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Analysis of the Cardinals’ 45-10 Loss to the Chargers

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Arizona Cardinals v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Steve Wilks is saying all the right things—-unfortunately for him and the hapless Cardinals’ players saying the right things and then doing the opposite is not a formula for winning in the NFL.

Wilks: “We need to disguise our pass coverages better.”

First of all, few defenses are ever going to trick Philip Rivers—-that guy has seen it all.

To beat Rivers you have to pin your ears back and rush him relentlessly. His is immobile, so that makes it all the easier to play a strict diet of sticky man-to-man coverage against him and his receivers.

Practically the worst thing a defense can do is try to play a steady diet of zones versus Rivers.

In the Cardinals’ case, their zones have been awful all year long. They are not properly coached, nor are the zones even close to being properly executed.

There is no disguising that fact.

In zones—-you have to pick up the receiver in your area and then play him man-to-man, until he leaves your area and then you pass him off the defender in the adjacent zone. What you can’t do is just sit in areas nearby and allow teams to overload and stretch the zones whereby receivers are readily open in the grey areas—-as the Chargers receivers were all day—-which led to a record 98% completion performance by Rivers (wherein he completed 25 straight passes to open the game), ironically breaking the record that Kurt Warner set back in 2009 when he completed 24 of 26 passes versus the Jaguars.

Even at half-time, Wilks could not make any adjustments. Come on Wilks—-do something, anything. Throw 7 man rushes at Rivers and play man. SOSDG.

The Cardinals have a good pass rush—-and they have an active ILB in Josh Bynes—-and they have a defensive catalyst in Budda Baker (last year’s tackling woes didn't get better until Baker changed the dynamic)—-and they have one of the top man coverage CBs on the planet.

But, as we saw yesterday, despite a career game from DT Robert Nekmdiche (8 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 4 tackles for loss), a half sack from DE Chandler Jones and a nifty forced fumble from DT Rodney Gunter that DE Benson Mayowa pounced on—-the Cardinals defense was as phantom as the Washington Nationals’ defense versus the Harlem Globetrotters.

Wilks (at half-time): “We need to have Josh Rosen throw some short easy passes to settle him down and to get him a rhythm.”

Play 1 of 2nd half—-David Johnson dive into the walled off B gap—-the same play over and over on 1st down.

The same play that Byron Leftwich called on 1st down after the Rivers fumble that everyone in the stadium knew was coming and went for 0 yards and another licking on Johnson. That drive ended on Rosen’s attempt to hit Johnson on a 1 yard pass on 3rd and 3. And then—-with Phil Dawson’s missed field goal.

As we all know, Dawson has an injured hip—-he still wasn’t able to practice all week—-as the bizarre flurry of weekly roster moves continue to weaken the team. Matt McCrane in Cardinal red is still a perfect 3/3 on FGs (2 of them over 50 yards) and 6/6 on extra points—-and he booted 2 touchbacks on kickoffs last week (something Dawson was not even close to being able to do this week). Yet, with Dawson still unable to practice, McCrane gets cut and Keim signs Zane Gonzalez to the PS.

When Dawson misses it just seems to suck the air out of the balloon and dashes any and all of the momentum the team has built to that point. It’s like “here we go again.”

Byron Leftwich should know better about how to take advantage of momentum. After Rivers’ fumble, on first down, if there ever was a time to run the max protection deep post pass to Christian Kirk (like the one in SF) that was it.

Instead, Leftwich (post first quarter—-where he has been successful) is stuck in a robotic, monotonous, totally unimaginative play calling rut.

Even worse, Leftwich did nothing to prepare for edge rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa.

Wilks (post game): “We have to a better job of helping out on pass rushers like Ingram and Bosa.”

Rosen (post game): “Our first and second down plays weren’t working after the first quarter which meant a lot of difficult 3rd and longs against two great pass rushers in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa.”

Not only was there NO conspicuous chipping of Ingram or Bosa, the epitome was on a third down early in the 4th quarter watching 6-5, 243 pound TE Ricky Seals-Jones (flexed right next to Bosa with a perfect angle for a chip block), release downfield on a pattern as if Bosa wasn’t even there. Bosa then blew right past struggling veteran RT Andre Smith and hammered Rosen to the turf.

Wilks (post game—-virtually every week): “We need to tackle better. We need to wrap up better. We need to finish better. We need to learn how to finish.”

As we all know, tackling has been a problem in Arizona for years—-not because they players haven’t been taught the fundamentals, but because some players do not feel it is their job description.

It’s kind of like this—-if one guy in the office says he’s not taking out the garbage, then his colleagues start saying well why then should I? Before long, the garbage piles up and it starts to reek.

If there was one thing that Steve Wilks was going to change it was the tackling culture in Arizona. Obviously, it hasn’t happened. There were some signs during the pre-season that it might happen—-but those signs were rendered moot in Game 1 at home when the Cardinals defense wanted little to do with tackling anyone, especially RB Adrian Peterson.

Boo.

What is frustrating about Steve Keim’s revolving door of roster moves each week—-players who finally get promoted to the 53 man rooster aren’t even tried in the games, or they get cut again a day or two later.

I can assure you this right now—-CB Deatrich Nichols—-who has been with the Cardinals all year, but has been cut and re-signed to the practice squad a number of times—-and was recently promoted to the 53, only to be cut again and re-sgined to the PS in a New York minute in favor of adding two journeyman veteran CB in Leonard Johnson and David Amerson—-is a faster, more aggressive and physical player than Johnson or Amerson. And Nichols is a rookie. Johnson and Amerson won’t be on the roster next year. Nichols very much could. But they don’t even try him in the game. Now he’s not even on the 53.

Like they don’t even try RB T.J. Logan in the game. Logan, who had the most explosive TD run in the pre-season has been primarily related to kickoff return duty, while the coaches have been running David Johnson into walls ad nauseam and have been giving rookie RB Chase Edmonds the other touches, but Edmonds has not produced—-in fact, one could readily argue that Kerwyn Williams was a far better RB2 option. Williams was a far harder and faster runner—-like Logan—-but if you’re not high on Keim’s priority list, you don’t get touches.

This has to be the absolute worst set of roster moves over an 8 month span the Cardinals have performed since moving to Arizona. Steve Keim has wasted millions of dollars and now is yanking guys’ chains left and right—-and with no second thought. This during a week in which former fan idol, Tyrann Mathieu, laughed when asked of the would consider re-signing in Arizona. He cried, “After what y’all did to me in Arizona!” Mathieu, now a “hard-hitting” captain of the Texans’ defense, said, “I am now surrounded by the guys I want to go to war with.”

Two years ago Keim kept 9 interior defensive linemen—-this year he has 4—-and those 4 have been getting run into the ground in defense that can’t get off the field—-and 3 of them have been nursing injuries (Nkemdiche, Peters, Pierre) and have been limited at best in practice Iis Daniel Munyer really the 5th DT?

A couple of days ago, AZ Central’s Bob McManaman wrote an article where he offered “unsolicited advice to Michael Bidwill.” Essentially Mac argued that because the players were “still playing hard for Steve Wilks” that Bidwill should break his silence to reiterate his faith in Steve Keim and Steve Wilks with the notions that everyone, including himself, needs to “do a better job.” And that every one’s job is safe for 2019.

One has to wonder whether Mac still feels the same after watching yesterday’s game.