The Arizona Cardinals were quite simply, mauled on Sunday. After a tie and a one-score defeat, fans and media members predicted Arizona’s first victory of 2019, against the Cam Newton-less Carolina Panthers. However, the Panthers completely mauled Arizona, on both sides of the football. The Cardinals fell to 1-2 on the season and remain winless. Today we take a quick look at what went wrong at State Farm Stadium.
Beware of Cats
The Cardinals offense started quickly, scoring a touchdown on their first drive of the game. In fact, the score was preceded by a turnover created by the Arizona defense. Arizona’s offense finished with 248 total yards of offense. The first scoring drive accounted for 74 of those yards. As a whole, it was a disappointing showing for the offense. The ground game did enough to stay competitive but the passing attack finished with 173 yards. For quarterback Kyler Murray, the 4.02 yards per attempt tell the story of an offense without a bite. Typically a low yards per attempt average is a result of numerous incompletions. However, Murray completed 69.7% of his passes on Sunday.
— Hayden Winks (@HaydenWinks) September 23, 2019
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The issue can be found when examining the yardage of each attempt. Completions were plenty for Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, but yards were lacking, and Carolina made no effort to push the issue. The Panthers defense kept a close watch on Arizona pass catchers and did a solid job of make tackles in the open field. Of Murray’s 43 passing attempts, just seven went beyond 10 yards through the air, with zero going to the right side of the offense. It is the type of predictability which results in defenses figuring out the best pressure packages to get after the quarterback.
Quick throws help get the football out of the hands of the quarterback in a timely manner. The idea is to offset any pass-rushing advantage held by the defense. However, even with the short passing game proving fruitful for Arizona, Murray was sacked eight times on Sunday. By comparison, Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen was brought down twice on the day. Over the first two quarters, the Cardinals offensive line fared well, aided by the ground game. As the deficit grew and the Cardinals abandoned the run, the offensive line struggles returned.
The right side of the line struggled in particular. Jordan Mills signed with the Cardinals last week and saw a handful of snaps in Baltimore. The veteran started at right tackle on Sunday and played 59 snaps on offense. Carolina found success on the right side of the end, often sending an edge rusher to the outside, before sending a safety or linebacker through the B-gap. While the line struggled, part of the problem fell on Murray. The rookie is quick to go down in the pocket and has shown a propensity to hold on to the football. In time Murray will progress and eliminate those issues, until that point though, the offense will remain inconsistent.
The longer that Carolina’s offense spent on the field, the better it looked. Arizona’s defense kept the team in the game through the initial two and a half quarters. Then, midway through the third quarter, the defense forgot how to defend. Over the game’s final quarter and a half, Carolina scored 24 points. It essentially ended any chance of Arizona’s first victory of the season. Issues against the run have been chronicled over the past two seasons. Christian McCaffrey finished with 153 yards on 24 carries and a score. The coverage woes continued with Panthers’ tight end, Greg Olsen, producing six reception for 75 yards and two touchdowns. On the season, tight ends have accounted for 348 yards receiving on 23 receptions, totaling five touchdowns.
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For all the issues with the Cardinals roster, the biggest issue seems to stem from a player currently under contract, Patrick Peterson. The loss of Peterson due to suspension has handcuffed the defense. Peterson is one of the few cornerbacks who can take away one side of the field. That ability allows the rest of the defense to focus on the other four possible receivers. As it stands, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has deployed his safeties to play over the top, offering support for his shaky corners. This opens space behind the linebackers who have been sucked near the line of scrimmage. As a result, opposing offenses have found acres of space over the middle, between 10-15 yards downfield. Peterson’s suspension ends after week six.
What Comes Next
The good news for Arizona is the chance to sleep at home this weekend. Arizona hosts Seattle on Sunday for the division opener for both teams. The Cardinals and Seahawks have consistently offered exciting finishes. There are issues on both sides of the football which need to be addressed. Seattle’s ground game will test the Cardinals. A young and athletic defensive line for the Seahawks is frothing at the mouth with excitement. We’ll be back later in the week to preview the matchup.