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DET 26 ARI 23: Post-Game Gritty Nittys

NFL: Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

On the ROTB Lions’ game preview podcast with Blake Murphy, I predicted that the game was a toss-up and could go either way. When I looked at the Lions’ offensive personnel, I was extremely concerned about containing an offense loaded with firepower at all the skills positions and complimented by a highly competent offensive line.

The way the Football Team game ended the week before with the Cardinals’ defense “backing off” to the tune of handing the Washington team two quick TD drives, that left a poor taste in my mouth, much like the bad taste I tried to Listerine away following so many of the Cardinals’ games last year.

Then to hear Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury after the Washington game make more excuses for the defense and for struggling CB Patrick Peterson—-only then to hear Peterson scoff at the late game letdown and term the Football Team’s chunk plays as “junk yards”—-I got an overwhelming sense that the mindset of this team is not right. This is the same feeling I had when the team captains were announced and it felt like a popularity contest more than a true recognition of bona fide “on the field” leadership.

On the podcast I alluded to the fact that 3 of the 4 popular captains on the defense have been vying for the Terrell Suggs/D.J. Swearinger Award this year: (aka going through the motions and “stealing from the Cardinals” instead of some other team)—-and while you may argue with PFF grades, when the grades are bad, it’s hardly a mistake.

PFF Grades after 2 games:

Chandler Jones: 51.6 (2020 cap hit: $21,333,333)

Patrick Peterson: 46.1 (2020 cap hit: $13,184,588)

Jordan Hicks: 56.7 (2020 cap hit: $10,500,00)

The 1 Defensive Captain showing up:

Corey Peters: 74.1 (2020 cap hit: $4,437,500)

Yesterday’s Performances:

Jones: 4 tackles, 0 sacks, 0 QB hits

Peterson: 1 tackle, 0 pass breakups, 0 interceptions

Hicks: 3 tackles, 2 assists, 0 pass breakups, 0 interceptions

Peters: 2 tackles, 2 assists, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss, 1 QB hit

Effort is Everything:

Look at the hustle interception play that rookie CB Jeff Okudah pulled off simply by sprinting full speed to chase WR DeAndre Hopkins across the field.

We haven’t seen that kind of hustle from CB Patrick Peterson—-and can someone please make the excuse for Peterson as to why he refused to plane out as the edge rusher on Matt Prater’s GW FG? He got the corner—-but chose to pull up—-per custom.

This just in: there is zero chance of blocking a kick of you don’t plane out.

The Great Ones:

Leave it all on the field.

Budda Ball:

Look at the effort that Budda Baker made yesterday while wearing a cast on one hand and even after dislocating a finger on the other hand (hail Larry Wilson!) while leaping up to make a great tip of a Stafford pass over the middle. Baker once again led the team in tackles with 8—-all solos—-with 1 tackle for loss and 1 pass breakup.

While Budda will be having surgery soon to repair the torn ligament in his thumb, with Chris Banjo now potentially out for this week’s game in Carolina and with Jalen Thompson on the IR for another week, it wouldn’t surprise me if Budda elects to play again with the cast next week and postpone the surgery until the week of the Jets’ game.

Budda Baker is what a winner and on-the-field captain looks and plays like.

“Kyler Sucked, It Wasn’t the Defense That Lost The Game” (common theme on fan boards)

Um, no.

First of all, Kyler made some critical mistakes with the 3 interceptions (1 thanks to a tipped pass)—-but he also passed for 270 yards, 2 TDs (both on perfect pass to Andy Isabella) and ran 5 times for 29 yards and another jaw-dropping TD scamper—-putting up 23 points (should have been 24 points) in the process.

To use a PGA golf analogy Kyler’s performance yesterday would be like shooting a 70 at Winged Foot, with 4 bogeys, an eagle and two birdies on the card.

Kyler is still learning about the potential perils of throwing into the seams in the NFL. if you recall, it was throwing into the seams that often got Carson Palmer in trouble. And he was 6’5”, 235.

As for the defense—-they were at their best when they played man coverage and the assignments were clear and well conceived.

But—-they gave up a long, time consuming drive to start the game—-that was prolonged by a Byron Murphy holding penalty that nullified yet another Chris Banjo interception—-which again would have been the Cardinals’ 1st interception in 3 games.

The defense didn’t surrender a TD on the 1st drive (kudos for their man to man end zone coverage), but the drive took up almost half of the quarter—-and when that was the case last year, the Cardinals tended to struggle winning those games.

The worst part was the watching the Cardinals’ defense “back off” into loose zones at the end of both halfs as they did in the 2nd half versus the Football Team. Allowing the Lions to march right down the field for 75 quick yards in 6 plays covering a blistering span of 1:22 as a response the offense having just taken a 13-10 lead on Kyler Murray’s sensational TD run—-wiped out the momentum and sent the Cardinals into the locker room down 17-13 at half-time.

On the ROTB podcast, I made a plea for the Cardinals to scrap these “back off’ zones and I also made yet another plea for the Cardinals to sign Wade Phillips as a defensive advisor—-especially knowing how he could help us deal with Sean McVay’s prodigious offense twice this season.

Whichever way the current coaching staff is coaching the CBs—-it isn't working—-and Wade Phillips knows a thing or two about aggressive CB play.

Just as the Cardinals’ defense gave up a long time-consuming drive to start the game and the—- just as they rolled over to end the 1st half—-they did the same at the end of the game, giving up an excruciating 70 yards on 19 plays over a span of 4:49—-again prolonged by a Byron Murphy PI penalty on a 2nd and 15 from the Lions’ 37 yard line.

And as said, on the game winning FG, the Cardinals did get a good push up the middle, but the edge rusher Patrick Peterson decline to plane out—-thus, to have Peterson be the edge rusher is just a token STs gesture.

Special Teams Not Special This Week

The turning point of the game, as it turned out, was Matt Patricia’s decision, down 23-20 on 4th and 11 from the Cardinals’ 45 yard line to try to get the Cardinals to jump off-sides on what would have been a 62 yard Matt Prater FG attempt (a distance he has made before)—-and when that failed, deciding to have All Pro punter Jamie Fox punt the ball—-which he pooched perfectly down to the Cardinals’ 2 yard line.

The Lions won the kicking game—-and that had as much to do with the outcome of this game as anything. They also won the punt return game when Jamal Agnew was able to set up the game tying FG and thereby reward Patricia for his game-changing decision with a 19 yard punt return right up the middle of the Cardinals’ coverage on a 51 yard Andy Lee punt that did not have the kind of hang time you want and need in that situation.

Personnel Observations:

Kyler Murray—-still has a tendency to get down on himself too much when he makes mistakes. He never seemed to brood this much at Oklahoma, which tells me his is putting way too much pressure on himself. Would love to see him become more outwardly upbeat, the way Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes are. You can feel their enjoyment of the game when they are playing, which fires up their teammates. Hard to figure how and why he struggled at times this week with no real pass rush pressure on him—-maybe it was a carryover from being rushed by the likes of Bosa, Armstead, Sweat, Young and Kerrigan the past two weeks and his time clock had been speeded up.

Chris Streveler—-imo, if he comes into the game it should be as a short yardage RB—-do not take Murray out from the QB position.

Kenyan Drake—-he’s running hard, but the weight he put on this off-season has taken some of his explosion away—-same thing happened with David Johnson—-ugh. Although, Drake is running more consistently harder than DJ was last year.

Chase Edmonds—-to me he looks like the the RB1 and best all-around runner, receiver and pass protector. Happy to see him get the start in the game.

DeAndre Hopkins—-I was hoping the Cardinals would ride him even more because the Lions had no answer for him. The one mistake he made was not coming back to the ball on the Okudah interception, which is what WRs are always coached to do on broken plays. He can’t let Okudah undercut him there. Cardinals’ WRs continue to need a tutorial in how to take advantage of broken plays.

Andy Isabella—-he was open so many times—-it’s hard to fathom why he wasn’t targeted more. I think he clearly is emerging as the WR2 because no one gets in and out of his breaks as quickly as he does. The Cardinals could run 2 man games with Hopkins and Isabella all day, lining Isabella up in the slot and having him run deep patterns to command the attention of the FS who is shaded to Hopkins’ side—-which would leave Hopkins one on one. Then, as a switch, they could mix it up by having Hopkins run the deep patterns and Isabella breaking out routes and sideline patterns.

Larry Fitzgerald—-not sure what is going on with him, but Larry looks slower than usual this year. Is he trying to play through an injury? Never thought I would see a game where the only pass completed to Larry that was open was a 0 yard out pass on 3rd and 1—-that I thought he converted with his patented stretch and wanted to see a challenge there.

KeeSean Johnson—-all we heard last year was how talented he was and how Isabella had catching issues—-and now that the Cardinals are finally throwing to Isabella, has he ever dropped a pass? And yet, we have seen a number of passes that KeeSean has not managed to haul in. There were two very catchable passes in the game that he missed, one of the deep slant-in that was a little high, but not higher than the TD catch Kenny Golladay made. The other was on the out pass on the 4th quarter 3 and out from the Cardinals 2 yard line, which Kyler could have thrown a tad earlier, but it was still catchable. KeeSean is a key player—-no question—-the talent is evident—-but now he needs to deliver on that talent.

Justin Murray—-would like to see whether he is an upgrade at RG where another high paid Cardinals’ veteran, J.R. Sweezy, has been struggling (41.0 in 2 games with a 2020 $6,500,00 cap hit).

Jordan Phillips, Devon Kennard, Corey Peters, Haason Reddick—-2 sacks each in 3 games. Getting 4 sacks as a team versus the Lions was impressive. Pundits were wondering whether Chandler Jones would have over 60% of the team sacks again. Thus, far, the results have been excellent. Hope Jones can start doing his part.

Isaiah Simmons—-now is the time to move him to SS—-have him line up mostly over the TE and make his run (if the TE blocks down—-fill!) and pass keys (jam and cover)—-and blitz him on occasion.

Dre Kirkpatrick—-I thought he had his best game as Cardinal this week. He was much more aggressive, especially in his tackling. This is encouraging.

Chris Banjo—-this kid is good—-he and Deionte Thompson (who played hard and made some good plays in this game—-he got caught on the goaline TD to TE Jesse James—-but that’s a pick play that the only way to beat is to “zone switch” it) are the reasons why the coaches felt good about the depth at safety behind Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson.

Zane Gonzalez—-hard to imagine why he is struggling this season, particularly when he can make the 50+ yard kicks.

Suggestion Box:

1—-I am wondering whether Kliff Kingsbury should rethink deferring the ball when winning the coin toss. When his offense gets the ball first, they can immediately set the tone that they want for the game—-and would not be freezing out the offense when the defense gives up long time-consuming drives as they did this week. Watching the Seahawks, Rams and 49ers’ offenses each week—-those division rivals—-all 3 of them—-are ball hogs. Man, can they put together long, scoring drives. When we play them, I think it would be wise to take the ball first and try to make their offenses anxious, instead of ours.

2—-Feed the hot hands. Play callers can get in trouble when they try to spread the ball too much. I think Kyler forced that hook pass to Fitz because he was trying to give Fitz his touches—-but Fitz wasn’t getting separation the way Hopkins and Isabella were. Fitz will get his touches in certain games—-but in this game, it wasn’t wise, imo, to turn the attention away from the hot hands or to try to attack the parts of the field where the Lions had their best cover LBers and safeties.

3—-Kliff Kingsbury always takes the blame when the team loses—-and that was good at first, but now it feels coined. My biggest concern about Kingsbury (or anyone who coaches the Cardinals) is not the play calling (the dude is a cracker-jack), it’s whether he has the veritas to motivate veteran players. I think Kliff’s play calling is one of the major reasons why the team is 2-0 and has won 4 of its last 6 games—-but the veteran “stealers” are still a major issue, which keeps begging the question of whether can Kliff get the most out of an NFL roster, motivation-wise? My instinct tells me that taking the blame for losses and making excuses when star players fail is not aiding and abetting the cause for getting max roster value—-to the contrary, it is enabling underachievement and mediocre, go-through-the-motions lacks of effort. Same for the GM who has a tendency to oversell his players, liken them prematurely to NFL icons, make excuses for them at times when they don’t produce or make the kind of effort that wins ballgames.

Now—-I am not suggesting that Kingsbury make disparaging remarks to the media about some of his underachieving players—-but the work needs to done behind the scenes—-and thus far the main issue with the team’s “country club” culture of the past is still a significant and obvious problem that is not changing week to week. Last season it seemed to change when Suggs was released. What will it take this year?

This is why I bristle whenever a fan or media pundit calls any part of the Cardinals schedule “soft.” Because, as we saw yesterday, when all was played and done, the softer team, mentally and physically across the board, appeared to be the Cardinals.