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ARI 26 CIN 23: Cards Wheeling

Arizona Cardinals v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Bryan Woolston/Getty Images

In my euphoria after the Cardinals’ exciting 26-23 win in Cincinnati over the Bengals, I quickly pored through the ROTB game comments and was befuddled to find so many fans calling this an “ugly” win.

As the saying goes, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”

First of all—-the term “ugly win” is a classic oxymoron (contradiction).

Secondly—-for a Cardinals team that was desperate to win its first game of the season following an 0-3-1 first quarter of the season—-winning this one felt extra sweet, because, like Emily Dickinson would say, “success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed.”

Thirdly—-it wasn’t too long ago that Cardinals’ coaches and players were complaining and whining about having to play 1 PM games on the East Coast, which, in Arizona, is 10 AM.

In fact, if you go back three years, the Cardinals had a 2-13 record in early 1 PM EDT games and the point differential was a staggering -182 points (16.7 Cardinals ppg, 28.9 Opponents ppg.).

This was the Cardinals’ second 1 PM EDT start this year and on both occasions, versus the Ravens and the Bengals, the Cardinals were very competitive. That means something.

Fourthly, for those who keep branding the Cardinals’ offensive line as the worst in football—-one could argue that in this 26-23 road win the Cardinals’ offensive line played its best all-around game in years, maybe even decades.

When was the last time you watched a Cardinals offense rush for 266 yards and pass for 253 yards—-with 0 turnovers—-and a total of 514 yards 17 plays, averaging 7.2 yards per play?

Let alone during a 1 PM EDT start on the road?

When was the last time you watched the Cardinals rush 38 times in a game?

Let alone rush for 7.0 yards per rush?

Which part of all that was ugly to you?

Sure—-the red zone deficiencies continue to be an issue.

But—-A—-look at how any times the Cardinals got into the red zone—-and B—-look at Kingsbury’s gutsy 4th down call which produced Kyler Murray sensational TD scamper to the left pylon—-and, with it, a much welcomed display of a little Coach Bro swag on the sidelines afterward.

Goodbye, Baby Ball!

The problem with the red zone issues—-and Kingsbury, in his ever modest way, keeps blaming himself for what he deems “bad play calls”—-is that for all of the times the Cardinals’ offense was knocking on the goal-line door in this game, they only ONCE took a shot into the end zone—-and that was on a designed back shoulder throw to Trent Sherfield that was wide of the mark, quite possibly because Sherfield was supposed to turn back toward the pylon.

Even when the offense had 1st and goal at the 2 yard line with 14 seconds left in the half—-they elected to throw short of the goal-line on a WR screen where Fitz got tackled on the catch. Fortunately they were able to line up and spike the ball to at least get 3 points out of it. But, normally a 1st and goal with 14 seconds left (with 0 timeouts) gives you 2-3 shots at the end zone.

And oh—-how about the magnificent catches in this game? Pharoh Cooper’s was sensational—-and then on the game winning drive, David Johnson’s over the shoulder catch by the left sideline on a perfectly thrown fade pass by Kyler Murray was a work of art, especially the way Johnson was able to secure the ball after initially bobbling it, just in time to keep his feet in bounds.

The two rushing TDs were works of art—-Murray’s fabulous double move scamper to the pylon and Chase Edmonds’ 37 yard bolt up the left sideline sprung by a superb block by LT D.J. Humphries. Rembrandts like these ain’t the least bit ugly.

I understand why so may fans were upset about the defense coughing up 14 points on two Andy Dalton TD drives in a mere matter of 4 minutes and 46 seconds of the 4th quarter.

The first 10 play 79 yard drive in 3: 05 minutes was a classic case of the pitfalls of prevent defense, especially when the 4 man pass rush is not effective.

CB Byron Murphy, who was having a tremendous game in sticky man coverage was now playing off his man and giving too much cushion—-and this is where with Vance Joseph the mentality has to change—-because these are the times when Murphy and the other CBs should be thinking about getting an interception to seal the win—-these are the times to be preying off the opponents’ desperation.

Not sure why Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs struggled so much in this game versus 2nd and 3rd string tackles—-but next time the Cardinals have a 14 point lead the edge rushers had better be licking their chops.

Then, the offense had it’s only 3-and-out since the very first possession of the game, starting with an inexcusable delay of game penalty and ending with 2 passes that are normally very completable for Kyler Murray—-the low throw to KeeSean Johnson and the slightly behind crossing pass to Larry Fitzgerald—-in both cases were not only incomplete, but they stopped the clock.

Now—-I know the second TD on the 42 yard pass from Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd looked awful—-but at least this time around Vance Joseph was being aggressive in sending blitzes to try to get to Dalton and in going back to tighter coverage—-however, two tough things happened on this play:

1—-had Tramaine Brock not gotten injured—-he was the guy to cover Tyler Boyd, especially if the scheme was to play trail technique, as Budda Baker tried to do on the taller, faster Boyd.

2—-rookie FS Deionte Thompson, who played a very good game (all things considered) in his 1st NFL start—-got caught, as may safeties do, in no man’s land. He is taught to help on the most immediate deep threat, but Dalton did an excellent job of influencing Thompson toward the underneath route, which then allowed Boyd to take the lid off the defense in the deep third to Thompson’s right.

In retrospect, the next time the Cardinals are in that situation, if they are going to play trail technique on a fast, taller receiver then, it would behoove Vance Joseph to take the guessing work out for Deionte Thompson by telling him to double team the WR. This week that WR will be Julio Jones—thus, bracketing Jones will be one of the most important keys of the game.

Last week in my “Cardinals change of approach” thread I was suggesting that Vance Joseph play all-out aggressive defense so as to dictate the tempo and to try to prevent long, time consuming drives, particularly late in the game. As it turned out, the Bengals scored on the Boyd TD with 2:00 left, giving the Cardinals’ offense a chance to score a game winner and, if done properly, to leave no time on the clock for the Bengals.

One of the sweetest outcomes of this game was watching Kyler Murray perform in that pressure lat game situation very much like Russell Wilson. With all of the momentum on the Bengals’ side and now with the crowd all a-roar, Murray shook off the failings of the previous drive and executed the offense to near perfection.

The thing is—-Murray was so acutely aware of the Bengals’ coverages that whenever they switched over to man coverage, Murray knew in the back of his head that he could scramble up the middle if he had a crease. Which is exactly what he did when he wanted to hit Chase Edmonds on a quick out pass, but Edmonds slipped, and Murray then made the snap decision to take off—-and he dang near scored on the scramble.

How often do you see a young QB throw it to a spot even when his receiver slips? For Murray to have the presence of mind not to force a pass in that situation and to react so swiftly when the play started to break down is the mark of a seasoned QB, not a mere rookie.

But—-back to assessing defense’s performance on the day—-after giving up another long, time consuming opening drive, where it looked like RB Joe Mixon was going to have a 200 yard game—-to be able to stop the Bengals from scoring TDs on all 3 of their for 3 drives into the red zone was huge—-and was the result of Joseph substituting the right run defense personnel into the game (does DT Jonathan Bullard deserve a game ball for his 7 big tackles?) and by switching over to sticky man coverage—-which made huge difference because the Bengals receivers were dropping some of the hotly contested passes.

The Cardinals defense played it best football this season for three quarters—-and they did it while playing 3 rookies in the secondary (Murphy, Deionte Thompson and Jalen Thompson)—-all of whom played hard and hit with a pop. Plus, the new RCB Kevin Peterson—-he played tight coverage, even got away with a slight hold on a deep pass and showed some pop on his tackles.

For those who have been highly critical of Haason Reddick—-how about the 4th down stop he made on Andy Dalton’s run, where Reddick tossed Joe Mixon aside and tackled Dalton in his tracks so fundamentally perfectly that he could stand him up and lift him off the ground? That was huge play in this football game.

Despite some early troubles on special teams, the units settled down very well. Pharoh Cooper ran well on returns. Rookie punter Ryan Winslow averaged 50 yards per his three punts. And Zane Gonzalez put his early short FG miss behind him and finished 4/5 in FGs and 2/2 on extra points, including the game winning kick.

The Cardinals resiliency in this game was impressive—-they reacted well to adversity, pretty much every time it struck. They made good adjustments after making some previous mistakes.

I believe it was very positive step forward for the team in all three phases. I hope you do too.

This win was valuable to every Cardinals’ coach and player, but the win was particularly sweet for the Bidwill family on what was a very emotional week with the passing of their family’s and the Cardinals’ patriarch William V. Bidwill.

I actually found this victory so sweet that I have now begun what I hope is a new tradition. Mere seconds after Zane Gonzalez kicked the game winning FG, with my heart banging the tom tom drums and my stomach tied up in close game knots, I reached deep into the freezer and pulled out an ice cream bar—-and savored every sweet morsel of it—-of course, in Mr. B’s honor.

No—-this win didn’t feel the least bit ugly—-it tasted extra sweet!