Coming off the organization’s first ever win at Lambeau Field, momentum was high for the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals returned home to host the Detroit Lions. It was a battle of two woeful franchises with rookie head coaches. As has been the case for most of the season, the Cardinals struggled with consistency and made mistakes both on the field and on the sidelines. Today we take a look at what went wrong for the Cardinals on Sunday.
Revolving Door for Pass Rush
The Lions swarmed quarterback Josh Rosen as he attempted to stand behind his patch-work offensive line. Detroit brought down the rookie quarterback a total of three times, but consistently got pressure seemingly at will. The Lions also had eight total hits on Rosen. Arizona unveiled a new starting line on Sunday, as three rookies started up front. Tackle Korey Cunningham, guard Colby Gossett, and center Mason Cole all struggled against a physical Detroit defensive line.
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A lack of protection up front contributed to multiple errant throws by the rookie quarterback. While the Lions defensive line battled with injuries, the Cardinals struggled to maintain a clean pocket. Part of the issue is the lack of familiarity between the starting line. Aside from the three rookies, the Cardinals employed Joe Barksdale at right tackle. Barksdale was released by the Los Angeles Chargers on December 4th and signed by Arizona the next day. The Chargers had signed the tackle to a four-year contract worth an average of $5.5 million a year back in March 2016.
With an offensive line consisting of three rookies and one newly signed tackle, it would seem like a safe assumption that the offense would focus on the ground game and minimize exposure for Rosen. Factor in a close contest going deep into the fourth quarter and it would be a safe bet to assume a balanced approach. On Sunday, the Cardinals offense would have made you a losing gambler. Arizona ran 70 plays on offense against the Lions. Arizona finished with a 60 yard advantage in total yards. However, the Cardinals ran the football just 21 times on Sunday.
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The Cardinals seemed to forget how to establish a ground game against Detroit. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich didn’t have the excuse of the score dictating a pass heavy offense. Arizona also failed to commit to any type of run game, thus eliminating the excuse of a tough Lions front seven. Instead we saw an inexperienced play caller put his rookie quarterback in bad situations. The lack of balance became apparent as the Cardinals called screen passes on consecutive drives in the first half. Any surprise which normally comes with the play call becomes non-existent when the defense begins recognizing the tendency.
On 1st and 10 from the Detroit 30-yard line, the Cardinals threw the ball three consecutive times. One was a screen play to David Johnson who was tackled behind the line for a six yard loss. It forced a 54-yard field goal attempt which struck the upright. Not one single run to either play for field position or take pressure off the offensive line. This was easily Leftwich’s worst game as offensive coordinator.
Wasting the Defense
Arizona’s inefficient offense did one thing well on Sunday, eat up the play clock. The offense held the football for just over 31 minutes on Sunday. Defensively, the Cardinals stymied the Detroit passing game, holding Matthew Stafford for just 101 yards on 15 of 21 passing. It was Stafford’s career low in passing yards for a full game. In 2010 he finished with 83 yards against the Bears but left after halftime due to an injury. Stafford was sacked just once on Sunday and was hit just twice.
Detroit focused on the ground game as the Cardinals defense clamped down on receivers. The Lions finished with 31 rushes for 122 yards. In what was a defensive battle, the Detroit offense used the ground game to control field position and force the Cardinals into lengthy drives. The Cardinals held Detroit to just under four yards a carry, but received no help from the struggle Arizona offense. On a day where the leading Lions receiver accounted for 30 yards, the defense was left waiting at the altar once again.
What Happens Next
Arizona had every chance to claim victory on Sunday. Detroit struggled to do anything against a suffocating Cardinals defense. However, as has been the case all season, the Cardinals offense failed to hold their end of the bargain and put points on the scoreboard. A shoddy offensive line and poor play-calling doomed the Cardinals from the start. Rosen’s pick six was a forced throw on third down. There’s little reason to believe the Lions would have gone down the field to score when pinned deep in their own territory. Throw in a six yard loss on a third down play, resulting in the 54 yard missed field goal and you have a 10-6 game heading into the final four minutes.
Sunday was the microcosm of the 2018 season for the Cardinals. The defense kept the game close for much of the contest. The offense tripped over itself with poor play and bad coaching decisions. When combined, the result was an all too familiar emptiness from the team’s tenth loss of the year. The 3-10 Cardinals travel to Atlanta to take on a disappointing Falcons team. Arizona hopes to steal another road victory and find some happiness in what has been a gloomy season.