Well, that wasn’t pretty. After losing at home to the Rams on Monday Night Football, the Cardinals fell to 3-3 at home—and 0-2 in primetime. They also fell from first in the NFC standings to third, and their lead in the NFC West is down to just a game over the Rams.
Ugh. What a missed opportunity (especially with the Rams down several key players due to COVID.)
There are obviously a lot of losers from the frustrating, mistake-riddled loss. But it wasn’t all bad. So let’s start this look at winners and losers with a few winners from the game.
Duh. Conner was the best player on the field for the Redbirds Monday night, looking like a potential Pro Bowler and team leader. His rushing stats weren’t impressive (13 carries for just 31 yards), but two of those carries went into the end zone and he helped open up the play-action game. He excelled as a receiver, however, putting up new career highs with 9 receptions for 94 yards, including a stellar one-handed snag for the second-straight week. Conner is proving to be one of the steals of the offseason.
Green is also another underrated offseason addition—GM Steve Keim should certainly get some consideration for Executive of the Year. Green was the beneficiary of increased Rams attention on DeAndre Hopkins. He had 7 receptions for 102 yards, his second 100-yard game of the season.
Offense Between the 20s
The Cardinals had no trouble moving the ball all night—they put up 447 yards of total offense, mostly via Kyler Murray’s arm or legs. He had 383 yards through the air (his second-highest yardage total of the season) and a season-high 61 yards on the ground. Kliff called a great offensive game. There might’ve been a different outcome with better execution closer to the end zone on both sides of the field (see below).
Prater was 3/3 on FGs (all from 49 yards or farther), 2/2 on XPs, and had a successful onsides kick. He might’ve won Special Teams Player of the Week if we had won. Another offseason success story for Keim.
Chances for the #1 Seed
The Redbirds would’ve continued to control their own destiny for home-field advantage with a win—and would have all but sealed up the NFC West as well. Now, we’re behind both the Packers (who own the head-to-head tiebreaker) and Buccaneers in the NFC standings, with the Rams still in the NFC West picture. We need to keep winning and hope the Packers (at BAL, vs. CLE, vs. MIN, at DET) and Bucs (vs. NO, at CAR, at NYJ, vs. CAR) slip up. We have a much tougher schedule than those two teams, however (at DET, vs. IND, at DAL, vs. SEA).
Red Zone Offense
The Cardinals were 2/4 in the red zone, with two Conner end zone plunges offset by a Kyler pick at the goal line and a drop by Hopkins that would have been 1st and goal. Those drives needed to end in points. I don’t mind the coaching decisions/playcalls on both plays—the players just need to execute better in those critical situations. That was Hopkins’s first drop of the season, but it couldn’t have came at a worse time. And the ball was tipped on the INT, yes, but it also looked like Kyler just didn’t see the LB. The result is likely much different with better execution on those plays. (I’ll also throw the 3rd quarter INT that basically gave the Rams a red zone possession in here as well. That was a huge turning point in the game.)
Interior Offensive Line
We largely held Aaron Donald in check in the Week 4 win in Los Angeles, but he absolutely beasted this time around, notching 3 sacks, 3 other QB hits, and a pass deflection. C Rodney Hudson and, especially, backup G Sean Harlowe were routinely abused by the Rams’ interior D-lineman. (DT Greg Gaines added another sack.) Hudson also had several low snaps that resulted in a few negative plays. Donald can make just about anyone look bad, but these guys need to play better down the stretch. (Starting G Justin Pugh is almost back, which will help.)
I generally like the MNF broadcast crew. Steve Levy is a solid play-by-play guy, Louis Riddick is one of the most insightful analysts working, and Brian Griese is—usually—a solid color commentator. But this was not Griese’s finest game. First, he excoriated Kliff for going for it on 4th and 1 from the L.A. 37. Nothing wrong with chasing a TD down 10 there instead of kicking the long FG. (Although I didn’t love the playcall—a simple Conner dive into the pile.) But Griese was spouting absolute nonsense on our next drive, loudly and repeatedly imploring the Cardinals to kick another long FG (not even on 4th down!) instead of going for the TD (still down 10). What’s easier—scoring TD from ~30 yards out, recovering an onside kick, and kicking a long FG? Or kicking a long FG, recovering an onside kick, then having to score a TD from ~50 yards out? (It’s clearly the first option.) Just dreadful analysis, and he was rightly roasted on Twitter.
The Home Crowd/Home Field
I don’t mean that the crowd played any part in the loss—they’re just “losers” for having to witness another primetime home loss. This team is bizarrely 7-0 on the road but just 3-3 at home. But I don’t think there’s any larger narrative here—two of the losses were to the 10-3 Packers and 9-4 Rams, and the other loss was a weirdly flat game without Kyler against the Panthers. This is just the weird kind of variance that happens in every NFL season. The Cardinals have two more home games, including another one in primetime against the Colts, to get back to their home winning ways.
Yes, it was an ugly game at times, but the Cardinals were in it until the clock hit zeroes in spite of a litany of mistakes. This still seems like one of the best teams in the league, and one that is capable of making a playoff run.
Who were your winners and losers, Cardinals fans? Tell us in the comments.