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Analysis of the Cardinals’ 27-16 loss to the Bears

Including a QB poll at the end of the article

Arizona Cardinals v Chicago Bears Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

It was a tale of two halves for the Cardinals last Suday at Soldier Field.

A poor first half, followed by a much improved second half.

1st Half Possessions:

CHI —- PUNT —- 4 plays, 21 yards, 1:46

The Cardinals’ defense was able to force a punt on the Bears’ first possession, thanks largely to Jalen Thompson’s breakup of Justin Fields’ short right pass to TE Cole Kmet on 3rd and 2.

On the Cardinals’ first possession. After converting a 1st down on three James Conner runs of 4, 4 and 6 yards, Kyler Murray on 1st and 10 was sacked by Justin Jones, which a short pass and then another “3rd and Give Up” short pass later resulted in a punt.

ARI: PUNT —- 6 plays, 13 yards, 4:02 —-

Key play: Justin Jones’ sack of Kyler Murray

CHI: TOUCHDOWN —- 6 plays, 74 yards, 2:56 —-

Key plays:

  • Justin Fields 53-yard pass to Cole Kmet —- while the high-arching under-thrown pass was in the air long enough for Jalen Thompson to locate it and break up, Thompson never looked back for the ball, got twisted around, which allowed Kmet to come back to make a shoestring catch.
  • Then twice in a goal-line situation Starling Thomas V got flagged for holding his receiver in the end zone. The first was in man coverage and it negated a fantastic sack by Dante Stills. The second one was in zone, where Cole Kmet came straight at Thomas for an easy post-up. In that situation Thomas is at a disadvantage lining up and playing 5-yards deep into end zone against a big, strong receiver. Far better to be able to press Kmet the first 2-3 yards of his route and then leverage him to be able to attack his passing lane.

In the first half, the Cardinals’ defense was about as poor at keeping contain as a defense can be. This has been a reoccurring problem that the coaches have not improved or fixed. On this 1st and Goal pass play, Zaven Collins tries and fails to beat the LT around the edge, thus creating a wide-open scrambling lane —- but seeing that, DT Jonathan Ledbetter should have understood that he was now responsible for contain, yet instead of working to keep his outside shoulder free on his block, he compounds the situation by getting sucked to the inside. This too has happened all too frequently this season. Dennis Gardeck makes a heck of an effort to try to chase Fields, but Fields is too quick. The Bears do a good job of picking up the right-side CB blitz by Starling Thomas V.

ARI: PUNT —- 6 plays, 25 yards, 2:25 —-

Key play:

  • After a nice 10-yard pass from Kyler Murray to Trey McBride on a 3rd and 1, on the next 3rd and 4, Kyler’s deep pass up the left sideline to a well-covered Rondale Moore was incomplete.

CHI: TOUCHDOWN —- 11 plays, 90 yards, 5:57 —-

Key plays:

  • With the Bears pinned back at their 10-yard line, on 1st down they get a 15-yard run over right tackle from Khalil Hebert (20, 112, 5.6, 1 TD on the day and the Bears would rack up 250 rushing yards, 6.4 ypc, 2 TDs).
  • Then a 20-yard pass to Cole Kmet.
  • Then a 24-yard electric run by Justin Fields where, once again contain, was lost and several attempts to tackle failed.
  • The drive ends with Herbert sauntering 11 yards when he easily bounces and —- you guessed it —-he breaks contain on a wide-open path to the end zone untouched.

While Jesse Luketa keeps his outside shoulder and arm free on his attempt to contain the play, he doesn’t make a move toward the football and gets pancaked. The Bears ran a bunch WR formation to the left and with the Cardinals playing man coverage, both Jalen Thompson and Antonio Hamilton, Jr. get stuck too far inside to make a play. It looks like there was a lack of communication issue with Thompson and Hamilton, but it didn’t help that while Jesse Luketa was in a good position to contain Herbert and turn him back into the help inside, he got caught flat-footed and was not able to do the job.

ARI: PUNT —- 3 plays, 7 yards, 1:01 —-

Key plays:

  • A false start penalty on Elijah Higgins
  • 3 errant dinky passes from Kyler Murray, which included a -2 catch from Emari Demercado on 3rd and 15.

CHI; TOUCHDOWN —- 8 plays, 54 yards, 4:41 —-

Key plays:

  • On 3rd and 2, rookie RB Roschon Johnson runs for 5 yards off left guard.
  • Another long 29-yard completion to Cole Kmet who was hit hard by Budda Baker after the catch and was injured on the play. While it concluded Kmet’s day, in just over a quarter, he caught 4 passes for 104 yards for a 26.8 average, plus he induced the holding penalty in the end zone on the Bears’ first TD drive.

This is another of the Cardinals’ failures to contain Justin Fields. OLB Jesse Luketa has contain and keeps his outside shoulder free on the block from TE Mercedes Lewis, but then it appears that he is in man coverage on Lewis, which at first he sticks to, but then with Fields scrambling with Budda Baker spying on him and coming in hard pursuit of him, Luketa abandons his coverage and finds himself in no-man’s land (a coach’s no-no), thus giving Fields and easy TD throw to a wide open Lewis.

Fields said after the game that he wasn’t worried at all about the Cardinals’ pass rush because of what he called “a lack of speed.” The Cardinals only got 1 sack all game on Fields and it was when Dennis Gardeck chased him out of bounds for a 1-yard loss.

ARI : TOUCHDOWN —-9 plays, 74 yards, 5:45 —-

Key plays:

  • Kyler’s 12 yard pass to Higgins to start the drive
  • A 12 yard scamper from Kyler on the second play.
  • On 3rd and 6 Kyler’s 8-yard pass to Rondale Moore.
  • 16-yard run by James Conner on the next play.
  • On 3rd and 3 from the CHI 16:

The key to this play is the Cardinals catching the Bears in a blitz (5-man rush) and Kyler backpedaling to create a clearer passing lane to James Conner. The key to Kyler’s potential for success moving forward is in his ability to float and buy time with his feet so that he can create clear passing lanes. This one was on a very good backpedal, but the others have to come from in and around the pocket.

CHI —-PUNT —- 3 plays, 1 yard, 0:49 —-

Key plays:

  • Hamilton’s coverage on a deep incomplete pass to D.J. Moore.
  • Dennis Gardeck’s stop on RB Roschon Johnson on 3rd and 10.
  • This was such a huge stop for the defense after giving up 3 consecutive TDs.

ARI —- PUNT —- 3 plays, -1 yard, 0:39 —-

Key plays:

  • This was one of the most squandered opportunities of the season:

Bears 27-16 Cardinals (Dec 24, 2023) Play-by-Play - ESPN

1st & 10 at ARI 34

  • (1:38 - 2nd) (Shotgun) K.Murray pass short right to T.McBride to ARZ 38 for 4 yards (T.Edwards).

2nd & 6 at ARI 38

  • (1:18 - 2nd) (No Huddle, Shotgun) K.Murray pass short right to E.Demercado pushed ob at ARZ 41 for 3 yards (T.Stevenson).

3rd & 3 at ARI 41

  • (1:14 - 2nd) (No Huddle, Shotgun) K.Murray FUMBLES (Aborted) at ARZ 35, ball out of bounds at ARZ 33. Penalty on ARZ-K.Murray, Delay of Game, declined.

4th & 11 at ARI 33

  • (0:59 - 2nd) B.Gillikin punts 54 yards to CHI 13, Center-A.Brewer. T.Taylor to CHI 24 for 11 yards (J.Blount; D.Chisena).
  • One of the most disturbing patterns regarding Kyler Murray is it seems every time he goes into a hurry-up he just throws dink and dunk passes that put absolutely zero pressure on the defense and often lead to 3rd downs that aren’t converted, as in this case.
  • The decision to run a speed option (which is high risk/reward) on 3rd and 3 in this situation was mind-boggling. Now, we don’t know whether Drew Petzing called this play or whether Kyler audibled into it. Either way the play was a total flop and it gave the Bears the ball back (and the momentum) with a minute left. When the DE took Kyler ne needed to pitch the ball then. Instead, by freezing in his tracks, he lost a clear pitch lane to Emari and out of panic flipped the ball out for grabs.

Halftime Score: Bears 21 Cardinals 7

Second Half Recap:

  • Greg Dortch set the tone on his scintillating 40-yard kickoff return.
  • Matt Prater connected from 55 yards.
  • But just when the defense forced a 3 and out, the Cardinals’ offense gained 0 yards on two runs and Kyler threw yet another dink pass on “3rd and Give Up.”
  • Bears took advantage and marched down for a FG to make it 24-10.
  • Cardinals’ answer to the FG was another 3-and-out featuring another 2-yard pass on 3rd and long.
  • Then the Cardinals got a huge TD-saving interception from Jalen Thompson to keep it a two-score game.
  • The Cardinals’ offense answered the call big-time with this outstanding effort:

Note: an Arizona Cardinals beat writer after the game when discussing how suddenly inept the Cardinals are at WR, called Greg Dorth “a fill-in at best.”

Will Greg Dortch ever get the credit and playing time he deserves in Arizona?

When Jonathan Gannon threw a big hug on him after the TD, Dortch peered away from him with a look like WTF.

The Cardinals’ failure to capitalize on momentum at the end of the first half was now in full evidence again when Jonathan Gannon elected to go for the 2-point conversion, despite those decisions all season resulting in a 3 for 12 conversion rate.

Result: uncatchable ball over the back of the end zone.

But the defense did its job on the ensuing Bears’s possession:

CHI —- PUNT —-3 plays, 9 yards, 2:16

1st & 10 at CHI 25

  • (6:37 - 4th) K.Herbert right end to CHI 29 for 4 yards (C.Thomas).

2nd & 6 at CHI 29

  • (5:57 - 4th) (Shotgun) J.Fields pass short right to D.Moore to CHI 34 for 5 yards (Z.Collins; S.Thomas).

3rd & 1 at CHI 34

  • (5:18 - 4th) (Shotgun) Direct snap to R.Johnson. R.Johnson right guard to CHI 34 for no gain (J.Thompson; N.Jones).

And this was the offense’s answer with the game on the line:

ARI —- DOWNS —- 7 plays, 18 yards, 1:24

This 2-minute offense was the eptiome of pathetic.

1st & 10 at ARI 9

  • (4:21 - 4th) (Shotgun) K.Murray pass short middle to J.Conner to ARZ 16 for 7 yards (Ju.Jones).

2nd & 3 at ARI 16

  • (3:56 - 4th) (No Huddle, Shotgun) K.Murray pass incomplete short left to G.Dortch.

3rd & 3 at ARI 16

  • (3:52 - 4th) (Shotgun) E.Demercado right end to ARZ 23 for 7 yards (T.Edmunds).

1st & 10 at ARI 23

  • (3:32 - 4th) (No Huddle, Shotgun) K.Murray pass short middle to E.Demercado to ARZ 27 for 4 yards (T.Edwards).

2nd & 6 at ARI 27

  • (3:12 - 4th) (No Huddle, Shotgun) K.Murray pass incomplete short middle to E.Demercado.

3rd & 6 at ARI 27

  • (3:07 - 4th) (Shotgun) K.Murray pass incomplete short right to Mi.Wilson (T.Smith).

4th & 6 at ARI 27

  • (3:02 - 4th) (Shotgun) K.Murray pass incomplete deep right to G.Dortch.

Note: earlier in the week I posted this critique of Kyler throwing too late on a simple out pass to Greg Dortch:

If Kyler Murray doesn’t start throwing to his WRs a second ahead their breaks, then you can continue to see the offense sputter which will continue to evoke these excuses from fans:

  • Kyler has the worst roster in the NFL
  • The OL sucks
  • The WRs have no talent

If you go to the film, you will notice that on a simple 5-7 yards out-passes from the shotgun, Kyler takes a three-step backpedal. There is no way he can then throw an out-pass on time, because by the time he sets his feet the WR is already is making his cut.

The pass needs to be thrown a milo-second before the WR makes his cut.

Two key misses at the end of this Bears game which came out of the Cardinals’ hurry-up were on miserably failed out-passes that were near interceptions —- one to Michael Wilson and the other, quite predictably, to Greg Dortch.

When Matthew Stafford practices out-passes with Cooper Kupp and Paco Nacua, do you think Kupp and Nacua ever have to wait for the ball? Just ask Kei’Trel Clark.

Bonding with wide receivers isn’t just Kyler’s problem thus far this season —- it has been a 5-year issue for Kyler.

Kyler’s had the privilege of passing to 3 future Hall of Fame WRs —-

  • Larry Fitzgerald
  • DeAndre Hopkins
  • A.J. Green

How did things end up for Kyler with Fitz? With Hopkins? With Green?

How were their last seasons with Kyler?

How did things end up for Kyler with Christian Kirk?

How are things going with Rondale Moore after 3 years?

How can Michael Wilson get 28 receptions for 435 yards, at 15.5 yards per catch, and 2 TDs from Josh Dobbs and then absolutely zero from Kyler Murray?

if Kyler is going to be a franchise QB —- these rifts with his WRs have to cease.

Franchise QBs bond with their WRs.

Kyler’s To-Do List:

  • Adopt an attack mode style of 2-minute drill the way Patrick Mahomes and franchise QBs do.
  • Float and maneuver in and around the pocket to create clear passing lanes. This is the only way smaller QBs can consistently win as NFL passers. You’ve got to see it to throw it.
  • Time every throw in practice on your WRs’ breaks and then carry those timings reps into the games.
  • On shorter passes don’t take 3-step drops from the shotgun snaps.
  • Bond with all your WRs. Sync up with them, encourage them and help them elevate their games. Franchise QBs make everyone around them better.
  • Escape pressure through the middle to slow down the pass rushes —- you escaping up the middle is the thing that opposing defenses fear most. Ask Nick Saban, who once lamented he needed to keep 2 spies on you, because you would just “run by the first one.”
  • Kyler, you escaped one up the middle it once this week versus the Bears for 12 yards! It was your longest run of the game. It’s a very good start! This threat causes defenses not only to take a defender out of coverage to put a spy on you —- like the Cardinals did having Budda spy on Justin Fields in the red zone —- your escape up the middle threat causes MUSH rushes (credit to Dan Bickley and Vince Marotta for explaining this ) that, in turn, will give you more time in the pocket.
  • Practice 3rd down conversion plays of every type of distance so you can put an end to the “3rd and Give Up” dink passes you throw well under the chains or the far out-of-bounds overthrows. Again, if you practice timing throws for key situations —- that’s going to be the key to moving the chains.

ROTB Poll:

Poll

After Josh Dobbs and Kyler Murray’s first 6 games with the Cardinals this season, in terms of statistics and QB ratings, who has been more productive?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    Josh Dobbs
    (47 votes)
  • 23%
    Kyler Murray
    (35 votes)
  • 44%
    It’s been about even
    (65 votes)
147 votes total Vote Now

If you are not certain, go ahead and look up the numbers. Also try to take strength of schedule into consideration.

The statistics will be provided after 100+ votes.