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SEA 27 ARI 10: Cards Playing Baby Ball

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Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

From the get-go, as designed by team president Michael Bidwill, this was a day for the Arizona Cardinals to offer the fans a tribute to a bygone chapter of the Arizona Cardinals’ lore. This was the day to honor retired QB Carson Palmer who helped lead the Cardinals to its best regular season record (13-3) in franchise history back in 2015.

Palmer said his years in Arizona were the most enjoyable ones of his career. Part of the reason why, of course, is that Palmer had the opportunity to throw to future 1st ballot Hall of Fame WR Larry Fitzgerald, who with mentor and idol Jerry Rice in attendance, broke Tony Gonzalez’s 2nd All-Time receptions record, when late in the game Fitz caught his 1,326th pass. Hail to Larry Lagend!!!

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Palmer’s and Fitzgerald’s former head coach, the once temporarily retired Bruce Arians, had his upstart Bucs team dropping 55 points on the once seemingly invincible LA Rams.

As for the actual game in Glendale, rookie QB Kyler Murray was tasked with trying to do something that neither Arians nor Palmer was able to accomplish in their five years in Arizona: to beat the Seattle Seahawks at home. To be fair, Arians and Palmer drew aces a few times up in Seattle—-but at home—-the best they ever did was draw a pair of sixes to split the pot.

So, enough of the past—-let’s dive deeply into the present, where the Cardinals’ put forth a a tremendously disappointing effort in yesterday’s 27-10 loss to Russell Wilson, the ever ebullient, now bloody nosed Pete Carroll, the large hoard of “12th man” Seahawk fans who crashed the party and the rest of the Cardinals’ neon clad players from the Pacific northwest.

To be frank, I took a personal vow at the beginning of the season to be as patient as possible with this new team, particularly with the rookie tandem of Kingsbury and Murray.

I am afraid I am going to have to break that vow this morning, because there were some things I thought I absolutely could count on with regard to Kingsbury and Murray that are nowhere visible four games into this young season.

For one, I thought we could count on seeing an offense whose principal goal and modus operandi was to score touchdowns.

Instead, I am seeing a head coach who is about as conservative in his game day approach to scoring touchdowns as his one-year predecessor, Steve Wilks.

If the current coaches watched last year’s game, they would have seen that playing conservatively on offense to settle for FGs instead of TDs is NOT the way to try to beat Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.

The Cardinals promptly got out of the gates on offense and marched down the field, bouncing back from a sack and a penalty in the process, only to misfire on a 3rd and 4 from the Seahawks’ 26 yard line (on a high slant pass to KeeSean Johnson that did not have to be rushed by Kyler Murray). Even so, as well as the Cardinals were moving the ball, even a FG there would have felt like a letdown.

The Cardinals came into the game at 0-2-1, TD deprived by their own nervous disorganized conservatism, and should have been pulling out all of the stops with really nothing to lose.

In my opinion, the first loss of the day came when Kliff Kingsbury gave up on the drive and sent in the FG unit.

This is baby ball.

I can assure you of one thing—-Pete Carroll was, without a doubt, the most relieved person in the stadium that the Cardinals did not go for it on 4th and 4.

Of course, the 2nd loss of the day, was Zane Gonzalez taking the air out of stadium by pushing his FG attempt to the right of the uprights.

Of course, the Seahawks’ offense responded by mounting their own drive, highlighted (once again courtesy fo the Cardinals’ soft defense) by open receivers (Jaron Brown, for one—-who on this day would gain more yards than Larry Fitzgerald—-unreal) and a TE (Will Dissly) uncovered up the seam just as every TE the Cardinals has faced in 4 games—-

Only—-in what was a moral victory—-the Seahawks’ first drive ended with a FG after Wilson slightly overthrew an open D.K. Metcalf in the back of the end zone.

The Cardinals’ answer to that moral victory was to follow a good 5 yard short pass to David Johnson with an ill-advised stick screen to Johnson that not only should have never been in the playbook in the first place (because there shouldn’t be any plays in the playbook that don’t have Kyler Murray throwing into clear passing lanes)—-it also should have never been thrown because the Seahawks by now were in man coverage on Johnson (there were 3 defenders in the area)—-but Murray, who did absolutely nothing to sell the screen by standing still and playing hot potato, tried to lob it to Johnson and Jadeveon Clowney—-yeah that guy—- reached up and snagged it and rumbled for a pick six.

What’s even more mind-boggling about this stick screen failure—-is that they tried it again to the left minutes later and Murray threw it again too quickly risking yet another turnover—-and THEN they tried it AGAIN to the TE on their 1st offensive play the second half.

Kliff Kingsbury said all through training camp while trying to keep his offense secret that they were going to weed out the plays that didn’t work in practice from the ones that do. At the time I was exhorting Kingsbury to use the pre-season games to his advantage to find plays that fit his personnel. Instead—-what yesterday felt like was the 4th pre-season game.

If you recall, Kyler Murray and the first team offense never scored a TD in the pre-season games—-the few good drives sputtering out in the red zone—-pretty much all without taking some real shots at the end zone.

Even at the end of yesterday’s game—-with the clock ticking down—-the very minute the Cardinals got into the red zone—-there was mass confusion in getting lined up while multiple seconds ticked off—-and even then—-all they try is a meaningless five yard pass to Christian Kirk that wasn’t going to go anywhere anyway—-and as double punishment, Kirk gets his knee and ankle bent backwards on the play. This play was classic stupidity of the highest order. And yet another episode of not taking a single shot at the end zone.

This is baby ball.

What I thought we could count on from the K-Raid with Kyler Murray at QB was a run and gun style of offense that mirrored the kind of approach Lincoln Riley took with Murray at Oklahoma where Murray made defense have to cover every blade of grass on the football field.

Instead, what we are getting in Arizona is a babied down approach to offense where plays are not catered to Kyler Murray’s greatest assets. Murray has been relegated to playing dink and dunk ball into small carpet areas of the field.

Furthermore, what I thought we could count on is Kliff Kingsbury bringing some swag to the sidelines as he did at Texas Tech in the role of Coach Bro—-instead he is donning the pasty face, bleary-eyed, stoic caricature he so adamantly objected to in this year’s Madden Football video game—-and the irony is the only Coach Bro we saw yesterday was 68 year old Pete Carroll who was exhorting his players and firing them up on the sidelines all day long.

And let me tell you something—-Pete Carroll was nervous as all get-out when Kyler Murray mounted the TD drive. Carroll obviously watched the Cardinals’ 18 point 3rd quarter versus the Lions—-and guess what? 18 4th quarter point sthis week, would have made it 21-20 Cardinals. It’s not often that you see Carroll chuck his gum in disgust when still ahead in the 4th quarter by 10.

As for the Cardinals’ defense—-yes they tightened up some in the 3rd quarter and got the ball back—-but again to start the game in their soft zone, they made things so easy for a star QB like Russell Wilson. the wide open TD to TE Will Dissly (pictured above) with DE Chandler Jones in zone coverage—-was absolutely inexcusable yet again—-and it casts real doubts as to whether Vance Joseph is a competent DC.

Heck, if Joseph is still going to take the top edge rusher out of the pass rush on such a key down, Joseph would have better off having Chandler Jones try to cover Will Dissly man to man. At least then, SOMEONE would have been guarding him.

Clearly this Cardinals coaching staff is not learning from the week to week mistakes.

Another thing I thought this team could count on was tough, combative play and leadership from its two safeties D.J. Swearinger and Budda Baker—-instead their tackling efforts are looking eerily as soft and half-baked as the ones Cards’ fans winced through in 2017 by Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson. To make matters worse, Swearinger’s and Baker’s efforts in pass coverage have been laughably poor.

The sooner the Cards go with Deionte and Jalen Thompson, the better. Quick get them in before they learn the Cardinal DB Money Badger-Pat P. Way—-

The Cardinals are getting some feast or famine efforts from the front 7. Their biggest problem is that they lack the consistency that comes from discipline. Suggs is way off one play and great the next. Same with Hicks. Same with Jones.

Talk about consistent discipline? The Seahawks’ defense put on a clinic yesterday as to how to contain a dual-threat QB by keeping the edge rushers at the top of the pocket arc—-what a perfect play RDE Rasheem Green made in not allowing Kyler Murray to break his contain on the edge—-that was huge—-and while keeping Murray confined they beat him up the middle with blitzes by Michael Kendricks, who registered 2 sacks, the first of which came as the result of a poor blocking effort by David Johnson.

David Johnson is emerging as perhaps the Cardinals’ top receiving threat—-and with Chase Edmonds hitting the holes faster—-this should allow the coaches to have Johnson fill in more at slot WR while Kirk he is rehabbing. It’s also high time for the coaches to take advantage of KeeSean Johnson’s playmaking ability and Andy Isabella’s speed. Stop babying these two as well.

Plus—-down 20-3 with 2 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, the Cardinals’ offense gets the ball near midfield and in fighting back from an iffy pass interference call on Christian Kirk they draw up a nicely designed and executed 10 yard pass over the middle to David Johnson setting up a 4th and 7—-why not go for it? What is there to lose, down 17 points?

This is baby ball.

The bright spots on defense were CB Byron Murphy who is now getting his hands on passes and showing good ball awareness. Finally using cover CB Kevin Peterson was a plus, as he made some good plays and tackles. Strangely, Kliff Kingsbury said we haven’t seen Peterson to date because he “has been learning the system”. For a team that is struggling to cover and to tackle—-waiting 4 weeks to play this kid is absurd and yet another illustration of the coaches’ incompetence.

But despite some feast plays by Terrell Suggs, Rodney Gunter, Jordan Hicks and Haasan Reddick, all we need to know about this defense is that ONCE AGAIN, the very minute the Cardinals’ offense finally scored to get some much needed momentum and life into the stadium, the Cardinals’ defense gave up a torturously long, mistake-riddled, penalty-strewn 75 yard TD drive in 15 plays taking over 8 minutes off the clock, where Chris Carson ran the ball down their throats—-where TE Luke Willson (who tried out for the Cardinals two weeks ago, go figure) caught two big passes—-where instead of a 3rd and goal inside the 10 yard line, the Seahawks got a 1st and goal thanks to Tramaine Brock’s inexcusable penalty—-and where the Seahawks got a gift-wrapped, off-tackle 9 yard TD run by C.J. Prosise. What defense gives up a straight handoff, 9 yard off-tackle TD in the NFL these days? The Cardinals.

What a colossal waste of defensive talent—-both in terms of the incompetent coaching and the general lack of desire on the part of key veterans who are taking a ton of plays off.

On offense—-the babying has to stop. It’s time for Coach Bro to get some much needed swag going and to let his young QB play to his strengths—-and to get some good energy and passion going. Kingsbury actually said last week he thinks Kyler needs to be more stoic—-really? You are tying his hands with conservative, sometimes faulty designed play calls that require throwing into or over crowded passing lanes—-and now you want to take the emotion out of him? Football is a game of emotions. If you stifle those—-what else do you have left?