It was suppose to be a Sunday for firsts.
The script was set for Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury to earn their first career NFL victories. Instead, a visiting 0-2 Carolina Panther team relegated to their second string quarterback, strolled into State Farm stadium and embarrassed the Arizona Cardinals.
A defense that had seem some significant growth in the first two games (especially in the second half), looked like the helpless unit showcased throughout the entire preseason. The Cardinals found themselves in a growing hole late thanks to the play of second year quarterback Kyle Allen and his four touchdowns.
Allen and All Pro running back Christian McCaffrey ran rough shot over the Cardinal defense, piling up over 400 yards of total offense.
The Cardinals had opportunities of their own, but a series of drop passes and poor field position contributed to their eventual defeat. Murray started the game hot before throwing a career high two second half interceptions.
It’s becoming all too common for Murray to be forced into playing “hero ball” thanks to a shoddy defense and nonexistent running game.
Unlike the previous two weeks to begin the season, it’s hard to find any silver linings in this 38-20 beat down.
Game Ball: Chandler Jones
The Cardinal defense was a complete no show on Sunday outside of OLB Chandler Jones. The Pro Bowl pass rusher netted two sacks on the afternoon, including an opening drive forced fumble that setup Arizona’s first touchdown of the day. Jones has been a lone constant in a defensive front seven that lacks any kind of explosive play.
Game Ball: Zane Gonzalez
Special teams were up and down for Arizona against Carolina, but kicker Zane Gonzalez continued his perfect start to the season. The local product netted a 47-yard field goal as well as two extra points.
Room For Improvement: ENTIRE Defense
You wont hear me say anything to the contrary that the national and local media isn’t screaming from the mountains. Yes, the Cardinal’s defense was a complete embarrassment on Sunday and significant improvements are needed. With that being said, you won’t find me in the “pro” fire Vance Joseph camp. The easy thing to point to when a team struggles is the coach/coordinator but just take a look at Arizona’s defensive personnel. They are missing their top two cornerbacks and their best defensive lineman was cut before the season. It’s a unit that has been decimated thanks to a slew of poor draft picks and free agent additions alike.
Similar to the rest of the roster, it’s a unit starved for talent. However, unlike the offense, it doesn’t have someone like Kyler Murray to save it each Sunday.
This isn’t the NBA; there are no shortcuts. It will take several off seasons to rebuild it back to respectability. The same can be said of the offensive line.
- The offensive line was again the point of ridicule Sunday against Carolina. The unit gave up a season high eight sacks and is currently on pace to break the single season sack record (76) set by the Houston Texans in 2002. Unfortunately, when you invest minimal resources in a unit, this is the end product. Lets just hope Kyler Murray can stay healthy behind this egregious unit for all 16 games.
- Third year LB Haason Reddick had a solid game, contributing with a game high 12 tackles (1 TFL) as well as 2 PD. However, Reddick was also washed away during Christian McCaffrey’s 76-yard touchdown run. He also saw Chandler Jones’ second strip sack fumble bounce off his hands before QB Kyle Allen recovered. None of this would normally be magnified but when a player is taken 13th overall, you expect impacts. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, to this point, they have received minimal return on their investment.
- Kyler Murray, by his standards, had a marginal game. The rookie QB completed 30 passes for just 173 yards with 2 TDs and 2 INTs. He did net a season high 69 yards rushing but it was clear that the late deficit played a role in his struggles. Murray forced several late throws in an effort to produce instant offense without the presence of a running game (or pass protection). Christian Kirk and Trent Sherfield also dropped (what could have been) two long touchdown catches. For a team with zero margin for error, that can’t happen.
- Standout punter Andy Lee left the game late with a “hip flexor”. The veteran has been a constant since joining the team and would be a significant loss if he were to miss time.
- Head coach Kliff Kingsbury rotated both Justin Murray and Jordan Mills in at RT, with neither overly effective. It’s fair to wonder if the first year head coach simply allows Mills to take over permanently next week against Seattle.
- Sunday marked the first time this season that the Cardinals did not eclipse 300 total yards as an offense. They finished the day with a pedestrian 248 yards but were a competent 9-17 on third down. However, following a start that saw them convert 9 of their first 11, they went 0-6 to end the game.
- Through three games this season, the Cardinals have yet to secure an interception on defense.
- Once again, the Cardinal defense was eaten alive by a tight end, this time it was Greg Olsen going off for 75 yards and two scores. Veteran safety D.J. Swearinger had a brutal game in coverage. The Cardinals would be wise to allow their two young safeties, Jalen and Deonte Thompson, some significant playing time on defense moving forward.