For the second week in a row, the Arizona Cardinals not only won their game, they won it in all three phases. This is what came to mind, when I tried to sum up the Cardinals’ victory over the Eagles as a trifecta of breakthroughs:
Breakthroughs: Kyler showed he and Cards O can win from the pocket; Cards D showed they can close late in 4th quarter and did, twice; gutsy Cards STs showed that "special" is back. Eagles a different team with J-Hurts. Big, clutch win in all 3 phases like at MetLife.— Walter B J Mitchell (@WBJMItch) December 21, 2020
In a manner of speaking, the 33-26 Cardinals’ victory was a “hop, skip and a jump.”
A couple of weeks ago when Kyler Murray was asked whether the Cardinals can win without him rushing for 40 plus yards, he asserted, “ I don’t have to run to win games, I can win games from the pocket.” Well, Kyler’s 27/37 (75%), 406 yards, (11.3 ave.) 3 TD, 1 int, QBR 127.8 performance this game substantiates Kyler’s assertion.
Cynics will say, yeah, but it was versus a depleted Eagles’ secondary. Well, the Saints didn’t get it done versus the Eagles’ secondary last week that was missing 3 of their 4 starters,, largely because the Eagles boast a small flock of ferocious pass rushers and DC Jim Schwartz runs a nifty mix of man and zone.
If you watched the game, you saw how tight the Eagles’ coverage was on Larry Fitzgerald and DeAndre Hopkins on their two stunning TDs. Those TDs we're the result of perfectly timed passes and fantastic catches.
All in all, the Eagles put up a feisty, spirited effort. But, despite the Eagles’ prodigious pass rush, which caused one strip sack on Kyler Murray, the Cardinals’ offensive line and Kyler Murray and the playmakers prevailed and did so the 4th quarter when it mattered most.
Skip punting the ball back to Jalen Hurts and the Eagles at the 14:56 mark of the 4th quarter in a 26-26 game back on the Cardinals’ own 32 yard line. Just have Andy Lee fake the punt and blindly lob up a 25 yard rainbow to the Cardinals’ ST Ace of the Day Zeke Turner, who early on in the game had changed the momentum with his thunderous punt block which resulted in a safety.
The significance of this tremendously gutsy call is, at least from what occurs to me, the Eagles’ HC Doug Pederson was playing this game as if he was betting on house money—-I mean why the heck not? However, this fake punt on Kliff Kingsbury’s and Jeff Rodgers’ part was a statement from the Cardinals from across the table that they were seeing and raising Pederson’s bets.
The kicking game for the Cardinals has settled down nicely the last two weeks, as Andy Lee and Mike Nugent have been kicking in December as effectively as one would expect from veteran special teamers. Not only that, when Nugent hasn’t kicked a touchback, the Cardinals’ cover team has been hammering the kickoff return men—-which has been firing up and energizing the whole team.
if you listened to the ROTB podcast that Blake Murphy posted on twitter on Saturday, one of my more heated comments came in reaction to hearing Steve Keim say this week on Doug and Wolf that the Cardinals “have to match the Eagles’ intensity.”
I think that Steve Keim probably would like to re-word that statement because, if not, are you kidding us, Steve? The Cardinals have to match THEIR intensity? Come on, man. How about the Eagles had better try to match OUR intensity!
Well, the great news is, the Cardinals brought their own juice to this game. Yes, at times, they were mistake prone, sometimes to a maddening degree (the turnovers, the numerous PI penalties, the giving up 23 yards on 2nd and 29 on yet another hitch screen to the perimeter, etc.), but, the Cardinals were clearly charged up. So were the Eagles—-but I think it was their task to try to match the Cardinals’ intensity, particularly once Zeke Turner blocked the punt and the Cardinals jumped out to a 16-0 lead.
The Cardinals started strong, battled hard throughout and they finished strong.
A couple of the frustrating things about Vance Joseph’s defense is its inability to carry the full momentum of one game into the next and its penchant for giving up quick, easy scores at the end of both halfs.
Coming off of their best, penalty free, sticky coverage performance of the season versus the Giants, Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick turned in perhaps their worst performance of the season versus the Eagles, either giving up way too much cushion or incurring a host of ill-advised and totally unnecessary pass interference calls that led to the Eagles’ TDs.
What was so frustrating was that Patrick Peterson was stride for stride in position to make plays on the football when he, time and time again, elected either to hook Greg Ward in the end zone (which Ward converted to a TD) or to get in hand fights with Alshon Jefferey—-when—-Peterson could have simply used his athleticism to mirror the routes and be in a position to make plays on the ball. For whatever reason, Vance Joseph and CB coach Greg Williams cannot seem to coach these bad, grabby habits out of their veteran starters, plus young reserves such as Kevin Peterson and Jace Whittaker.
Coaching point: CBs are taught to mirror and turn back to the ball because then the CB has every right to the football as the WR.
Poor CB play has been the case in so many of the Cardinals first half endings this season. In this game, after the offense scored to go up 26-14 with 2:07 remaining in the half, the Eagles engineered this 7 play, 78 yard TD drive which transpired in a head-spinning matter of a mere 54 seconds of game clock:
1st & 10 at PHI 22
- (2:07 - 2nd) (Shotgun) M.Sanders up the middle to PHI 26 for 4 yards (Z.Allen).
- (2:00 - 2nd) Two-Minute Warning
2nd & 6 at PHI 26
- (2:00 - 2nd) (Shotgun) J.Hurts pass short left to J.Reagor pushed ob at PHI 38 for 12 yards (D.Kirkpatrick.
1st & 10 at PHI 38
- (1:54 - 2nd) (No Huddle, Shotgun) J.Hurts pass deep right to Z.Ertz pushed ob at ARZ 20 for 42 yards (J.Hicks).
1st & 10 at ARI 20
- (1:44 - 2nd) (Shotgun) J.Hurts pass incomplete short right to J.Reagor.
2nd & 10 at ARI 20
- (1:40 - 2nd) (Shotgun) J.Hurts pass incomplete short left to J.Reagor. PENALTY on ARZ-D.Kirkpatrick, Defensive Pass Interference, 12 yards, enforced at ARZ 20 - No Play.
1st & Goal at ARI 8
- (1:35 - 2nd) (Shotgun) M.Sanders up the middle to ARZ 3 for 5 yards (Z.Allen).
- (1:29 - 2nd) Timeout #1 by ARZ at 01:29.
2nd & Goal at ARI 3
- (1:29 - 2nd) (Shotgun) J.Hurts up the middle to ARZ 5 for -2 yards (J.Hicks).
- (1:23 - 2nd) Timeout #2 by ARZ at 01:23.
3rd & Goal at ARI 5
- (1:19 - 2nd) Greg Ward Pass From Jalen Hurts for 5 Yrds TWO-POINT CONVERSION ATTEMPT. M.Sanders rushes up the middle. ATTEMPT FAILS.
CB Dre Kirkpatrick—-gave too much cushion in allowing an easy 12 yard out pass to Jalen Reagor—-then with decent coverage on him moments later reached in a grabbed Reagor well before the ball arrived—-then he gave up the TD pass to Greg Ward:
The way Kirkpatrick is positioned on the snap, he is shading to protect against the slant, which is why when Greg Ward goes opposite on the out route (as one would expect), Kirkpatrick has to anticipate that and sprint as fast as he can to recover. Perhaps his sore hamstring is a factor here—-but—-man, the mental effort this entire drive seemed conspicuous.
The other beef I have with Kirkpatrick was some of the passive late reactions he had to screens on his side. I commented to Blake on the ROTB podcast that like many of you, I cringe every time a screen to a RB or WR is thrown to the perimeter, where the Cardinals’ starting CBs offer little and seemingly token resistance—-in the hopes that Budda Baker or Chris Banjo will do the dirty work.
if the Cardinals are going to become a serious contender, the lack of aggressiveness on the perimeter HAS to stop. I know Byron Murphy won’t sit back on his heels—-which is why he should be a starting CB on this team. Just as Justin Simmons should be an every down player and just as Dennis Gardeck should be used to rush off the edge where he is cat- quick and explosive.
However, the overall play and late game efforts by the Cardinals this week was a breakthrough.
The Cardinals defense in the second half, led by a spirited pass rush similar to the one they generated versus the Giants, skillfully managed to thwart Jalen Hurts and the Eagles’ receivers down the stretch. It’s not too often that opposing defenses get false start penalties from All Pro C Jason Kelce.
The defensive MVPs?
- The trio of Haason Reddick, Dennis Gardeck and Markus Golden.
Kudos to fellow BC grad, Zach Allen who led Cards today with11 tackles,. Added big sack and pass deflection. When was the last time a defensive interior player led the Cards in tackles, let alone in a big game like this? Holding RB Miles Sanders to 64 yds. was huge. Allen huge!— Walter B J Mitchell (@WBJMItch) December 21, 2020
- Seriously—-have you ever recalled a Cardinals’ defensive tackle lead the team in tackles in a game? Maybe Calais Campbell did it? Darnell Dockett?
- Of Zach Allen’s 11 tackles, 7 were on RB Miles Sanders and 4 were on QB Jalen Hurts (including Allen’s sack for -14 yards). They key to this game, as I opined to Blake on Saturday’s ROTB’s twitter podcast was containing Sanders and Hurts. Sanders was held to 64 yards on 17 carries (3.8 ave.) and, after Hurts rushed for over 100 yards in his debut versus the Saints, the Cardinals limited him to 63 yards rushing. This is why, in my opinion, Zach Allen deserves to be the defensive MVP in this game.
- On the back end, the clear MVP of the game was CB Byron Murphy. He made every single clutch pass breakup at the end of the game, especially on the near game-tying TD to TE Dallas Goedert, where replay showed that Murphy niftily got his hand in on Goedert’s to break up the pass. And then—-look at Murphy’s efforts on the Hail Mary passes at the end of the game. Textbook. Absolutely textbook (as evident on the “Jump” video above).
- it was an especially auspicious game for 2018 CFAs Zeke Turner (punt block for safety and 26 yard fake punt reception) and Dennis Gardeck (5 tackles, 2 sacks).
- It was an especially auspicious game for 2019 Draft picks QB Kyler Murray, CB Byron Murphy and DT Zach Allen.
- Aside from Kyler Murray’s and Zach Allen’s outstanding production in this game, it was a wow performance from WR DeAndre Hopkins: 9 catches for 169 yards (18.8 ave.) and what turned out to be the game his 2nd game winning TD in the last 3 home games. If a player ever intended to atone for losing a fumble in the Red Zone on the team’s opening drive, this is how the player does it. Apparently, Hop accomplished this with the help of a new pair of gloves.
- While happily lying in bed last might, the thought occurred to me of how many times this season the Cardinals have faced coaches who have won or coached in Super Bowls. Think about it. Kyle Shanahan (Falcons, 49ers), Ron Rivera (Panthers), Matt Patricia (Patriots), Adam Gase (Broncos), Mike McCarthy (Packers), Pete Carroll (Seahawks), Brain Flores (Patriots), Sean McDermott (Eagles, Panthers), Bill Belichick (Giants, Patriots), Sean McVay (Rams), Joe Judge (Patriots) and Doug Pederson (Eagles). 15 of 16 of the Cardinals opposing coaches (the lone outlier being the Panthers’ rookie HC Matt Rhule) have coached in Super Bowls. How uncanny is this?
- This is one of the main reasons why the Cardinals (and their fans and pundits) cannot and should not take any game on their schedule for granted. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
- And while Kliff Kingsbury was not technically a paid coach on Bill Belichick’s Super Bowl winning staff of 2004, because Kingsbury was a rookie on the season-ending IR, and because Belichick was keen on Kliff’’s football smarts, he essentially turned Kliff into one of his quality control coaches (the same gig he started Brian Flores off with)—-a gig which not only provided Kliff with a Super Bowl ring, but one that inspired him to pursue a career in coaching. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.