Through two games, the Arizona Cardinals currently rank last in points scored (6), last in total offensive yards (350), tied for last on yards per play (3.7), and first in three-and-outs per drive.
With an entirely new coaching staff and new starting quarterback, no one could have anticipated such a rough start for the offense.
Who is to blame for the most inefficient offense in the NFL? Is this the fault of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, whose lack of creativity has stifled ball movement, or is quarterback Sam Bradford the problem?
Play #1-Week 1-First Quarter-(6:38) third-and-5-S. Bradford 4 yard pass to C. Kirk
Arizona runs a trail concept from a bunch set on the left side of the field.
The Redskins are in man-to-man coverage which works in the Cardinals favour as bunch formations aid in gaining separation against man coverage.
Larry Fitzgerald runs a slant route into the middle of the field, intended to clear space for the primary receiver, Christian Kirk, who follows from the outside.
Following the snap, Bradford locks on Kirk and follows him for the entirety of his route. Redskins cornerback Quinton Dunbar, is in off-man coverage – he’s allowing Kirk to break on his route and keep him contained behind the first down marker. When Bradford only stays on one target it tips off Dunbar who closes in and makes the tackle.
Bradford misses Fitzgerald who has enough separation for a first down in the middle of the field. It’s hard to entirely blame Bradford here since Kirk is the go-to player on this design, but Bradford’s unwillingness to improvise is routine.
With Kirk unable to get the first down, the Cardinals punted — leading to the Redskins first touchdown of the game.
Play #2-Week 1-Second Quarter-(14:54) first-and-10-S. Bradford 3 yard pass to L. Fitzgerald
Here, Bradford eyes Kirk at the start of the play but after seeing Redskins linebacker Zach Brown trail the receiver, Bradford moves to his second read, Fitzgerald, on the underneath route for a minimal gain.
As Fitzgerald runs his drag route, Brown’s coverage was shifting from Kirk to Fitzgerald. The Redskins were in a Cover 3 meaning Kirk would have been passed from Brown’s coverage to Dunbar’s, who was out of position.
If Bradford had read the Cover 3 defense, Fitzgerald could be the decoy to open up Kirk for a larger gain. Bradford also had a enough time in the pocket to let Fitzgerald continue on his route and let the play develop, he didn’t need to hurry the throw.
This drive resulted in a three-and-out and a Cardinals punt. The Redskins found the end zone on the subsequent drive (14-0).
Play #3-Week 1-Second Quarter-(4:05) first-and-10-S. Bradford incomplete pass to L. Fitzgerald
Before the snap, Bradford motions receiver Chad Williams to the right side of the field. This helps Bradford identify the man coverage from the defense as cornerback Fabian Moreau follows Williams.
The Cardinals run a double out concept.
Bradford makes a poor throw to Fitzgerald after he’s shoved off his break by linebacker Mason Foster. Meanwhile, the vertical route tight end Ricky Seal-Jones runs clears Williams out route for an easy gain. Bradford, who is locked onto his first read, doesn’t spot the wide open Williams.
At this point of the game, trailing by two touchdowns — the longest pass attempted by Bradford was eight yards.
The Cardinals failed to get a first down on this drive and punted on fourth down. On the next drive, the Redskins were able to pile on with another touchdown.
Play #4-Week 2-Second Quarter-(7:55) second-and-15-S. Bradford incomplete pass to L. Fitzgerald
On the above play the Cardinals run a double smash on the right side of the field with Kirk on a corner route.
The Rams are in Cover 1 - man coverage with a single high safety and Marqui Chrisitan aiding crossing routes through the middle of the field. When Kirk breaks on his corner route towards the sideline he has separation from his defender but Bradford opts for the shallow dig route against Aqib Talib.
Looking at the view from the pocket, Bradford has time to make other reads, but goes for his first. This being a second-and-long situation, it’s puzzling why Bradford didn’t take the deeper receiver who had more separation.
Freeze framing certain plays and calling out open receivers does a disservice to quarterback play but when it happens as often as it does to Bradford — it’s an issue. With Bradford, there is also a lack of quarterback manipulation, no shoulder shifting or eye movement to move and deceive defenders, no pocket presence to extend plays. It’s a simple snap and repetitive quick throw.
Going through the Cardinals plays, McCoy’s scheme is a combination of dig, drag and out routes. These utilize the middle of the field in a high low concept and force zone defenders to choose between underneath routes, or back off and cover deeper threats. The problem is that if your quarterback who is trailing by two touchdowns has only attempted passes eight yards or shorter, it brings the defense closer to the line of scrimmage, limiting the short ball.
Bradford has thrown 61 passes in his two games played, 45 of these passes didn’t travel further than 10 yards (74%). The NFL average last season was 63% of throws traveling less than 10 yards putting Bradford well below the standard.
McCoy’s scheme of utilizing the middle of the field on shallow routes could be a byproduct of him catering towards Bradford who hasn’t been accurate on his deeper throws.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bradford has been pressured on 32 of his 61 dropbacks (52%). Only Jimmy Garoppolo and DeShaun Watson have been pressured more on their throws. The offensive line is clearly an issue but even when Bradford has time, he isn’t utilizing those opportunites. The Cardinals have been handed an unlucky early schedule going against two of the top defenses in terms of pressure forced and Week 3 against the Chicago Bears is bound to be another struggle for the offensive line.
Mike McCoy’s Gamescript
Bradford’s conservative play doesn’t excuse McCoy who is his own problem for the offense.
Of the six Cardinal first down plays in first quarters, McCoy has elected to run on five of them, averaging 1.2 yards per carry. The game script for McCoy who wants to implement a smashmouth style of football is dated and proven largely ineffective. His use of heavy personnel stacks a box against David Johnson limiting his ability to make plays. Dan Pizzuta of Big Blue View wrote about the New York Giants running game this season and it heavily relates to what McCoy is attempting to implement with this offense.
Denver Broncos running against 9 MIB in 2017.— Josh Hermsmeyer (@friscojosh) August 1, 2018
1st & 10, incredibly they run. pic.twitter.com/ecCNopAlGU
Reviewing the Cardinal’s passing plays, David Johnson is nonexistent. It’s not often he’s doing anything remotely creative. I had my doubts that McCoy would be ineffective in utilizing him when I saw in preseason that he wasn’t using his running back effectively. Into the regular season, McCoy continues to have Johnson on curl routes through the middle of the field, limiting his ceiling.
Essentially, both Bradford and McCoy are a duo that together haven’t produced results. If Rosen starts, he could make an impact but be limited by McCoy’s playcalling, especially his predictable run formula. If a new creative playcaller is brought in, Bradford could still continue to force the ball to his short reads.
Either way both of these individuals make up what has been the worst offense in the NFL and unless drastic changes are made, Cardinal fans are in for a long season.