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SEA 28 ARI 21: Cards Undisciplined and Too Slow

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

You might want to call the Cardinals’ dud of a performance last night as a Hail Murray hangover.

But this failure on the Cardinals’ part has been brewing since they stole the first game away from the Seahawks because of a series of missed opportunities to be better prepared for their arch-rivals during the bye week, which happened to perfectly coincide with the trading deadline.

Great teams learn from surprise victories—-and not just from disappointing defeats.

For years and decades the Cardinals have failed to handle success to the point of learning from it and building on it.

Those of you who have been following my posts for the past few weeks know that I have had my eye keenly focused on last night’s rematch with the Seahawks, feeling that the Seahawks gave the Cardinals some tipping points to learn from during the Cardinals’ thrilling 37-34 OT victory the night of October 25th.

1—-the Cardinals had better learn from last year’s embarrassing mishandling of the bye week, if they were going to capitalize on the momentum they achieved beating the Jets, Cowboys and Seahawks. I was hoping that Vance Jospeh could use that extra time to address the mistakes the defense made in the first half of the Seahawks game and to build on the success of the second half of that game—-especially by getting creative with his personnel, as he was forced to do late in that game and into overtime.

Result: Cardinals are a Hail Murray away from being 0-3 following the bye week and their games have taken on disturbing patterns that started with the 1st Seahawks game:

  • digging early 1st half holes
  • being behind at halftime
  • giving up scores to the opponents at the ends of both halfs
  • committing a slew of penalties on both sides of the ball
  • ignoring key players like DeAndre Hopkins in the first half
  • clock management issues
  • giving up contain far too often on the side opposite Haason Reddick

2—-they had better trade for a CB who could cover Tyler Lockett, because no CB on the current roster can.

I debated this point at great length here and on Twitter with a surprising number of pundits and fans who thought standing pat at the trade deadline was the right decision. The majority of those opposed to making a trade for CB Desmond King, for example, were adamant that a 5th round pick was sacrificing too much for the future—-but, the rebuttal was that the Cardinals could re-sign King and make him a key building block of the future .

The one solace I had was feeling good about adding CB DeVante Bausby, because of this 4.3 speed and physical style of play. As we know, Bausby played in the Dolphins game. He gave up 2 catches for 12 yards (6.0 ave.) and turned in the best highlight reel tackle of any Cardinals’ CB this season when he took the romance out of the flat pass when he upended DeVante Parker. Yet, the very next day, Bausby was cut and then re-claimed by the Broncos.

It was encouraging to see the Cardinals sign CB Johnathan Joseph, but after playing 22 snaps versus the Bills and giving up 0 catches on 1 target, the coaches relegated him last night versus the Seahawks (when one could easily argue that this is the game they needed him the most)—-to 3 snaps, only 1 of which was a pass.

Result: In 2 games versus Cardinals Tyler Lockett caught 24 passes for 267 yards and 4 TDs.

3—-they had better do a much better job of containing and boxing in Russell Wilson—-on read options by the edge OLB not biting inside—-and on pass rushes by the edge OLB not running too wide a pass rush arc that open a wide door for Wilson to slip inside of—-and by the interior rushers being able to shed their blocks quickly and effectively enough to not let Wilson scramble right up the middle of the field.

Wilson didn’t have to run any read options last night because so many of their basic plays were working—-rushing the ball 31 times for 165 yards (5.3 ave.). For real.

If you watch Markus Golden’s pass rushes far too many of them were on too wide an arc, which took him easily out of the play and enabled Wilson to slip under and into the open field.

The Cardinals defensive tackles continue to struggle, not only in collapsing the pocket, but in disengaging from their blocks to make plays on scrambles. The two promising things we saw, however, were (1) Michael Dogbe doing exactly what the defense needed on the one time that a DT or DE shucked his block to make a tackle on Wilson behind the line of scrimmage; (2) by Vance Joseph turning to pass rushes on passing downs with all linebackers and safeties—-who are not only athletic enough to get pressure on Wilson, but are quick enough to get to disengage and get too him before he can escape downfield.

Result: Wilson 23/28, 197 yards and 2 TDs, 0 interceptions, plus 42 yards on scrambles.

Note: the Cardinals had better sign Michael Dogbe to the roster before he gets poached. He’s an asset in the nickel defense.

4—-in defending the Seahawks’ running game, they have to get downhill plugs from the MIKE ILB. How many times did the Seahawks run for 5-10+ yards right up the middle?

Several of us at ROTB have been begging Vance Joseph to play Tanner Vallejo at MIKE in the base and sub a faster better cover guy in for the MIKE on sub packages. Vallejo was the tackling star of the 1st Seahawks game. It’s been plainly obvious that Jordan Hicks is not getting the job done in the base or in the nickel. How many times last night were ballcarriers running right past him? When he should have been sniffing them out at or near line of scrimmage the way Bobby Wagner did all night. How about the play in the nickel where on a key 3rd down, Wilson scrambles to his left and Hicks is there to chase him out of bounds, but Hicks chases like he’s dragging a grand piano and a Budweiser keg?

5—-the Seahawks in the first game provided a blueprint that the Dolphins used in how to string out Kyler Murray on the read option plays—-they zoned them to near perfection, save the one time Murray made a sweet juke move to slip around Wagner for a TD. This time you just had to know they were going to do the same—-but Kyler didn’t seem to know.

The way to exploit this is to pass off of the read option to TEs and WRs behind the second level. It’s too bad that Dan Arnold turned right into FS Quandre Diggs on the pass that Diggs broke up, because if the Cardinals were going to win this game, they needed to keep exploitng the middle and seams—-as well as take some deep shots (which didn’t happen).

It’s too bad as well that Kyler Murray on the last drive didn’t throw the ball right off of Andy Isabella’s sideline break—-because Isabella was wide open, but the late pass allowed two defenders to close in on Isabella, one of whom actually hit Isabella a milli-second before the pass arrived. Isabella does not deserve any blame on that play—-he did his job by getting open and, had the ball been thrown on time he would have gotten the Cardinals into a first and goal situation—-amazingly still only down 7 points with under a minute left.

6—-when winning the coin toss, be aggressive and take the ball, for crying out loud. Didn’t they learn a thing from the first game versus the Seahawks? Getting in early holes in games is becoming a bad habit. Take the ball and set the tone. Plus, seeing as Kliff Kingsbury likes to play the percentages—-then he should know that the percentages to win are highest when a team is leading at halftime. Did you see that stat last night how Russell Wilson is something like 61-4 when having a lead of 5 points or more at half-time. Check out this article from the Athletic: (please read the numbers)

https://theathletic.com/713793/2018/12/18/nfl-halftime-scores-winners-losers-houston-texans-bill-obrien-best-winning-percentage-when-leading/

If the strength of your team is defense—-then it makes more sense to defer the coin toss.

But, if the strength of you team is offense—-you want the ball, man.

Some salient numbers were working against the Cardinals coming into this game. Russell Wilson was 8-1 on Thursday Night Football games and the Seahawks were 4-0 at home.

Now Wilson is 9-1 on TNF and the Seahawks are 5-0 at home.

However, as we saw, this was a golden and yet missed opportunity by the Cardinals to turn those numbers around.

Other disturbing numbers for the Cardinals:

7.9 penalties per game, #32nd in NFL.
Conversely: Rams at 4.1 (#2 fewest in NFL), Seahawks at 5.3 (#9 fewest), 49ers at 5.8 (#18)—-and New England (next opponent) at 3.2 (#1 fewest)

CB Patrick Peterson (50.9 PFF): 35/53/66.0%/482yds/5 penalties in last 6 games/3 TDs in last 2 games, 3 interceptions, but only 2 pass breakups for the entire season.

CB Dre Kirkpatrick (48.2 PFF): 43/57/75.4%/470yds/3 penalties in last 2 games/2 interceptions, but only 1 pass breakup for the entire season.

To Peterson’s credit he was more aggressive in his attempts to tackle last night, but it obviously was a rough night for him in coverage, The 42 yard PI call on D.K. Metcalf was an easily avoidable game and momentum changer. Plus, his failure to cover Tyler Lockett (in his zone) at the back of the end zone was once again proof that Peterson is too easily distracted in zones to the point of habitually missing his assignment. Why he was concerned with the TE over the middle on that play is a total head scratcher. One would and should expect a heckuva lot more from a veteran of Peterson’s ilk. But—-he has never manifested the instincts or the discipline to be good in zone coverage.

For those who think a switch for Peterson to safety would be a good move—-safeties need to be physical and reliable in coverage and run support. Plus, the way Peterson regularly makes poor choices covering his back end of the zone—-that doesn’t bode well for him playing deep safety—-which, by the way, is a skill that takes thousand of reps to master.

The answer for Peterson this year is to keep him focused each game on a man-to-man matchup—-and to coach him out of his bad holding habits. If you play him in zone, play him up (press and then take flat), not in the back where he gives up way too much cushion and space).

As for Kirkpatrick, whose tackling efforts rival Peterson’s as a liability, as was the case when he whiffed on Tyler Lockett before Isaiah Simmons and Budda Baker came in to whirly bird him. For Fitzpatrick to taunt or mock anyone after the kind of hapless effort he was putting forth all night—-giving Lockett EASY cushion for easy first downs—-was abominable—-this, just after the Cardinals had a 3rd down stop. Yet, the coaches trottedhim right back out there as if nothing had ever happened.

In the case last week with Kenyan Drake’s fumble, one can justify a swift return. With Kirkpatrick, was this justifiable at all?

My biggest beef with the defense is—-it’s on the whole—-way too SLOW. To make matters worse, this DC has proven that he is going to ride struggling vets no matter what until Steve Keim decides to cut them like he did with Swearinger and Suggs last year.

The fact that it took 10 games to get the fastest, most athletic defender on the roster consistent snaps is beyond mind-boggling.

What I would hope Vance Joseph would do is turn to the players with the best feet and athleticism at LB and in the secondary, with the best strength up front. If he would, the base defense could look like this:

SAM OLB Haason Reddick

LDE Angelo Blackson (Zach Allen)

NT Domato Peko (Leki Fotu)

RDE Trevon Coley (Rashard Lawrence)

BANDIT OLB Dennis Gardeck

MIKE ILB Tanner Vallejo

WILL ILB Isaiah Simmons

LCB Patrick Peterson

FS Budda Baker

SS Chris Banjo (Deionte Thompson) (note: so bummed to see Jalen Thompson get injured again)

RCB Johnathan Joseph (Byron Murphy)

NCB Byron Murphy (Johnathan Joseph)

Offensive Notes:

  • By now I think we all can agree that standard, time-developing screen plays are not a strength for Kyler Murray. His panicky intentional grounding penalty could not have happened at a worse time.
  • Get back to taking deep shots downfield and keep cashing in on the intermediate passes between the 2nd and 3rd levels—-the Cardinals really have something special going in the passing game at this level. Man, the corner pass to Maxx Williams down to the 2 yard line and the back half of the end zone moon ball to Chase Edmonds last night were outstanding.
  • Hopefully Justin Murray can return next game at RG.
  • It would be a good time to start giving Josh Jones some reps at RT the way K2 and Sean Kugler did with Justin Murray at RG. Kelvin Beachum has been faltering some recently and Jones is the future.
  • Continue to make Chase Edmonds a focal point of the passing game.
  • Make a more concerted effort to get DeAndre Hopkins the ball right from the get-go. Teams come into the game feeling anxious about whether they can cover him. Go and increase that anxiety level.