It’s Victory Monday for the team in the desert. With heavy hearts, the Arizona Cardinals held on late and secured the team’s first victory of 2019. Following the passing of team owner Bill Bidwill, the Cardinals managed to make fewer mistakes than their counterparts, the Cincinnati Bengals. In a battle of winless teams, the Cardinals showed signs of improvement and reasons for optimism. Today we take a moment to identify what happened and what led to Arizona’s first victory of 2019.
Cincinnati is not a good team. Their winless record through five games demonstrates that but so does their lack of quality on the field. The Bengals entered Sunday’s game without their two-two wide receivers, A.J. Green and John Ross. They also were without tackle Cordy Glen and lost other starting tackle, Andre Smith, early in the ball game. Add on a rookie head coach and we have a recipe for inconsistency and mistakes in major moments.
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Cincinnati had their chances to surge ahead. On one such occasion, the Bengals faced a fourth-and-one at their own 42 yard-line, with under five minutes remaining in the third quarter. With running back Joe Mixon regularly gaining three or four yards per carry, the Bengals elected to run a quarterback follow out of a shotgun formation, with quarterback Andy Dalton. Arizona’s defense stuffed the play and the offense eventually added a field goal. Cincinnati wound up losing by three.
Stemming the Tide
The Cardinals defense started slowly as the Bengals ground game got going. Cincinnati led the game with a 12-play, 65-yard drive which lasted nearly six minutes. The defense tightened up and held the Bengals to a field goal. On the opening drive, the Bengals gained 60 yards on the ground. They finished the game with 108 yards rushing. The Arizona defense adjusted after the first drive and put an emphasis on stopping the run, no matter the costs.
Arizona crowded the line of scrimmage, daring the Bengals to throw the football. Cincinnati’s offense relied heavily on the ground game and was unable to sustain and finish drives. Stopping the run limited the play-calling for Zac Taylor and the Cincinnati offense, playing into the hands of the struggling Arizona offense. With his front seven crowding the line to stop the run, Vance Joseph brought his corners up for bump and run coverage. The lack of quality receiving threats on the outside for the Bengals begged for the aggressiveness shown by Joseph and his defensive play-calling.
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The Cardinals offense made the plays in late-game situations to secure the victory. Cincinnati struggled to slow down the Arizona offense as the Cardinals finished with 514 yards of total offense. It was, by far, the highest yardage total of the season. It was the highest yardage total for Arizona since December of 2015. Perhaps the biggest shock came from the ground game. Arizona ran for 266 yards on the day. The total was higher than they gained through the air (248) and higher than the Bengals passing totals (262). Arizona’s ground game set up the rest of the offense.
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The Cardinals offense mixed things up in the ground game, utilizing both running backs in a variety of runs. Quarterback Kyler Murray finished the day with 93 yards rushing and a score. David Johnson added his own 91 yards on the ground, with Chase Edmonds adding 68 yards and a touchdown. Murray’s 24-yard run in the game’s waning seconds, set up the game-winning field goal for Zane Gonzalez and the Cardinals. The offense may not have put up an insane number points but the Cardinals made plays when it mattered most.
Back to Back
The Cardinals earned their first victory of 2019. Kliff Kingsbury celebrated his first win as an NFL head coach. Murray won his first game as an NFL quarterback. It was a much-needed victory for the finale of a trying week for the organization. With a special helmet sticker commemorating the life of Bill Bidwill, the Cardinals trekked to the midwest and earned a hard-fought victory. Could the Cardinals follow up their first win with number two? The free-falling Atlanta Falcons enter State Farm Stadium on Sunday. It will be a tough matchup but these Cardinals now have a taste of victory in the NFL. Here’s to hoping for back to back Victory Mondays.