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MIA 34 ARI 31: Falling Short

Miami Dolphins v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Oh what could have been....

...if only key and glaring personnel needs were taken care of and...

...if only the consistent flaws in the team’s preparation weren’t perpetuated during the Cardinals’ bye week.

Coming into the bye week fresh off a stunning 37-34 upset win in OT over the Seahawks in a game in which the Cardinals never had a lead until the game winning field goal, it was crystal clear that the Cardinals need significant help at CB, DT and RB—-and on top of that, it has become clear in recent weeks that the Cardinals are rarely practicing with their full compliment of players.

Prior to the bye week, OLB Markus Golden was added...but the only other addition made last week was when the Cardinals signed DE Josh Mauro off of the Jaguars practice squad. Obviously those two moves helped the Cardinals, seeing as Golden and Mauro delivered on 2 of the 3 team’s sacks.

Anyone who watched Tyler Lockett catch 15 passes for 200 yards and 3 TDs knows that the Cardinals have a serious need at CB. UFA signee Dre Kirkpatrick tried hard to cover Lockett, but he is not a favorable matchup on Lockett at this point in his career. Compounding the matter is that Kirkpatrick has been nursing foot and thigh injuries—-and even despite a 10 day bye week reprieve Kirkpatrick was unable to play versus the Dolphins.

In looking at the possible CBs who could have been available in trades, my focus narrowed in on Desmond King of the Chargers who is one of the best slot CBs in the NFL. As it turned out, King could have been had for the Cardinals 2021 5th round pick. Some said it was too much to give up for a 9 game rental. My rebuttals: (a) yes, King is a 2021 UFA, but if he fit well, the Cardinals could have the inside track to re-sign him; (b) Markus Golden is a 2021 UFA and the Cardinals gave up their 2021 6th round pick for him; (c) if the Cardinals fully expect to make a playoff run this year, they are likely not going to go far with their current personnel at CB—-not when you have to cover the likes of Tyler Lockett, Deebo Samuel, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp in our own division.

The other glaring two glaring needs following the Seahawks game were at DT and RB. Zach Allen was lost to injury and is now on the IR with Rashard Lawrence. Jordan Phillips has been ailing for weeks now with a nagging hamstring injury.

Kenyan Drake was lost in the Seahawks’ game. High ankle injuries typically take 3-6 weeks to heal. Chase Edmonds finished out the Seahawks game in style, but who would become RB2 with Drake out?

My hope was that a trade could be made to acquire RB Wayne Gallman (Giants) or DeAndre Washington (Chiefs)....Gallman, a 2021 UFA had been rumored to be on the market, but no trade was made and he helped the Giants win yesterday by rushing 14 times for 68 yards (4.9 ave.) and 1 TD. And as for DeAndre Washington, the Dolphins acquired him for a 7th round pick.

A host of Cardinals’ fans last week were saying how happy they were to see the Cardinals stand pat at the leading deadline.

Steve Keim managed to sign 15 year veteran CB Johnathan Joseph this past week, which is fabulous. It’s just too bad the acquisition didn’t come in time for him to play versus the Dolphins because the Cardinals’ poor pass coverage was one of the main reasons why Tua Tagovailoa had a breakout game and one of the principal reasons why the Cardinals lost.

It’s a mind boggler as well as to why veteran CB Prince Amukamara was inactive yet again for this game. The innuendo from the coaches explanations has been that Amukamara is still trying to get into game shape. Unfreaking real.

It was clear from the outset that Kevin Peterson learned nothing from the 2 PI calls he got a couple of weeks ago because he continues to hold and grab his man before the ball arrives. Unfortunately, he suffered a concussion on his second PI of the 1st half and his replacement rookie, Jace Whittaker, was just as penalty prone.

It boggles the mind how poorly coached these young CBs are, especially when the DC earned his stripes in the NFL as a DB coach. De’Vante Bausby was not picked on nearly as much and he turned in one of the best tackles of the night when he upended De’Vante Parker on a 4 yard pout pass.

It also hurt the Cardinals that for the first game in a while a TE made some big, timely catches as Mike Gesicki caught 3 passes for 42 yards (14.0), none so larger than the 19 yard catch he had to set up the game winning field goal. De’Vondre Campbell has begun to struggle in coverage and remains vastly inconsistent in run support, although he did register his first sack as a Cardinal.

Jordan Hicks, likely motivated by seeing Tanner Vallejo shine during crunch time versus the Seahawks started running downhill to the ball this week, which is a good sign. However, the Cardinals had a golden opportunity during the bye week to put their best and fastest players in the nickel defense on passing downs, and yet the Cardinals have elected to remain with the status quo, with Hicks who routinely gets beat in coverage at nickel ILB.

It also didn’t help that unlike in the Seahawks games when key tackles needed to be made and Vallejo delivered them, how in the world does the Cardinals’ defense give up an 8 yard run right up the middle to Jordan Howard on 1st down during the most critical need for a stop in the game?

Perhaps even worse, Brian Flores, who made a series of key timeouts in the game, saw that the Cardinals’ defense wasn’t “crowding” the A gaps on the critical 3rd and 1, so he called timeout and told Tua to run a QB sneak. Tua, reconstructed hip and all, managed to get the 1st down and the game was over. That was, imo, an epic sized fail from the Cardinals’ defense. Just as it was an epic sized fail to allow Tua and the Dolphins offense conduct a 93 yard TD drive that took up over 6 minutes of the clock to tie the game at 31-31—-that ugly defensive effort for the Cardinals included a bogus unnecessary roughness penalty on Budda Baker, a PI on Patrick Peterson on a 17 yard catch by De’Vante Parker, and 17 yard, right through the middle scramble by Tua, followed the next play by an easy 11 yard TD pass to Mack Hollins.

If there was one player who was determined to come back strong after the bye week, that baller was QB Kyler Murray, who was absolutely brilliant in this game, both passing and running.

Murray was red hot passing the ball and running it for chunk yards and the Dolphins were particularly weak over the deep middle—-an yet Kliff Kingsbury felt it was necessary to keep pounding the ball between the tackles to Chase Edmonds who was averaging 2.8 yards per carry which kept setting up high pressure 3rd and 4th down plays.

The Dolphins’ defense was making play after play to keep the ball yards and inches from the sticks and finally they got the big 4th and 1 stop they needed when the Cardinals ran Edmonds to left side of the line into the shoulder pads and arms of two unblocked defenders.

Not having a power RB option in this game was akin to playing the game with ill-equipped CBs.

The Arizona media basically shamed Kingsbury for using QB Chris Streveler as the designated QB sneak artist (which could have a been a huge asset in this game without Drake on hand)—-but how about using him at least as the smashmouth RB?

Kliff Kingsbury’s conservative play calling is keeping games like this one closer than they need to be. For a coach who loves up tempo offense, the offense, by his own play calling abandoned the passing game that was on fire, in order to chew the clock and pound the rock.

It seems unfathomable that the Cardinals elected not to throw to DeAndre Hopkins for the entire first half and especially not once with a chance to take a halftime lead.

The Cardinals inevitably lost the game at the end of both halfs.

In both cases it felt as if Kingsbury was worried about giving the ball back to Russell Wilson.

Tua is very talented, but this was his 2nd NFL start. treating him as if he were Russell Wilson seems more than a little excessive.

After a good defensive stop at the end of the first half came the mind boggling decision to let the clock run down a full 30 seconds to the 2 minute warning.

It would seem that having 2:30 to work with, plus the 2 minute warning and 1 timeout would give the Cardinals a much better chance of scoring a TD than having 2:00 with 2 timeouts.

So, after Christian Kirk runs the punt backwards, we watch a series of colossal mistakes. Humphries jumps off-sides. On 1st and 15, Kingsbury runs Edmonds up the middle for 4 yards. On 2nd and 11, Murray throws a 4 yard pass to Andy Isabella. On 3rd and 7, Murray hits isabella again and Isabella, instead of falling ahead of the sticks, inexplicably runs backward, thus negating the 1st down that Kingsbury expected, which is why Kingsbury called timeout.

Again, where is DeAndre Hopkins?

The Dolphins get a 10 yard punt return by Jakeem Grant. Then a 16 yard catch by Grant versus soft zone coverage. Then after a sack by Markus Golden, on a 2nd and 16 with 29 seconds left, Jospeh sends Budda Baker on a blitz from way out in the slot that Tua passes right over to RB Patrick Laird that goes for a ridiculously preventable 17 yards—-and after Haason Reddick (who is arguably now the Cardinals best front 7 player on the team) stuffs Laird for a 1 yard loss, Jason Sanders nails a 56 yard FG. 24-17 Dolphins.

With the game tied 31-31, the Cardinals’ last 10 plays (not counting the double penalty on the PI penalty to Hopkins and hold by Justin Murray) were 9 runs and one pass (Hopkins 7 yard catch).

That right—-Cardinals’ last 10 plays of the drive that got stopped on 4th and 1:

9 runs

1 pass

This—-after Kyler Murray had pleaded with Kingsbury late in the Seahawks’ game to stop being so conservative. “I got you man,” Murray avowed.

Lastly, it seems that whenever the Cardinals get outplayed on special teams, they lose. Hard to imagine how and why a 49 yard kick at home falls short. And when are the Cardinals ever going to come up with legitimately eager and aggressive return men?

Commentary:

  • In my opinion this game was lost because of negligent bye week personnel decisions, poor, ultra-conservative coaching moves at the ends of both halfs and the Cardinals’ continued laissez-faire approach to practice.
  • Last Wednesday, even after several days off, DeAndre Hopkins did not practice (non-injury related, per report) and Larry Fitzgerald was given a veteran’s day off. Meanwhile, 9 of the 10 Dolphins players on their injury report participated in practice, 7 of them as “full” participants which included 6 starters on their defense (Byron Jones, Shaq Lawson, Alandon Roberts, Eric Rowe, Kyle Van Noy, Bobby McClain).
  • Brian Flores brought the Belichickean “no days off” mantra to Miami and his players have bought in. Notice how key the players mentioned above were in this game, including Lawson scoring the game’s 1st TD on the strip sack, scoop up the ball and run defensiveTD.
  • Something has to give with DeAndre Hopkins. Now we can see the issue that Bill O’Brien had with Hopkins’ aversion to practicing. As I opined on the ROTB podcast, it looks to me like Kyler is frustrated with not having Hopkins and his a full slate of teammates on hand during practice. Why else would Murray be ignoring Hopkins as much as he has, particularly during 1st halfs recently?
  • Conversely, practice mate WR Christian Kirk has been crafting a special chemistry with Kyler. What a game for Kirk: 5/125/24.6/1-TD. Great TD catch fro practice regular TE Darrell Daniels. And after a return to practice: great TD for Maxx Williams and he turned in the block of the day on Kyler’s TD run.
  • This still looks like a team that lacks the requisite kind of discipline and situational concentration that great teams manifest. The only remedy? Consistently good practice participation and habits.
  • The tough part for Kyler in this game—-the two plays that will haunt him both came on sprint outs to his right: the strip sack TD on the first drive (usually with a sprint out you want to block down and seal on the DE, but RT Kelvin Beachum did not have chipping help)—-and on his second to last play of the game in which his throw on the run into what it was a very narrow angle to Christian Kirk was late and short.
  • While having balance as an offense is often a good thing, the Cardinals’ power running game between the tackles requires a power RB and more precise blocking (did you see one clean running hole for Edmonds in 25 carries yesterday?). Edmonds: 25/70/2.8-ave./0-TDs. Foster: 1/2/2.0-ave./0-TDs.
  • We know now why Kenyan Drake put on weight this off-season, because he was trying to prepare himself for this kind of pounding. Now he’s injured. It happened to him while converting yet another 4th down and 1 play. But, rushing him back from a high ankle injury is not a good move. And pounding Edmonds 25 times is not a good move either. Nor is having special teams standout D.J. Foster as RB2. Something has got to give here too.
  • Chase Edmonds averaged 6 yards per catch yesterday. What difference does it make whether you hand it to him or pass it to him? Why not open this offense up?
  • Wouldn’t it be exciting and fascinating to see is what the offense would look like if it opened up and tried to score as many points as it possibly could—-you know, try to push the weekly points totals past the 30s and into the 40s?.
  • Why take three plays to go 10 yards when you can do it pretty regularly in two or one?