptitude of McCoy. But Leftwich and DJ were just getting their feet wet. Against the Chiefs, DJ had 21 carries (one off his season high) and 7 receptions (his season high) for 183 total yards (by far his season high) and 2 TDs. Just look how effortless they made this touchdown play look, in both design and execution. The performance was vintage DJ and had him reminiscing about the good old days. More good days are likely ahead, especially with Oakland’s soft defense on the docket in Week 11. It looks like Leftwich has this offense running through DJ once again, which should take some pressure off Josh Rosen and allow the team to chew up the clock and give the defense more rest like they did on Sunday. Utilizing DJ effectively helps the team as a whole. It’s too bad it took until Week 10 to figure that out.
The Cardinals Might Lead the League in Sacks
The defense had an up and down day—they got torched by Tyreek Hill (as does everybody) but mostly contained Patrick Mahomes II, Kareem Hunt, and Travis Kelce. (Just ask their fantasy owners.) But one area where the defense truly shined—as they have for most of the season—was the pass rush, as they got to Mahomes five times (twice by Chandler Jones, and once each by Josh Bynes, Benson Mayowa, and Rodney Gunter). The most times he had been sacked previously was just two. Those five sack lunches gave the Cardinals 29 on the season, just two off the league-leading total of 31 (tied by four teams). Of their final seven opponents, all but two (the Chargers and Rams) are in the top half of the league in sacks taken (all having given up at least 24). With just a slight uptick in production, the Redbirds could finish the season atop the leaderboard. I think Jones and Co. are up to the task.
Pass Protection Is the Single Biggest Concern Moving Forward
If the Cardinals don’t end up leading the league in sacks, it will be because they don’t have the luxury of playing against their own offensive line. The Chiefs also took Rosen down five times Sunday (and hit him 13 more), and he’s now been sacked 19 times in the four games. RT Andre Smith was especially abused by Dee Ford on Sunday. This is a huge problem when we’re trying to develop a young QB—there’s obviously the injury risk, but it affects his timing and comfort in the pocket as well. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like this problem is going to go away anytime soon—John Wetzel is on the IR and Justin Pugh just joined him. So we’re stuck with Smith and whatever scrapheap guard we can find on the right side. Upgrading this unit needs to be the main focus for GM Steve Keim—himself a former offensive lineman—this offseason… assuming he still has a job, that is.
Nine games into the 2018 season, we know what we have here in the desert—a bad football team. For the next seven games, it’s all about moving forward into 2019. We have a dynamic running back and a dynamite pass rush, but we also have perhaps the worst offensive line situation in the league… which makes it tough to truly evaluate our young quarterback. Keeping Rosen upright should be the top priority of the players and coaching staff for the rest of the season, and the first thing the front office addresses in the offseason.
What were your thoughts on the Chiefs game, Redbirds fans? What were your takeaways? Post your observations in the comments.