Yes, we all know that a team’s success in the pre-season is often akin to a wrangler roping a one-eyed Angus, but in terms of what the Cardinals are accomplishing this pre-season, one cannot help but admire the aggressive enthusiasm that Steve Wilks and his coaches have infused in the team.
I believe there is one stat that matters above all others. In 3 pre-season game wins the Cardinals are winning the turnover battle 16-1. If there is one stat league-wide that is most telling with regard to wins and losses, it is the turnover differential.
The Cowboys did the Cardinals a big favor last night by playing them exactly the way the Cardinals’ opponents are going to play them—-stack the box—-play press, sticky man-to-man coverage and rush like crazed dogs to the QB.
There are two main reasons for this defensive game plan: (1) the Cardinals do not have a QB who is a threat to run; (2) crowding RB David Johnson will be a priority.
Thus far, Mike McCoy has been playing his cards very close to the vest. What is unclear at this point is whether he can draw another ace or two. For example, the one sure way to exploit a stacked box with sticky man coverage is to win the TE/SS matchup. Can Ricky Seals-Jones be the ace? Thus far in the pre-season game, Seals-Jones has been underwhelming.
McCoy knows he has an ace in slot WR Larry Fitzgerald. Even though this is Fitz’s 15th year in the league, this could be his most productive season. But, to ensure that Fitz doesn’t draw constant double teams, McCoy need his TE to step up.
There has been no indication yet when Jermaine Gresham will return, but at this point in his career, can he become the go-to ace TE? Gabe Holmes is more of a blocker than receiver. Andrew Vollert has the size, athleticism and hands to be good—-but can he be a factor as a rookie?
I have started to wonder whether McCoy should try Greg Little at TE. Little has yet to get on track, but the one thing he has shown in the pre-season games is his physicality. In practice he has dazzled at times. Perhaps using him as a flex-TE opposite Larry Fitzgerald might be an unexpected boon.
While the Cardinals say they want to run a power running game they are really running a hit the crease, race to daylight attack that could produce the occasional chunk yard gallop, but not necessarily the 3-4 yard ground and pound—-because the RBs are speed guys, not bruisers. David Johnson has been lowering his shoulders on contact this year and, of the three RBs, he is by far the most physically imposing. Chase Edmonds has very good bounce, vision and balance and he fights hard for every yard. T.J. Logan is a burner who runs hard and last night showed that he will not go down easily.
The Cardinals do have two good FBs in Derrick Coleman and Elijhaa Penny. For the first time in years, the Cardinals are running isolation blocks on inside linebackers—-and doing it with a bang! Take a look at the iso block FB Penny lands that springs RB T.J. Logan on his 59 yard TD burst.
What McCoy knows is—-give any of his 3 RBs a crease and they could be off to the races.
As for the WRs—-because McCoy is employing a Patriots’ style offense—-the WRs won’t be featured as much as they have been in the past. The Cardinals’ RBs will have more touches. Fitz will get his. Christian Kirk will be used as crosser, seam buster and double move slot WR and will get his share depending on the matchups. Thus, what McCoy wants to get out of the other WRs is consistent, tough blocking and occasional big plays down the field. The WR who could quickly become the Chris Hogan of the Cardinals’ offense is Chad Williams—-with Trent Sherfield on his heels.
J.J. Nelson can still take the top off the defense and has value in that regard. There was speculation in the Boston Globe this week that the Patriots could have potential interest in trading for Nelson. Last night’s performance, however, did not help Nelson or the Cardinals.
Brice Butler is being used thus far as a possession WR, when his forte is running fades, corner and back shoulder routes.
Next comes the question of what to do with QB Mike Glennon. If there ever was a stage for Glennon to pose the question around the NFL that he could be the Nick Foles of 2018, last night was it. Yet, Glennon, as Keith Jackson used to say, refused to “matriculate the ball down the field.” At least undrafted rookie Chad Kanoff tried to give the WRs a chance to make plays. Glennon was tediously cautious. Which—-you know—-if you are Mike Glennon and week after week, all everyone has been talking about are Bradford and Rosen—-and you didn’t even play last week—-don’t you come into this game with a giant Dorito on your shoulder? Well last night that Dorito looked like a speck of dandruff.
The Cardinals’ offensive line took a step backward last night—-they kept grinding away at the running game and was given a boost when John Wetzel was inserted as a blocking TE, but the tackles, D.J. Humphries and Andre Smith were getting beaten regularly in pass protection. Humphries consistently made the mistake of over-reacting to Randy Gregory’s stagger rush, which threw off DJ’s balance and any good chance he had of knocking Gregory off the arc. By now Humphries should know how to keep steady, balanced and controlled on his fan blocks.
I have said this from day one and now, more than ever, I believe that John Wetzel is a better RT than Andre Smith at this point in Smith’s career.
Mike Iupati who had been having a near perfect pre-season, was called for two holding penalties.
I thought RG Justin Pugh was making it way too easy for the Cowboys’ front 7 to anticipate the snap count when play after play he was arching his back and looking back at Bradford and then as soon as Pugh took his stance they snapped the ball. It is getting so annoying to see defenses beat the Cardinals off the ball because of anticipated snap counts—-last year it was ad nauseum because the QB ran the play clock down to near zero each play and snapped the ball on one. Last night looked very similar—-a whole lot of checking and adjusting and looking back at Bradford with the play clock going under 5 and Pugh turning and Cole snapping.
On the second team, the blocking at times was brisk—-like the textbook pull and trap block LG Daniel Munyer displayed on T.J. Logan’s big run. This is exactly why Munyer has value—-he’s athletic and can finish off blocks.
Lastly—-I am going to include the kicker in this thread—-to hear Al Michael declare Phil Dawson as the sure lock winner of the kicking battle even before Matt McCrane made his 54 yarder (which would have been good from over 60 yards) was incredibly presumptuous and unprofessional. He should know better. No one is telling Al Michaels or Cris Collinsworth who is making the team and who isn’t. Steve Wilks has been adamant that the best players will win the jobs and thus far in three games, Matt McCrane has been the better player.