The Cardinals had been 1-2 coming out of their bye week, and have been struggling to gain momentum and finish their push to the playoffs.
Going 0-2 against the Rams and the Lions they faced a Christmas Day nationally televised game versus the Colts in a desperate bid to avoid falling to 0-5 in playoff clinching games.
The game started out as well as you’d hope for Arizona driving down the field...and then went about as bad as possible.
-Dropped pass by Kirk who was wide open
-Bad hold by Colt McCoy and missed FG by Prater
-Jonathan Taylor runs for 43 yards, Colts get a touchdown on their opening drive.
It really was the epitome of Arizona’s last few games where they have struggled to play complete football. Penalties, lack of talent due to key guys missing due to injuries or Covid and it only got worse from there.
Penalties on the offensive line, with multiple false starts on Josh Jones. Illegal Contact on Byron Murphy downfield nullifying a recovered forced fumble. A bad snap in Arizona’s own redzone by Max Garcia that turned into a safety that Kyler Murray had to recover. A DPI call on Marco Wilson on what could or should have been an interception.
The team simply couldn’t get out of their own way.
It’s become kind of clear that this Cardinals team has turned from being a functional, disciplined team to looking like the “false start, holding” offense they have been at times in 2019 and 2020.
Arizona was able to run the ball effectively but struggled to get off the field and couldn’t land the turnovers as the story of the first half.
Simply put, Arizona looked like sloppy and got in their own way in the first half.
The second half, Arizona did a much better job of coming out being the more physical team. They focused on beating down Taylor at the line and got a big play touchdown to Antoine Wesley for his first score:
Look what Santa brought @antoine_wesley x #RedSea pic.twitter.com/280KyMlTa6— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) December 26, 2021
The game...however seemed to slowly come to a grinding halt.
After stopping the Colts on 4th and 4 and taking the ball back, Arizona promptly went 3 and out and gave up a 10 play, 56 yard drive to give up a field goal, and the lead, to the Colts.
The defense was worn down but still held on, and really the crux of the game came down to the next two drives:
-No good FG on a 41 yard attempt by Prater
-A 20 yard catch on 2nd and 17 by Michael Pittman
-A 14 yard TD to Dezmon Patmon by Carson Wentz.
With the safety and missed XP making a total of 9 points, it all but put the game away from Arizona. They made a last drive for a FG (including a weird kick on 3rd down versus before the 2 minute warning) and lost their third straight game, going 0 for 3 in nationally televised games this season.
So...what gives? How does a team start 7-0 and suddenly fall to 3-5? Here’s the crux of the issue...
- Injuries...no Watt/Hopkins/Hudson/Conner didn’t mean “no chance” but it did shrink the margin for error to a point where Arizona has simply not been playing with a stacked deck. It’s not a true excuse given how other teams have had the same issues, but it’s a clear point where Watt and Hopkins went down in the same week (and Hop again) as the crux of the season.
- The depth and other players have not been up to par...Joe Walker getting a ton of serious playing time that Zaven Collins couldn’t? Josh Jones winning the RG job and then struggling later in the season? Poor snaps and struggling to find a decent backup center...and issue ever since Bruce Arians retired from the team? Steve Keim has a team that could win with starters on his hands. It’s his job to ensure that if they go down the team doesn’t go down with them as they have.
- Kliff Kingsbury’s baffling decisions at times (the FG aside) where he seems to simply abandon the run and pass the ball a ton despite the fact that the Cardinals’ identity is a run-heavy team and Vance Joseph’s approach which earlier in the season seemed to stop big plays has buckled a bit in the redzone when it’s come to forcing turnovers. The team went from sacks, forced fumbles and getting pressure with 4-5, dropping 7 to now seemingly rarely getting pressure at all unless he blitzes. The blitzes ARE still successful but struggles in the early game make the late-game near untenable.
Overall, talent, coaching and injuries. And I haven’t mentioned Murray here but these are all questions for the Arizona Cardinals not just in 2021 but even in 2022 as they look to make some major decisions about the future of their franchise.
The team can still clinch the playoffs on Sunday with a Rams loss and Dolphins win but fans are not likely to feel happy about that regardless with the way they’re playing. Can they turn it around? Absolutely. Will they?
That depends on a lot. The next two games won’t be easy, and if Arizona slips to 10-7 and doesn’t look like a playoff-caliber team, there will be a lot of questions about Keim and Kingsbury heading into that playoff game, and next year.
And though it’s likely, they still have not clinched a playoff spot. Until they do, fans will bemoan the missed opportunities and teasing that the team has provided through the season up until now.