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Evaluations of the Cardinals’ Personnel and Schemes (in the aftermath of 2 bad losses)

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Arizona Cardinals v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Coach Steve Wilks—-in your post-game presser you vowed to evaluate the personnel and the schemes—-here are some thoughts.

As a teacher, when the majority of your students are failing the tests, you have to ask yourself what you and the students are doing wrong. It all starts with the teaching—-and the teacher’s expectations.

Let’s start with schemes.

Offense:

  • Establishing the run. As you have seen, it’s not so simple when teams are loading the box on you and you are doing nothing to back the defense off.
  • Throwing underneath the sticks on 3rd downs. if you are repeatedly going to do that you might as well quick kick on 3rd down so that a 5-9, 165 punt returner (JoJo Natson) doesn’t break off 126 yards of punt returns.
  • Loading the box up further with added tight ends. Doesn’t help, unless you want to suck the defense further in to pass over the top.
  • You have a FB, but you do not use him. He is more valuable than the extra TE because you are able to iso STRAIGHT ahead on a linebacker with the FB.
  • You have a deep threat in J.J. Nelson and yet all you do is try to throw him 5 yard out passes, and when you got behind to the Redskins you claimed that because you could no longer stick to the running game, Nelson’s package of plays was no longer needed—-which is why you didn’t play him a single snap. What?
  • You are not using David Johnson, your most dynamic player, as a receiver when you desperately need to get your passing game going.
  • You are not running enough motion—-the way the Rams did—-to threaten the jet sweep or to create quicker releases upfield for the motion man.
  • You are not running any misdirection plays—-your calls are either a handoff, ineffective play action fakes or 3-5 step drops—-which allows the defense a 100% commitment to follow the flow.
  • You are telegraphing the timing of your snaps and giving the defense an advantage.
  • You have a QB who is not being competitive—-who checks out of plays as fast as a felon fleeing the hotel he just robbed.
  • You have young WRs who could get open if you motioned them, ran them on crosses or rubbed them off of other WRs routes. When they are being pressed, you are not running fade or go patterns with them in order to keep the CBs and FSs honest.
  • Your offensive line is improved, but you keep making key assignment mistakes on the edge and in the case of the Rams’ front 7 you kept double teaming Suh more than Donald. Why?
  • Basic philosophy change: keep the defense guessing and off-balance by passing in running situations and running in passing situations. When the box is loaded—-attack and threaten the back end of the defense. With the more mobile Rosen—-run some misdirection plays off of bootlegs and waggles. Get the defense off-balance and on their heels.

Defense:

  • You have improved the run defense on 1st and 2nd down—-this week partly because you inserted a better tackler at ILB in Gerald Hodges, to go with last week’s leading tackler Josh Bynes.
  • However, your coverage schemes are getting exploited. Your RCB (Jamar Taylor) has been a consistent liability and yet you do not sub for him.
  • At times you are leaving receivers wide open—-like RBs out of the backfield (even Adrian Peterson) or TEs off of motion. You have a WR in Brandon Cooks who is torching you and yet you keep Taylor on him and don’t double team him with the FS. A slower WR in Robert Woods extended the first drive with a simple stick route in front of your best and fastest CB (Patrick Peterson).
  • You are getting a much improved effort from Peterson in terms of tackling—-while he is still at times over-running or over-committing too early on the perimeter (as he did when Gurley bounced on him for a TD), Peterson made the adjustment the next time and funneled Gurley inside where Peterson assisted on the tackle. Peterson’s interception was a thing of beauty. Clearly, your coaching is being responded to by Peterson. Kudos, Pat P.
  • The worst part of your defense is your goaline defense—-where it is inexplicable as to what in the world you are doing. On the key last play of the 1st half (4th and goal), you smartly called time out when you saw the Rams’ formation, but then you went into a formation that had your two DTs in the A gaps, who both took dives on the snap to create shallow piles rather than trying to shoot those gaps and penetrate—-and then—-you had NO ILB behind them—-NO ILB in the middle—-the closest 2 defenders were S Bene Benwikere (over the right tackle) who didn't read the play and just got blocked by the tackle and S Tre’ Boston who, like Benwikere, was lined up over the tackle on the other side. As a result, Jared Goff saw this absurd formation at the line scrimmage and audibled into a 32 dive for Gurley which Betty White could have run through untouched , let alone Todd Gurley.
  • Your zone coverage in the red zone is swiss cheese—-plus you gave up all THREE 2 point conversions on 2 dive plays and an easy wide open pass over the middle because the ILB (Hodges) was standing in cement with a receiver entering his zone.
  • Chandler Jones saved yet another wide open reception in the red zone when Goff tried to hit the wide open TE off motion to the left.
  • The Cardinals’ pressure on Goff was decent—-but the coverage was always a step or two slow—-unlike the Rams’ coverage which was like flypaper all afternoon.
  • Basic philosophy change: make a stronger commitment to man-to-man coverage (no more wide open WRs, TEs and RBs)—-play more press coverage to spoil the QB/WR timing. Be more aggressive.

Special teams:

  • Hard to believe that Natson would have more yards in returns than the entire Cardinals’ offense. Andy Lee needs to sacrifice a little distance to get better hang time. The Cardinals need better play from their gunners—-still don’t see much of a contribution from Brandon Williams.
  • Once again the Cardinals do not go after punters or kickers (even a fill-in K in Hekker) as they do not go full bore on the rush. It’s just another chapter in the Cardinals’ passive special teams approach.
  • Basic philosophy change: get after all phases of STs. Impact the game. Turn momentum in the Cardinals’ favor.

Suggested Personnel Upgrades/Moves:

  • QB Josh Rosen in for Sam Bradford. Bradford’s playing with no edge and is sucking the life out of the offense.
  • Use David Johnson at WR at times with Chase Edmonds at RB. Motion Johnson out of the backfield—-move him around to make the defenses have to adjust, even if it’s as a decoy at times.
  • Use Derrick Coleman as a blocker—-and occasionally pass to him off play action to keep the defense honest.
  • Activate WR Trent Sherfield (play him on STs over Brandon Williams) and use him in the passing game. He can get open.
  • Get WR Christian Kirk going on jet sweep motions. Nelson too. Take some shots with Kirk right up the seams.
  • Keep Hodges with Bynes in the middle versus the run. Use an extra DB instead of Hodges and Bucannon on passing downs, as both Hodges and Bucannon are liabilities in coverage. Would also be fascinated occasionally to see Zeke Turner and Dennis Gardeck play some snaps if the occasion presents itself.
  • Give Rudy Ford some time at FS—-use his speed and aggressiveness.
  • CB Deatrich Nichols in for Jamar Taylor. Nichols is more aggressive versus the run and in coverage. Then again, so was Tim Scott whom the Cardinals cut. Bring Scott back for depth.

Have your best week, Coach Wilks. Now’s your time to make bold moves. Turn the boos at State Farm into cheers this week.