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Cards’ Defensive Gaffes Let Dolphins Off The Hook

Miami Dolphins v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The reason why the Arizona Cardinals cannot be taken seriously is pathetic defensive efforts like the ones showcased in the team’s bitter 34-31 home loss to the Miami Dolphins. What you are about to see is a breakdown of a number of easy escapes the Cardinals defense gave Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins’ offense.

Check this one:

First of all, kudos to Vance Jospeh for dialing up an ILB blitz that put his defense in a perfect situation to sack Tua.

In the last game, the Cardinals got a timely sack of Russell Wilson on an edge blitz by CB Byron Murphy and I explained how textbook Murphy’s outside-in path to the sack was the perfect technique.

However, on a blitz from the inside, it is imperative that the LB get squared up to the QB, to make sure he is coming straight into the QB’s vision and not from the side. What De’Vondre Campbell does here on this play is completely mystifying—-he is actually running away from Tua to the point where all Tua has to do is make one easy sidestep and he’s off to the races.

Budda Baker has Tua lined up for a big hit, but takes a poor angle which again Tua is able to easily sidestep and take a lunge forward for the 1st down.

This play looks like it’s straight out of a Harlem Globetrotters choreographed play where the Washington Nationals’ defense just make vividly token gestures to defend.

Play 1: an aerial view of the Harlem Globetrotter’s play.

Play 2: Tua’s 17 yard pass to DeVante Parker, from a totally clean pocket, that Parker catches even though Patrick Peterson gets flagged for PI on the play.

To this point Tua is 5 for 5 on the drive.

Play 3: Cardinals have a 5 man rush on this play and by all rights have Tua boxed in the pocket to the point where Tua makes a reverse spin move which should have bought the Cardinals pass rushers extra time—-the closest defender to Tua is Isaiah Simmons, but it looks like he is getting held on the play. What Simmons needs to learn from this is to be more demonstrative in trying to break loose from the hold, which usually will get him the flag. But—-Isaiah does the right thing by keeping his outside arm free to maintain contain—-and thus he turns Tua back into where the help should have been, but mind-bogglingly wasn’t.

When Tua turns back into the middle, look at how passive the rushers have been in disengaging from their blocks. They look like pawns covered by pawns on a chess board. Tua runs right through and past them for a whopping 17 yard gain.

Play 4: 1st and 10 from the 11 yard line. Jace Whittaker is playing press man coverage on WR Mack Hollins on what was a simple fade pass. What’s frustrating is that Jace has the play covered perfectly, BUT when they hit the goaline he HAS to look back for the ball. Instead, he climbs and bear hugs into the chest of Hollins which could have been called a PI, like the other one he incurred. Tua throws an excellent pass and Hollins makes a fairly easy catch.

Tua on this game tying 93 yard TD drive:

6/6 passing for 48 yards and a TD

2 rushes for 23 yards

But this play is why the 93 yard TD drive should have never happened—-it worked because of this easy escape the Cardinals’ defense gave Tua and DeVante Parker. Backed up near their own goaline on a 3rd and long, watch how passively the Cardinals’ defense plays this pass. There is no QB pressure, and CB Patrick Peterson is giving up way too much cushion, thus providing Tua with a clear and easy passing lane to Parker.

This is a GIFT and is one of the main reasons why Vance Joseph does not get his defense ready to play rookie QBs. Very reminiscent of how (then) rookie Kyle Allen carved up Joseph’s defense last year at State Farm Stadium in a dispiriting 38-20 loss to the Panthers.

One might argue, yeah but look at how Peterson almost got to the ball. The reality is—-a CB of Peterson’s ilk should have been inching closer to bait the throw and it could have been a pick six or at least a pass breakup which would have forced a punt—-which likely would have given the Cardinals’ offense the ball near midfield, up 7 and ready to ice the game away. Like Steve Keim said weeks ago, “to win, your stars have to play like stars.”

This easy wide open TD from Tua to Preston Williams is the result of a busted coverage. The Cardinals are showing what appears to be a 4 under, 2 deep zone look, although the 4 under men are in good position to play man, except the CBs who are backed off. Because the CBs are backed off, it suggests zone. But, it isn’t.

Chan Gailey makes a good call here, to rub Preston Williams on a slant off the two inside slot receivers who provide a nice vertical screen. The Cardinals cover the slot guys very well man to man, but DeVante Bausby must think it’s zone coverage because he never makes an attempt to cover Williams. From where Bausby was positioned, it would have been very difficult to defend the slant, but at least he could have possibly tackled Williams on the catch and prevented the TD. Credit Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson for converging as quickly as they could on Williams, but this whole play was a bust for the Cardinals and a confidence booster for Tua.

This was Kevin Peterson’s 2nd PI and a good catch by Williams, but it was the play Williams was injured on. Peterson was stride for stride with Williams but somehow allowed Williams to gain the inside leverage. FS Jalen Thompson was late in his help here and he then over-ran the play. Fortunately, Williams fell down after the catch which gave JT time to recover. Kudos to Jace Whittaker for hustling back to help JT on the tackle.

Note: Jace Whittaker’s aggressiveness showed up a few times in the game, which is encouraging for his prospects, especially if he can stop holding his man and start looking back for the ball.

Was mentioning all week how important it was for the Cardinals to keep Tua contained, particularly in not letting him run free to his left. On this play, OLB Haason Reddick, who usually is the most reliable edge player for keeping contain, bit on the play fake inside and left Tua to roam all alone in the flat.

The Dolphins’ TEs were a big factor in their win. Mike Gesicki has three big catches for 42 yards—-the biggest of which was the 19 yard completion that set up the Dolphins’ game winning FG. Plus, the 19 yard pass to TE Durham Smythe on a nifty fake screen right, fake screen left, throw to the TE on a delay over the middle, was a big play that got the Dolphins deep into the red zone. The Cardinals’ coverage on Gesicki by De’Vondre Campbell was not effective.

One of the rare bright spots for defense on the day was this big-time tackle by CB DeVante Bausby in which he upended DeVante Parker. It was the best tackle for the Cardinals all game—-by far. Bausby is a physical 6-2, 190 CB who boasts 4.35 speed. He may have misunderstood the coverage on the Preston Williams TD, but this tackle should have shown the Cardinals the type of potential and courage this young man brings to the table. In Week 5 of 2019, while starting for the Broncos, he suffered a neck injury which left him motionless for about 30 seconds—-he would up being fine, but that’s a scary moment for a ypung player or anyone—-thus for him to ball like this and make the best tackle on a day of poor tackling—-says a lot about his football character and eagerness to win.

Bausby brought young hope to the Cardinals’ murky CB situation.

Yes, Dre Kirkpatrick and Byron Murphy may be returning soon (how soon yet we do not know) and 15 year veteran free agent Johnathan Joseph is on board. Joseph was cut by the Titans after they were the ones to trade a 6th round pick for Pro Bowl CB Desmond King.

Current PFF CB grades:

Byron Murphy—-62.9

DeVante Bausby—-60.1 (cut and claimed by Broncos)

Patrick Peterson—-53.8

Jace Whittaker—-51.3

Dre Kirkpatrick—-42.4

Kevin Peterson—-30.3


Vance Joseph—-with two weeks to prepare for Dolphins, this performance was the epitome of “laying an egg.” Tua got stronger and stronger as the game proceeded and never looked threatened or confused by what the Cardinals were doing.

When Joseph dialed up pressures, the tackling efforts on Tua were pathetic. Markus Golden’s poor tackling is something that needs to be addressed and corrected. His PFF tackling grade for the season was 40.5 for Giants (only 7 tackles in 7 games) and a disappointing 52.7 in this game. Otherwise, Golden did get 2 QB hurries and 1 sack = 3 pressures.

Speaking of tackling—-do you know who the top 5 highest graded defenders on the Cardinals’ defense are?

  1. Charles Washington—-90.1
  2. Tanner Vallejo—-87.0
  3. Dennis Gardeck—-83.2
  4. Budda Baker—-78.0
  5. Jalen Thompson—-76.7

Too bad that Vance Joseph didn’t give Tanner Vallejo (0 snaps) and Dennis Gardeck (4 snaps, 1 of he which he induced a holding call) much or any of a chance this week.

Too bad Vallejo wasn’t in the game when, with the game on the line, Jordan Howard busted up the middle of the Cardinals’ defense for 8 yards on 1st down, with the ILBs typically on their heels.

Dennis Gardeck remains the quickest and most explosive edge rusher on the team—-who else has gotten held more times?—-and better yet, who else has warranted getting double teamed? Why he was only given 4 snaps is unfathomable.

The main reason is: Joseph still tends to cling to under-performing veterans, some of whom should never have been named captains, because they talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.

Brentson Buckner (DL)—-inujries have hurt the unit, no question, but Buckner’s interior lineman, save for Corey Peters, have been a huge disappointment. In this game, Leki Fotu’s two penalties were more than the total number of tackles the DTs (other than Peters) made all afternoon—-a big fat bagel. 2 run stops the entire game by the defensive interior.

Look at these mid-season PFF grades:

Michael Dogbe—-70.6

Corey Peters—-64.8

Devon Coley—-56.3

Jordan Phillips—-54.3

Josh Mauro—-53.4

Zach Allen—-51.2

Angelo Blackson—-46.2

Rashard Lawrence—-42.4

Leki Fotu—-37.0

Billy Davis (ILB)—-after not being able to make things work with Haason Reddick at WILB last year—-look at how the ILBers are performing at the mid-way point this year:

Defense Overall—-Run Defense—-Tackling—-Coverage

Tanner Vallejo: 87.0—-85.5—-77.6—-65.1

Isaiah Simmons: 61.8—-66.3—-81.7—-67.3

Jordan Hicks: 52.4—-49.3—-66.6—-56.9

De’Vondre Campbell: 48.7—-43.3—-79.6—-55.2

Note: how both Hicks and Campbell’s tackling grades are a little above average (in the 60s), yet their run defense grades are poor (in the 40s). This confirms what so many of us have been saying for weeks now that Hicks and Campbell are not stepping up and filling, they are staying back on their heels and making tackles 6-7 yards down field.

Greg Williams (CB)—-the CB play on this defense has been conspicuously below average. Count them—-5 PI penalties versus an average set of WRs and a rookie QB. Improper techniques all over the place, to go with busted coverages and soft zones.

For PFF—-60.0 is about average—-go back to where I listed the CBs—-Murphy and Bausby are/were the only ones above 60. The Cardinals’ two former 1st round draft picks at CB, Peterson (Cardinals) and Kirkpatrick (Bengals) are at 53.8 and 42.4 respectively. Peterson said last week he thinks he can play “at a high level” for 5 more years. Here was Gambo’s classic response to Peterson if you haven’t heard it:

The two position coaches who deserve praise ar Charlie Bullen (OLB) and Marcus Roberston (S).

Team Defensive Rankings (after 8 games)—-remember 60.0 is average.

Overall: 24th (54.5)

RDEF: 25th (50.7)

TACK: 18th (58.3)

PRSH: 29th (61.4)

COV: 23rd (50.6)

Conversely, every offensive grade for the Cardinals is in the 70s (top half of the league) , except for run blocking with is at 61.5.

Hopefully, somehow, some way Vance Joseph, his under-achieving position coaches and the players draw inspiration from an offense that is playing their hearts out and make a commitment to follow suit.