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Kyler Is Correct

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, QB Kyler Murray, when asked about the negativity surrounding the Cardinals amidst their three game losing streak, said the following:

Key Points:

“You’ve got to do the little things right.”

“If you watch the film —- and you know what you are looking at —- we’re not that far off.”

The key caveat here is —- “and you know what you are looking at.”

What some pundits and fans would never know:

  1. How a play was designed and taught.
  2. How well and often the play was practiced.
  3. What exactly went wrong with regard to the timing and the execution of the blocks, runs, throws and catches.
  4. What smart and good things the defense did to bust up the play.

Big Picture About the Three Losses:

  1. Cardinals were favored in all three.
  2. Cardinals learned moments before games of key players on the opponents who were put of the COVID-19 reserve. (but hearing of these so late did not give the Cardinals much of a chance to prepare and to look at tape to study the replacement players as all players are wont to do in prepping for a game).
  3. Cardinals themselves had key players injured or lost to the COVID-19 reserve for some of the games during this stretch: WR DeAndre Hopkins, C Rodney Hudson, G Justin Pugh, G Justin Murray, RB James Conner, WR Rondale Moore, DT Jordan Phillips, DT Rashard Lawrence, DE J.J. Watt, CB Robert Alford, LS Aaron Brewer, P Andy Lee —- and now LB Markus Golden, LB Devon Kennard and CB Marco Wilson.
  4. On offense —- the Cardinals managed to put up bigger numbers that all three opponents, in terms of yards, but they struggled scoring TDs in the red zone (scoring a mere 17.0 ppg).
  5. On defense —- the Cardinals gave up a number of long, time consuming drives and/or some relatively easy TD to wide open WRs (giving up 27.3 ppg).
  6. On special teams —- the Cardinals missed 2 FGs and an XP in the 6 point loss to the Colts.
  7. Where once the Cardinals were 2nd in the NFL in turnover differential, during this stretch the Cardinals have turned the ball over 4 times, to the opponents’ 1 time.
  8. Sacks: Cardinals gave up 8 and created 5 on defense.
  9. Penalties (Yards): Cardinals 221 yds. Opponents: 129. A sticking point to correct, that’s for sure.

Key Turning Points:

  1. With a 3-0 lead vs. Rams, with Cardinals inside Rams’ 5 yard line, the interception by Ernest Jones off a tipped quick post pass by Aaron Donald, allowed Rams the momentum to go on a 10 play 68 yard TD drive to go up 7-3.
  2. Down 10 to the Lions, on 4th an goal, incomplete pass from Kyler Murray to Antoine Wesley, which led to the Lions’ 94 yard TD drive that gave them a 17-0 halftime lead.
  3. Up 13-12 in 3rd quarter vs. the Colts after the defense held the Colts on downs giving the ball back to the Cardinals at their own 33 yard line with a chance to build on the lead, yet, the Cardinals go 3 and out on 3 errant passes. After the punt, the Colts stage a 10 play FG drive that put them back in the lead, 15-13.

This week, Zilfran asked:

“I have to ask. Do you have ANY thoughts on the late season declines? Is it simply lack of roster depth (a Keim issue) that makes the Cardinals unable to overcome season injuries like other teams do? Or is there some deeper football-insider reason in your opinion that you could shed light on? “

With regard to this year’s 3 game slump, here are the common factors:

  1. Kyler is right —- the Cardinals’ timing and execution on offense is “not far off” —- when we look at the three turning points I alluded to above, Aaron Donald and Ernest Jones made a clutch play on Kyler’s pass, but also when we look at the tape, the Cardinals’ spacing on that play and attempt to thrown the ball to Zach Ertz into such a tight window (due to a lack of ideal spacing), you can see that if they had spaced the play better by flexing Ertz and little wider on the snap and having him give a better juke to the outside to then cut back on the post, then the throw wouldn’t have had to be such a jam shot.

On the missed 4th and goal pass from Murray to Wesley, Wesley had good leverage on his man, but he didn’t follow through and finish the route to the point of not even being over the goal-line and thereby giving the CB extra time to be in a position to break the pass up.

On the three and out, up 13-12 versus the Colts, on 1st down, Kyler again tried a jam shot on a quick post to Ertz where the spacing was not ideal, fornately avoiding another tipped interception. On second down, A.J. Green was wide open on the out pass, but for whatever reason Kyler has not been throwing to Green off of his cuts and the thus the ball has been late (like the interception the Lions’ CB Amani Oruwariye made on Green). This time Kyler threw the ball low and outside, which was impossible for Green to catch. On third and 10, the Colts’ pressure is effective and Kyler basically had to throw the ball away. Had the 2nd down pass been completed to Green, the Cardinals would have facing 3rd and short instead of third and 10 —- big difference.

2. On the flip side, in terms of the Cardinals’ defense, it is clear that the opponents in all three games got better pressure on the QB and had much tighter pass coverage than the Cardinals —- the truth is these games in terms of pressure and coverage were significantly harder on Kyler than they were on Stafford, Goff and Wentz. Lapses in pressure and coverage led to many cases where Stafford, Goff and Wentz had the luxury of throwing to wide open WRs, particularly versus the Cardinals’ soft zones where linebackers Jones, Kennard and Golden were the zone men underneath the throws and the deep men had given up way too much cushion.

3. Special teams mistakes have been costly.

4. As for roster depth, the one big mistake that I believe Steve Keim made was not adding a DT at the trading deadline. The Rams made two huge upgrades in WR Odell Beckham Jr, and OLB Von Miller —- the Cardinals added TE Zach Ertz, but did not address the team’s most glaring weakness which is in the middle of their defense, not only in stopping the run, but in getting consistent pressure and sacks from the interior of the pass rush.

This was the 2nd year in a row where Keim did not address the biggest defensive need at the trading deadline. Last year the glaring need was at CB —- as Tyler Lockett proved when he torched the Cardinals on 15 catches for 200 yards and 3 TDs, while knowing the Cardinals had another game versus Lockett/Metcalf and two games versus Woods/Kupp down the stretch. Those were 3 big games the Cardinals would go on to lose wile missing out on the playoff by one win.

I think Keim does a good job of adding to the team’s depth —- it’s just curious as to why he doesn’t add that extra trade piece that can be such a talent and morale booster for the Cardinals at a position of immediate need.

Has the Cardinals’ defense quite been the same without J.J. Watt?

The last two years Keim has hit home runs with Golden and Ertz —- but failing to add a CB last year and DT this year may have given the Cardinals a better chance to maintain their early season success.

It doesn’t help either that the Cardinals’ defensive coaches are refusing to play the most physical run stuffer on the roster in Zaven Collins. The obvious disconnect between Steve Keim and his defensive coaches is bordering on epic now.

This past week versus the Colts was tough because the offense clearly missed C Rodney Hudson, RB James Conner and WRs DeAndre Hopkins and Rondale Moore. Missing CB Robert Alford on defense has caused a bit of a ripple effect, where Byron Murphy has struggled in Alford’s spot. And, as we have seen twice this season, when the furniture gets rearranged on Matt Prater, missing Andy Lee was tough.

Missing all of the offensive guys and the holder helped to account for why the Cardinals only scored 16 points in the game. I think this is more of a reality than an excuse. With so many key players missing on the offense (Hudson —-the security blanket of the OL —- Conner and Hopkins, the leaders in TDs at RB and WR and —- Moore, the leading RAC WR, it was going to be difficult to get in sync versus a defense that applies good pressure and sticky pass coverage.

I do not believe that Kliff Kingsbury deserves the main share of the blame for this year’s three game losing streak. However, he is always eager and willing to accept it.

Kyler put the reasons in a nutshell —- “you’ve got to do the little things right.”

You know Kyler includes himself in needing to get the little things right. But, I think it was good of him to have his coaches’ and teammates’ backs. One can imagine, they were happy to hear Kyler put the criticism of the team in that kind of perspective.

Attending to the “little things” is why Kliff Kingsbury has had the team getting back to the basics in practice this week.

Yet, the schedule doesn’t get any easier as the Cardinals are facing another hot team in the Cowboys. They are not only hitting their stride; they are miraculously healthy for this time of year on both sides of the ball.

It would be a great week for the Cardinals to get the little things as right as possible. What a joy it would be to watch the Cardinals knock the Cowboys off of their tall saddles on their own ranch.

Thanks for the questions, Zilfran. These are my thought. For you and everyone here, what are your thoughts?