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PIT 23 ARI 17: Post Game Thoughts

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
  • Fascinating to watch Kyler Murray the Cardinals #1 pick, 2018 Heisman Trophy and Davey O’Brien (Top QB) Award winner get outplayed by Devlin “Duck” Hodges, an undrafted rookie who most NFL fans had never heard of until this season. Fascinating too that Murray was turnover prone and skittish, while Hodges was remarkably precise and poised.
  • To be fair, Kyler Murray was facing the most well prepared and fastest defense he had seen all season. Notice how committed the Steelers were to not allowing the Cardinals’ offense and Kyler Murray to beat them wide and around the corners. Even when their edge players crashed down, the Steelers used FS Minkah Fitzpatrick as a spy on Murray, and just as Murray thought he could turn the corner off of a read option, Fitzpatrick was right there to make Murray stutter step and go down.
  • Murray has had his least productive games versus good, fast, quick rushing zone defenses such as the Seahawks’, Panthers’, Rams’ and Steelers’. In each case, Murray elected to dink and dunk—-which the Rams were ready to jump all day and the Steelers were ready to bait, as CB Joe Haden did when he feigned deep third coverage and then jumped Murray’s out-pass attempt to Chase Edmonds.
  • Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray have yet to show how they can back zone teams off by attacking the grey areas up the seams and sidelines. Typically teams use TEs a good deal when attacking zones—-but, K2 and K1 are not all that keen about throwing to Maxx Williams and Charles Clay with any kind of regularity. Essentially, the “Y” receiver or go-to TE on thie team is Larry Fitzgerald—-but there are long stretches where Fitz is routinely ignored, like versus the Steelers in the 2nd half.
  • The offense was at its best when it was playing uptempo (which we keep saying very week—-but not seeing very often on the field). OLB T.J. Watt at one point was so gassed he had to take himself out of the game. However, as has been the case all year, when the up tempo offense gets into the red zone that quick pace crawls to a stop, as plays are late getting in, timeouts are taken and the offense is now huddling up—-and giving the defense a chance to reset and catch their breath.
  • It feels like all year when the Cardinals get into the red zone they are afraid of throwing into the end zone—-and thus they revert to going back to the dink and dunk. Sometimes this works as it did when Pharoh Cooper in a recent game took a hitch pass and rambled it into the end zone and this week when Charles Clay got open on a crossing route underneath the goal line. But, most of the time, throwing underneath the sticks or goal line is not going to get it done.
  • That’s why it was so ironic to see Kyler Murray on 4th and 2 from the 6 yard line, with ample room to run for the 1st down or possible the TD, force a pass into the end zone that basically was a gift wrapped interception.
  • While fans are still miffed about what was Murray’s worst mistake of the season—-what’s being forgotten in all of this?—-is the previous play call on 3rd and 10 from the 14 yard line. I don’t know about you, but I was screaming at the TV when Kingsbury called a WR hitch pass to Christian Kirk, which from the get-go had 0 chance of converting the 1st down, not versus the speed of the Steelers’ defense. if there was a time to take a shot at the end zone it was on 3rd and 10 from the 14 yard line. Instead it was clear that Kingsbury was just trying to set up a manageable down and distance for 4th down. Why not take a shot at the end zone on 3rd down?—-and if it is incomplete, kick the FG to make it 20-13.
  • To Kingsbury and Murray’s credit—-they did take a shot into the end zone the next time around on the nifty TD pass to David Johnson—-Johnson, who gives the Cardinals a receiving threat unlike the other receivers because of his combination of size, good hands and strength. Why Johnson hasn’t been used more as a WR remains as much a mystery as to why the speed WRs Andy Isabella (13 snaps the entire game) and Damiere Byrd (14 snaps) aren’t being used as deep threats—-both catching 1 pass in the game on shallow slant passes while operating in the redundant Dink and Dunk.
  • There is really nothing bold or creative about Kingsbury’s play calling, unless he is calling one thing and Kyler is checking down to another. It’s incomprehensible why Kingsbury is not using Murray’s mobility to his and the team’s advantage by employing him in sprint outs, waggles or bootlegs where you crack down of the DE to seal the edge and create an automatic pass/run option.
  • Two weeks ago we watched Sean McVay move Jared Goff around to great success—-but play after play under Kingsbury, Kyler Murray is relegated to the pocket to the point where defenses always know where he is and now Murray is getting so shell shocked he is starting to panic and run a way like Patrick Peterson does when a screen pass is thrown to his side. (Note: this has always been my greatest worry about the PP Effect—-that other teammates would see him playing scared and do the same—-you know on some teams like the Ravens, Steelers and Panthers, playing scared is never an option)
  • Conversely, Devlin Hodges, who also is a smallish QB, showed tremendous poise under pressure—-moving his feet when he needed to (scrambling 5 times for 34 yards)—-taking some shots downfield, a couple of which were easy PI penalties (not sure how or why in Week 14 Byron Murphy is panicking on his end—-notable too that he is drawing the #1 WR assignment that typically goes to Peterson)—-and Hodges calmly completed 16 of 19 passes for 1 TD and a RTG of 117.5 (the 11th QB to produce a 100+ RTG versus the Cardinals’ defense in 13 games)—-the worst of which for the Cardinals (once again) was the 20 yard completion late in the game on 3rd and 18 to Diontae Johnson who came back to the ball while 3 Cardinal defenders stood in cement. No down and distance feels unattainable versus the Cardinals’ defense, particularly at the end of each half, where this week the defense gave up FGs—-both of which were the difference in the 6 point loss.
  • Speaking of which—it is quite a study in disparity to watch Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson making good tough, high effort tackles (Thompson was even coming off concussion protocols during the week), while Peterson tried to lay a hug on Diontae Johnson in an absurdly embarrassing effort which led to Johnson’s 16 yard reverse the field scamper.
  • To be fair with regard to pass rushes, Devlin Hodges didn’t face pressure as fast and consistent as the Steelers’ threw at Kyler Murray, greatly because, despite the excellence of Chandler Jones on one side, DE Terrell Suggs remains a non-participant at practice all week and during the games (back to back 0 tackle, 0 QB pressures, 0 sack games since the bye week). Clearly Vance Jospeh is pandering to the uninspired, underperforming star veterans Suggs and Peterson who have been far more of a liability than assets. Maybe you saw Haason Reddick get a good QB pressure on Hodges, forcing one of the Hodges’ 3 incompletions? I was jumping for joy when I saw that. Why then—-did the coaches keep Suggs in the game and only rush Reddick 5 times?
  • If the Cardinals’ defensive coaches had any backbones they would relegate both Suggs and Peterson to the bench. At least Kliff Kingsbury had the guts and the gravitas to sit David Johnson for lack of effort. But—-as long as the Cardinals’ toxic culture across the organization endures—-so do the double standards for pampered star players.
  • What the Steelers showed the Cardinals first hand is what it takes to build a formidable 34 defense—-one that is built on perimeter speed and strength up the middle—-and an organizational philosophy of sheer aggression. For years under Steve Keim, the Cardinals have not drafted 34 proto-types at OLB, ILB, DT/DE and CB—-which year after year has left them vulnerable on the perimeter, prone to taking the bait on fakes, readily giving up contain and slow to react on misdirection plays and screens. The disparity in this game between the Steelers’ speed, strength and aggression on defense versus the Cardinals’ was spectacularly tangible.
  • It would be great if the Cardinals this often could steal something back from Steelers like the Steelers’ fans stole the Cardinals’ stadium. There are two 27 year old Steelers UFAs on defense who could help turn the defense around: OLB Bud Dupree (84.1 PFF) and DT Javon Hargrave (87.3 PFF).
  • Amazingly, the Cardinals have been in 11 of the 13 games well into the 4th quarters, despite a defense that is the worst in the NFL. That says a lot about the competitive nature of the offense and special teams. Imagine what the team could do with improvements in all three phases.
  • Surprisingly, the Cardinals’ 2 minute offense has thus far been an abject failure. First it was the 23 second clock meltdown versus the Bucs, then it was the 5 yard pass and fumble by KeeSean Johnson versus the 49ers when chunk yard passes were needed. And this week it was a quick sack-riddled 4 and out with a chance to win the game. How and why Kyler Murray looks lost and unprepared in these situations is mind-boggling.
  • One thing these past 2 games revealed—-the bye week for the Cardinals was poorly managed by the coaches and the players. Still can’t believe that the players were given an extra day off—-with so much to improve.