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Rapid Reaction: Cardinals rally but fall short in second straight comeback attempt

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The Cardinals struggle to match Baltimore’s personnel on either line of scrimmage in route to the team’s first loss of 2019.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals were once again facing a double digit, fourth quarter deficit. Unlike week one, however, another Kyler Murray herculean effort was not in the cards as the Raven’s dominance upfront was the difference in this 23-17 road loss.

Rookie quarterback Kyler Murray had a strong showing throughout the game, which was a noticeable improvement following his slow start in week one. The Cardinal defense managed to hold the explosive Raven offense to a marginal 23 points following their 59-point outburst a week ago (against Miami). Even with these sizable improvements, the Ravens controlled the majority of the came thanks to their far superior personnel on both lines of scrimmage.

The Cardinals managed a horrendous 20 yards rushing to Baltimore’s 182. Statistics like this will get you beat every time.

Even with the lopsided rushing effort, Arizona had an opportunity late in the game to take the lead with a touchdown. Following a Justin Tucker field goal that made it 23-17, Arizona received the ball with roughly 6:30 minutes remaining. What ensured was potentially their worst offensive possession of the game, due much in part to two penalties upfront on the offensive line.

Following what appeared to be a large gain via David Johnson, right guard J.R. Sweezy was called for a (questionable) hold. Moments later, left tackle D.J. Humphries was called for a false start. Suddenly Murray was facing third down and eternity from his own end zone.

That eventual three-and-out was all Baltimore needed to put this contest on ice. Lamar Jackson, facing his own third long, was instead given a clean pocket to accurately drive a 41-yard touch pass to rookie Hollywood Brown.

Game over.

Even with the loss, the Cardinals can walk away this one feeling good about the growth and development from some of their young players.

Game Ball: Kyler Murray

Two weeks in a row, quarterback Kyler Murray receives a game ball. I’m sensing a trend here?

In all seriousness, the former first overall pick was phenomenal for the majority of Sunday afternoon. He became the first rookie since Cam Newton to finish with 300+ yards passing in each of his first two games as a pro. Murray had an astounding 349 yards passing, while completing 25 of 40 throws. That’s good for a quarterback rating of 90.5.

As mentioned, Murray looked sharp from the get go and was only derailed by pressure from Baltimore’s front. The Ravens were consistently beating the Cardinals upfront with a four-man rush. Combine that with some uncharacteristically poor snaps from veteran center A.Q. Shipley and Murray was asked to deal with too much in his first road start.

Even so, when given adequate time, Murray was deadly from the pocket. On this afternoon, it was opposing quarterback Lamar Jackson who mirrored Murray’s consistent comp of Michael Vick.

Murray was much more of a “Drew Brees” against the vaunted Ravens defense, as his accuracy and precision was borderline elite.

Game Ball(s): Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk

The wily veteran picked up where he left off a week ago, as Larry Fitzgerald hauled in five catches for 104 yards. Sunday marked the first time since 2015 that the future hall of famer netted back-to-back 100+ yard receiving games.

On the flipside, Christian Kirk rebounded nicely from a rocky opener against Detroit. The second year man out of Texas A&M netted six receptions on eight targets for a game high 114 yards receiving.

Both Fitzgerald and Kirk were big play machines, each averaging over 19 yards per reception.

The Cardinals will likely be in a position to add a top shelf receiver come next April’s draft, but Sunday was a nice reminder as to what Arizona already has in house.

Game Ball: Byron Murphy

The rookie had another solid showing Sunday, with the majority of his damage done in the fourth quarter. His physical play was once again on display late, as Murphy prevented a potential third down conversion that would have essentially iced the game for the Ravens.

The 33rd overall pick finished the day with seven total tackles as well as two passes defensed.

Murphy’s early season play has made the suspension of All Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson much more manageable.

Game Ball: Zane Gonzalez

Yes, the second year kicker was asked to make a trio of chip shot field goals. However, in a league where quality kickers are hard to find, Gonzalez is an emerging weapon for a young club that is struggling inside the red zone.

Gonzalez remains perfect on the young season.

Rookie Spotlight: Zach Allen

The Cardinals struggled to apply consistent pressure on Lamar Jackson, thanks much in part to their standout offensive line. The Cardinals managed only two sacks on the day, one coming from the third round rookie. Allen played nearly the entire game and is logging considerable mileage early this season. His development is something to keep an eye on moving forward, but its safe to say the team is happy with where he’s trending.

Room For Improvement: Red Zone Woes

Much will be made about head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s conservative nature within the red zone to start the season. On Sunday, the Cardinals kicked three chip shot field goals instead of going for the touchdown on what equated to fourth-and-short. While I normally applaud an aggressive approach, I can also understand taking the points for a team that was routinely blown out a season ago.

Many have forgotten, mainly because of Murray’s quick ascendance, but it bears repeating: the 2018 Arizona Cardinals were one of the worst offensive teams in NFL history. Yes, I can understand fans and media alike wanting immediate payoff in the form of immaculate red zone efficiency. However, the Cardinals are eight quarters into the season and have already shown more offensive growth then at any point in 2018.

Sure, the play calling could be better and I trust that Kingsbury has enough self-awareness to run the ball more often inside the 10-yard line. But how anyone can watch the immediate return on the Kliff and Kyler combo and not be overwhelmingly encouraged is beyond me.

Quick Hits

  • Much was made about OLB Terrell Suggs return to Baltimore after spending his first sixteen seasons with the Ravens. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, neither Suggs nor Pro Bowl pass rusher Chandler Jones could manage a sack on the illusive Lamar Jackson. Jackson’s 120 yards rushing will likely overshadow the tremendous work done by Ravens offensive tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr.
  • Another week, another standout performance by an opposing tight end. This time it was the 2018 third rounder Mark Andrews who ate the Cardinals back seven alive. Jackson and Andrews connected eight times on nine targets for 112 yards receiving and touchdown. Second team tight end and 2018 first round pick Hayden Hurst also caught a touchdown.
  • David Johnson left the game briefly in the second quarter thanks to a shot to his previously injured (2017) wrist. The versatile running back did eventually re-enter the game but looked hesitant on the majority of his touches. The explosiveness once seen from Johnson has suddenly vanished, as the former third rounder has become more of an in-between the tackles “plodder”. The team would like to incorporate backup Chase Edmonds more and Johnson’s recent inability to evade tackles makes that all the more likely moving forward.
  • As mentioned earlier, the offensive line struggled mightily on Sunday. In his second start in place of the injured Marcus Gilbert, right tackle Justin Murray looked like a major liability. The same could also be said for veteran right guard Justin Pugh, who was reportedly ill prior to kickoff. Even after two games, I would strongly consider lineup changes to this unit beginning first with second year man Mason Cole subbing in for Pugh. Unlike Pugh, Cole has a nastiness to his play especially in the run game. Recently signed right tackle Jordan Mills is also likely to push Justin Murray for a starting role, although it remains to be seen how quickly the veteran can pickup the offense.
  • Veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree made his Cardinal debut today, which meant rookie second round pick Andy Isabella was regulated to a healthy scratch. The Cardinals are fortunate to have so many rookie contributions that it makes Isabella’s slow growth more tolerable. With that being said, and hindsight at 20/20, you do have to wonder if that second round pick would have been better suited being used on an offensive linemen.
  • The Cardinals were an egregious 2-11 on third down. The main culprit was an inefficiently to productively run the ball on first and second down, which led to Murray facing lengthy third down conversions. That must be corrected moving forward.
  • Neither team committed a turnover Sunday, which leaves the Cardinals at one apiece (1 INT on offense, fumble recovery on defense) for the season.