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ARI 34 ATL 33: Offense Seals Win, Again

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NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Fun.

That’s what the Cardinals are having on offense these days—-plenty of fun.

Even the offensive linemen look excited—-and boy oh boy are they hustling harder than ever. Look at them racing downfield to make blocks!

For the first time since the Kurt Warner days of 2008, the Cardinals’ offense scored on its first 5 possessions of the game—-

And it’s not just the fact that they are scoring—-it is HOW they are scoring which is cause for tremendous excitement.

Kliff Kingsbury is dialing up all kinds of razzle dazzle looks and when the TV cameras show the Cardinals’ elaborate motion plays from the vantage point of what the defense is seeing—-man it looks like a swirling blender of movements, only seconds later to find, RB Chase Edmonds darting through a crease untouched into the second level—-

—-or suddenly seeing QB Kyler Murray throwing an backside Eephus pitch to TE Maxx Williams that could have brought rain into a domed stadium and then seeing Williams rumble 12 yards to score inside the pylon—-

—-or on a key 4th and 1 seeing Murray fake the handoff and snap a dart to TE Charles Clay in the right flat, sprung open by a perfectly timed pick play by WR Larry Fitzgerald—-

——or seeing Murray dodge a sure sack on pressure to his left, reverse pivot and spin back around to the middle and throw a 25 yard laser beam to Fitzgerald who has alertly broken off his route to come back to the football amongst a crowd of defenders—-

——or, in a now 27-27 tie game with momentum all on the Falcons’ side, seeing Murray drop a dime between two defenders to RB/WR David Johnson who adeptly manages to catch the ball in the midst of the raised arms and converging traffic.

This Arizona offense is offense by committee—-as Murray handed or passed the ball to 10 of his teammates—-and while no player had a 100+ yard receiving or rushing day—-the offense scored 34 points (4 TDs and 2 FGs) on 442 yards on an average of 6.7 yards per play.

Each week the offense has been making at least one noticeable improvement—-and this week it was finally scoring TDs with greater regularity in the red zone. Lord knows, they needed all of it—-as they won the game by one point.

The Cardinals’ defense continued its recent pattern of giving up an easy opening drive score to start the game—-then managing to get a few stops—-before going into a meltdown mode in the 4th quarter.

Pundits and fans are lamenting a lack of talent on the Cardinals’ defense and pinpointing that as the main reason why they are the 30th ranked defense in the NFL.

I beg to differ.

The Cardinals’ problems on defense are not for a lack of talent—-they are explicitly due to inexcusably poor coaching—-that is—-both in the week-to-week schemes—-and in the player’s overall lack of discipline (which can often be linked to the quality of the coaching).

Good defenses cover you the minute you run through the tunnel. Good defenses make you have to earn every yard you get and try to make you miserable doing it. Good defenses play with a ferocious fervor—-but that ferocity is controlled within the discipline of the teamwork.

The problem with the Cardinals’ defense is that it comes out of tunnel to start the game very soft and undisciplined—-how in the world do both Pro Bowl DEs Terrell Suggs and Chandler Jones jump off side on a key 3rd and 10? How in the world were WR Julio Jones (106 yards) and TE Austin Hooper (1 TD, 117) yards left all alone, especially on 3rd down conversions—-and then RB Devonta Freeman (2 TDs) and WR Calvin Ridley (1 TD) for three of the easiest TDs imaginable?

The Cardinals’ defense did two things right—-they started slowing the Falcons’ running game down in the first half, which led to 3rd and longs—-and they recorded two big sacks of QB Matt Ryan, one in each half, that helped to prevent what may have been two more scores.

But the rest—-was way too easy—-because the Cardinals coverage was loose, undisciplined and way too passive.

If I were the GM, the first thing I would do this morning is put a call in to 34 defensive guru Dick LeBeau and hire him as a defensive consultant. LeBeau could even do his work from home if he so desires—-he could study the Cardinals’ game tape (the coaches’ version) today and then conduct Skype calls with Vance Joseph on Tuesday and Wednesday.

LeBeau is no stranger in knowing what to takes to cover a TE. Where I come from, we have the strong safety square up on him at the line of scrimmage and if he blocks down, the safety fills the hole—-if the TE tries to release on a pass pattern the safety jams him to slow the release and to disrupt the QB’s timing. Then, the safety shadows the TE and dogs him wherever he runs. That’s basic 101 Introductory Defense.

Clearly, after 5 games Vance Jospeh is sticking to the same faulty script—-did you ever think this week you would see Julio Jones running wide open between a flat defender in OLB Terrell Suggs and a backed off by 10 yards iCB in Byron Murphy? It’s no wonder the Cardinals have 0 interceptions in 5 games, when they let WRs, TEs and RBs roam uncontested through their Swiss cheese zones.

You would have thought that following the previous week’s defensive meltdown in the 4th quarter versus Andy Dalton and the Bengals that Vance Joseph would have come up with a better, more aggressive approach. Only, no. The approach was even more passive this week, and this time to the tune of giving up 17 unanswered points.

Now—we all knew this game was going to be a great challenge defensively. Even though the Falcons came in 1-4, their offense was ranked 3rd in the NFL—-made even more impressive by the fact that they have played against some very good defenses the first 5 weeks in the Vikings’, Eagles’, Colts’, Titans’ and Texans’.

Certainly, the Falcons’ offense was going to be difficult to contain—-but the Cardinals’ defense being spotted a 17 point lead in the second half, should have allowed the defense to play more aggressively than passively—-and that’s where one has to wonder why Vance Joseph is dialing up the same incompetent calls.

One more case in point—-some pundits and fans are down on LB Haason Reddick after his shortcomings yesterday. Reddick actually led the defense with Jordan Hicks with 8 tackles in the game—-but he was blown up on one play by FB Keith Smith and then he was beaten badly a few times in coverage.

But, let me tell you this—-a defensive coordinator isn’t doing Reddick any favors by assigning him to cover the TE, when he is lined up off-set toward the middle from the TE and asked to defend the run first. It’s virtually impossible to do both—-defend the run and to cover the TE. There are aspects of what the coaches are asking Reddick to do that put him at a clear and distinct disadvantage.

Despite the defensive meltdown in the second half, the Cardinals earned this victory because of some timely breaks (the apparent Byrd fumble, the punt catch interference call, K Matt Bryant’s totally uncharacteristic missed extra point, and perhaps Murray’s game clinching 1st down, although one really needs to see where the ball was on a straight angle to the yard marker), winning the battle of special teams, particularly in the kicking game and on top of scoring 4 TDs in the red zone this week, the Cardinals won this game because the offense closed out the win for a second week in a row by never giving the ball back to a red hot Pro Bowl QB.

This win reminded me of a classic Seahawks’ type of win—-their wins are often punctuated by stellar QB play and timely mistakes by the opponent, like a key missed FG or extra point.

The Cardinals’ offense and special teams are now incredibly fun to watch (I use the word incredibly because who would have ever thought this at any point the last few years?)—-imagine what can happen if the defense starts playing more to their potential.

The Cardinals’ offense with a rookie head coach and rookie QB has closed out two wins in a row in just their 5th and 6th games. Some Arizona sportswriters think that’s not very much to get excited about. But then again, they were the ones who immediately wrote that hiring Kliff Kingsbury and drafting Kyler Murray were colossal mistakes.

Little to get excited about?

Well, I guess not everyone wants to revel in the fun.

Maybe we should get you down to the field so Larry Fitzgerald can tackle you!