By Ryan Adverderada
The Arizona Cardinals needed a victory to keep pace with the rest of the NFC West. The Cardinals welcomed the Jacksonville Jaguars to the University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday. Arizona entered the game in third place in the NFC West and two games out of the final playoff spot. The Cardinals escaped with the victory against Jacksonville by a score of 27-24. To say the game was pivotal for Arizona was an understatement, but Sunday the Cardinals kept their season alive and here is how they did that.
Gabbert Gets Revenge
Earlier in the season head coach stated that the issues with quarterback Blaine Gabbert come from him being on bad teams. Against Houston, Gabbert played well enough to keep the team in contention for a win. On Sunday, the former first round pick for the Jaguars had a chance to beat his old team and hopefully put his past behind him. Gabbert may very well have accomplished that against Jacksonville. The quarterback finished the day completing 22 of 38 attempts for 241 yards with two touchdowns against one interception. Gabbert played well against one of the toughest pass defenses in the league and was able to make plays with both his feet and arm, while staying relatively clean.
The offensive line perhaps deserves the biggest praise on the day. The Jaguars came into Sunday as the leaders in quarterback sacks with 40 takedowns. Against Arizona the Jaguars registered just a single sack. Not bad for a banged up offensive line. The line did enough to allow Gabbert the time to find open receivers downfield and keep the offense moving to both start and finish the game. Gabbert spread the ball all over the field, hitting 10 different receivers on the day. However, the biggest contribution was the game winning drive led by Gabbert, culminating with a 57 yard field goal to win the game by Phil Dawson.
Fournette Finds Futility
Rookie running back Leonard Fournette has been the primary source of offense for the Jaguars in 2017. In just nine games the rookie has rushed for just over 750 yards and six touchdowns while throwing in another 173 yards receiving and a receiving touchdown. On Sunday, Fournette struggled against the Cardinals defense, finishing with just 25 yards rushing on 12 attempts and 17 yards on three receptions. The Cardinals took Fournette out of the game and reaped the benefits when it mattered.
The defense set the tone early with a commitment to stop the Jaguars ground attack. They dared Jacksonville to throw the ball against single coverage and often had one or two players following Fournette around the field. That did lead to a couple of runs for quarterback Blake Bortles, including a 17 yard run for a Jacksonville touchdown. However, even without defensive tackle Corey Peters, the Cardinals line held their own and opened up spaces for the linebackers to rush in. Defensive tackle Xavier Williams filled in admirably for Peters and clogged the middle, allowing players like linebacker Josh Bynes and safety Tyrann Mathieu to make plays in the backfield.
Forcing Jacksonville Mistakes
Jacksonville came into the game with the NFL’s best run offense. The Jaguars had explosive runner Leonard Fournette looking unstoppable. The Cardinals defense took away the run game. The defense forced the Jaguars to be one dimensional and put the pressure on the Jacksonville offense to make plays in a high pressure situation. On Sunday, the Cardinals defense swarmed to forced the Jaguars into mistakes, mistakes that ultimately cost Jacksonville the game.
The Arizona defense came up with three takeaways on Sunday, a plus one turnover differential on the day, after two fumble recoveries and an interception. Fumbles by Bortles and running back Chris Ivory allowed the Cardinals offense to work the clock and keep the Jaguars on the field, essentially setting up the mad last second scramble against a tired Jacksonville defensive unit. The interception by Mathieu came off the heels of a Gabbert misthrow on the previous drive. The defense stepped up and bailed out the offense. Mathieu could have likely had a couple more interceptions if he had been a step or two faster, but his break up on a second down pass in the final moments allowed the Cardinals to save their last time out for the third down stop and got the offense the ball back with 16 seconds remaining.
In the end it was all three phases of the game coming together for Arizona. The offense put points on the scoreboard and controlled the ball. The defense stepped up when needed and forced turnovers. They kept the game close while also relying on the kicking game to put added pressure on the Jaguars. In the end it was veteran kicker Phil Dawson hitting a 57 yard field goal for the victory. The Cardinals were gutsy and played hard. The 42 year-old kept his team in playoff contention. The Cardinals have five teams ahead of them in the playoff standings but have three of their next four games at home. The Rams come to town next Sunday and gives Arizona a great shot at making up ground. The Cardinals have a chance, and after the win on Sunday, that is all they can ask for.