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NO 31 ARI 9: Easy Breesy

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Cardinals’ fans have much to question following yesterday’s blowout loss in New Orleans.

Pre-Game:

  • WR KeeSean Johnson—- inactive.

What this move essentially meant is that Damiere Byrd, Pharoh Cooper and Andy Isabella are now ahead of Johnson on the depth chart. And with Isabella getting little to no action in the game, at the half way point of the season, WR coaches Jerry Sullivan and David Raih have done a poor job of developing two of the Cardinals’ more promising draft picks.

Some fans will blame Steve Keim for the picks—-but—-at least to this fan’s perspective, Isabella and Johnson are highly talented players who very well may be stifled in the short-run by over-coaching, by a rookie QB who is trying to create chemistry with the more veteran players and an offensive scheme that is thus far more dink and dunk than downfield attack.

  • RB Alfred Morris—-inactive.

The Cardinals worked out Morris and Zach Zenner a few weeks ago. Going into the season, there were some concerns about the depth at RB—-because when the roster was finalized, the only proven RB was David Johnson. Since then, Chase Edmonds has emerged as a bona fide and talented fit as RB2 (albeit now injured). But, the concern all along has been at RB3—-D.J. Foster is good on STs, but he is more of a slot WR than RB, and if Johnson and Edmonds got hurt, could Foster be the bell cow?

Foster has been injured for close to 3 weeks now. If and when he comes back, one would think that Zenner and Morris would be ahead of him on the RB depth chart. But—-the point is—-the Cardinals should have added a RB weeks ago. What we fans saw yesterday with Kyler Murray having to explain each play to Zach Zenner was embarrassing and inexcusable.

Funny how the Cardinals could make room a couple of weeks ago for two punters on the 53 man roster—-and yet did nothing about the RB situation.

Coin Toss:

  • Cardinals win and elect to defer.

This decision was beyond mind-boggling. You are going to give the ball to Drew Brees and that Saints’ offense first in their own building? With your defense that has routinely given up long, time consuming drives on the opponents’ 1st possession each game? So—-you are going to risk no only getting behind to the Saints in their stadium, but risk icing your own QB on the sidelines in the process?

The defense gave up a 12 play 48 yard drive that consumed over 6 minutes of clock—-and they got a stop and forced a FG that the Saints missed! Reprieve!

The Cardinals’ offense took over and on 2nd down they ran a picture perfect flea-flicker that to a faster receiver would have been a TD—-but then in the red zone—-here we go again—-(1st and 10) run left to Edmonds 0 yards—-(2nd and 10) run left again to Edmonds for 3 yards—-(3rd and 7) hitch pass right to Edmonds for -2 yards—-pretty much the exact same plays the Giants stuffed late in last week’s game.

Not one shot at the end zone.

On 1st and 10 Kingsbury from the New Orleans 14 the Cardinals should have taken a shot at the end zone—-what a statement that would have made—-like, hey this week we are actually going to take our shots downfield. We are actually going to attack the end zone in the passing game. What a way to back that Saints’ defense off.

Ironically, the only shot the Cardinals took at the end zone all day was a perfectly thrown dime from Kyler Murray to Larry Fitzgerald—- a play that Fitz usually makes in his sleep—-and yet Fitz didn’t or wasn’t able to drag his back foot.

Game Approach:

  • The Cardinals were are coming off a 3 game winning streak, they had momentum and in essence were playing with house money. No one expected them to win at New Orleans—-so why not try to pull out all of the stops in this game? Instead, why did they play this game so ultra conservatively?
  • Didn’t the Cardinals’ coaches learn this lesson from the Seahawks’ game???—-where they played for field goals and gave up long, time consuming drives to Russell Wilson???—-who basically iced the Cardinals’ offense by keeping them off the field.
  • Clearly, over on the other side, Sean Payton learned more form the Cardinals/Seahawks game than the Cardinals did. It also appears obvious that Payton and Drew Brees studied the Falcons/Cardinals game—-and what they saw was a porous, passive Cardinals’ defense that at numerous times did not cover anyone—-where the Falcons engineered 5 long scoring drives versus the Cardinals’ defense that looked like this (plays/yards): 10/80, 11/64, 10/93, 8/83 and 7/79. It’s no wonder why Drew Brees was so anxious to play this week.
  • Amazingly—-it was a small miracle that the Cardinals were only down 10-6 at half-time, thanks to a missed FG on the opening drive and a TD erasing holding penalty that also ran out the clock before the Saints could try another field goal. By all rights, the score should have been 20-6.
  • So at that point maybe you are think that the Cardinals’ decision to defer on the coin toss was a brilliant idea. But—-the absolute key to that decision was being able to take the ball first in the 2nd half and make the Saints pay. But, despite getting a quick 1st down on 2 plays, a 9 yard pass to Damiere Byrd and a 3 yard run by Chase Edmonds, the drive was halted by a 10 yard, loss of down intentional grounding penalty.
  • Then the Saints got 3 quick 1st downs, aided by a Terrell Suggs neutral zone infraction, and the Cardinals pulled a rabbit out of the hat again when on 1st and 10 from the Arizona 46, Brees forced a pass up the left sideline that Patrick Peterson intercepted. Cardinals get another chance on offense to make there Saints pay.
  • That chance ends with Chase Edmonds getting stuffed on a 4th and 1 at the Cardinals’ own 30 yard line—-but—-here’s the rub—-as close as the score was at 10-6—-the Saints had dominated the time of possession so much in this game, which for an offensive minded head coach like Kliff Kingsbury and an eager young QB like Kyler Murray, was so frustrating—- that going for it on 4th and short was too tempting, particularly after trying to capitalize on the interception. This is where the coin toss decision came back to bite the Cardinals in the butt. The Saints got the ball first in this game and played “keep away” for the entire game to the tune of controlling the clock for 37:59 to the Cardinals’ 22:01.
  • Where it made the best sense to go for it on 4th down were prior to the 2nd and 3rd field goals: the second FG was on a 4th and 5 deep in the red zone (Saints’ 13 yard line) and the 3rd FG was on a 4th and 4 (from the Saints’ 33 yard line).

What’s Wrong with Cardinals’ Offense?

  • Tempo—-excruciatingly slow—-giving the defense plenty of time to adjust and to catch their breath between plays. One of the main reasons to run an Air Raid is to tire the defense out.
  • Way too much dink and dunk—-and not enough plays that get Kyler Murray on the move with a chance to make big strikes down field.
  • Calling the majority of 3rd down plays “under the sticks”—-like the 5 yard 3rd and 10 pass to Christian Kirk into a triangle of defenders with zero chance to convert necessary yards.
  • Running the ball on 2nd and 10—-it just sets up a pressure 3rd and 7s.
  • The genius of Kliff Kingsbury as a play caller at Texas Tech was how he played 2nd and longs—-he played them like 3rd and longs—-and that’s a great way to think—-instead of thinking too much about trying to set up a 3rd and 5 or 3rd and 7.
  • One of the biggest issues remains spacing—-which, for example, was way off on the misfired 3rd down rub route to Fitz, because the twin formation wasn’t wide enough to begin with. And even on Fitz’s missed TD, he usually sets the fade route up better by leveraging the CB to the inside. If he creates better spacing on that play, it is an easy TD.
  • Not having a banger RB or FB in short yardage situations—-the Saints actually converted a couple with their FB.

What’s Wrong with the Cardinals’ Defense?

  • When Vance Jospeh lines the DT up in the B gap (between T and G), he has to know that the QB is going to see what an easy off tackle run that is and audible to it—-therefore, defenses that line up in gaps use this as bait and off the snap the DT fights the down block by the T to pinch the hole and once the ILB sees the T block down on the DT, he has to fill the hole NOW. Instead, the Cardinals are too slow to squeeze and close the holes. Joseph did adjust at one point sending Joe Walker on a run blitz that was effective, but they need to do a better job of squeezing down and filling holes and getting stronger backside pursuit by the linemen and linebackers. Jordan Hicks has been pretty solid in attacking the run from his side. Haasan Reddick has been a few times each game a step too slow in attacking from his side—-but—-part of that is because he’s often assigned to the TE or RB in pass coverage, which he also has been late in applying, like he was getting to Latavius Murray on a simple sideline swing pass that Murray caught and ran past Reddick for a TD with Reddick unable to push him out of bounds and the Cardinals’ CB hardly fighting to shed the block of the WR.
  • The pass coverage is such a mess that after 8 games it appears that Vance Jospeh is incorrigible. This game was so Easy Breesy—-how many Saints’ receivers were wide open in this game? Especially, WR Michael Thomas—-who ran free at times—-and then easily crossed the face for Patrick Peterson a few times, which even in zone, is a big mistake by Peterson. Funny how Peterson made the post-game all about him and “the PP Effect” after the Giants game—-and this week he doesn’t even speak to the media after the game.
  • If the Cardinals don’t play a steady diet of disciplined man coverage versus the 49ers, the 49ers might score over 50 points as a team in back to back weeks. The key word is “disciplined” because the 49ers are running their version of a multi-dimensional offense with a quick hitting running attack and all kinds of misdirection play action passes. Their guys are playing fast—-the kind of fast that Kingsbury covets and thus far is not quite getting from the Cardinals, even though he has a handful of fast players.

What Should the Cardinals Do at the Trading Deadline?

  • This is the toughest week to have a Thursday Night game—-because, it’s now 9 weeks into the season—-a number of players are banged up and have to get themselves ready to play by Thursday evening. It’s not a week in which any new players acquired via trade would have the time to be integrated. And, of course, the Cardinals have a big NFC West, nationally televised game at home versus an 7-0 arch-rival.
  • That said—-when one sees that the 5-3 (2018 NFC Champion) Rams, in their assessment of what it is going to take to get themselves back into top contention in the NFC West, have chosen to become sellers in a feverish attempt to get trade value for some of their veterans—-the Cardinals certainly should be thinking the same way—-and even more so.
  • But—-does anyone get the sense that Steve Keim feels this kind of urgency? The current Cardinals’ veterans who could garner some of high degrees of trade value: WR Larry Fitzgerald, RB David Johnson, TE Maxx Williams, TE Charles Clay, T D.J. Humphries, G Justin Pugh, C A.Q. Shipley (Seahawks just lost Justin Britt), G J.R. Sweezy, DT Corey Peters, DE Terrell Suggs, DE Chandler Jones, LB Haason Reddick (to a 43 team who can play him to his strengths at OLB), LB Jordan Hicks, CB Patrick Peterson, CB Tramaine Brock, S Budda Baker and P Andy Lee.
  • When you look at that list of the Cardinals’ veterans—-ask yourself, which ones are core players for this year, next year and beyond. We pretty much would all agree, for example, on Chandler Jones. But, if there is a shred of doubt as to whether any of these players will be in the team’s plans for 2020 and beyond, then at this point, if the Cardinals can get trade value for some of those players, doesn’t it behoove them to do it?