The Arizona Cardinals missed the mark in their attempt to start the season with a 3-0 record for the first time since 2015. On Sunday, Arizona struggled to find a rhythm on offense and ultimately dropped a heartbreaker to the visiting Detroit Lions. While the loss is no reason to panic, the poor performance was quite surprising. There were many areas to assign blame but today we focus on the three things that went wrong for the Cardinals.
Bang or Bust
Not including a kneel-down at the end of the first half, the Cardinals offense had a total of nine drives. They punted just twice, both coming on their final two drives of the game. With those types of numbers, it would be expected that the offense was firing on all cylinders. However, this was not the case as it was boom or bust for the Cardinals. Quite surprisingly, the Cardinals committed three turnovers on the day. Starting with their first drive, the Arizona offensive drives finished as follows:
Interestingly enough, when the Cardinals were able to hold the football for three minutes or longer, they ended the drive with a score. The four scoring drives averaged just over four minutes and about nine plays in length. Minus the turnovers, the Arizona offense turned in the same stat sheet it has through the first two games of the season. However, it was the trio of turnovers that swung the balance in favor of the Lions. While the Lions only scored a single touchdown after an Arizona turnover, the missed chances for an offense that did not struggle to move the ball, was the difference. At the end of the day, it comes down to taking care of the football and limiting the chances for the opposition. The Cardinals failed to do either.
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It is not often that we see Kyler Murray struggle in a game and miss his mark. When he does, it is quite jarring and slightly confusing. Murray has already proven himself to be one of the most gifted quarterbacks in the league. He has a strong arm, excellent touch, is quite accurate, and can make plays with his feet. However, we have also seen Murray make questionable decisions and force the issue when the situation has not warranted it. Both of which are par for the course with a young quarterback. On Sunday, we saw the inexperienced quarterback who pressed a bit too much. His three interceptions and missed throws at the end of the game were a clear indication.
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) September 29, 2020
On the first interception, Murray’s arm was hit as he threw, causing the ball to sail before being tipped by tight end Dan Arnold and intercepted by Detroit. Interception two was a bad read. Linebacker Jamie Collins sat in zone coverage and broke for the football as Murray started his throwing motion. Murray stared down Larry Fitzgerald and Collins read it the whole way. The interception occurred inside the Arizona 30-yard line and resulted in a Detroit touchdown. The final pick came as Murray rolled to his right and threw behind DeAndre Hopkins. Rookie cornerback, Jeffrey Okudah, made a diving interception but ball placement directly contributed to the interception. Hopkins was open as he crossed the field but slowed to reach for the football. Okudah closed the field and made the interception. An accurate throw results in either a large gain or an incompletion.
Where is the Run?
Aside from losing the time of possession battle, there was one area where the offense seemed off the mark: the ground game. Through the first two weeks of the system, the Cardinals averaged 170 rushing yards per game. On Sunday, Arizona finished with 109 rushing yards. That stat line would track well if the Cardinals had fallen behind by a large margin and was forced to throw the football. Arizona was credited with 27 rushes, although more than a handful came on scrambles by Murray. In truth, the Cardinals seemed to forgo the run game in favor of airing out the football. However, when three of those passes lead to interceptions, the move will backfire.
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On all three of the drives that resulted in an interception, the Cardinals had experienced success running the football. In fact, on Arizona’s final drive, running back Kenyan Drake set the offense up with a first down near midfield. With just under six minutes remaining, Drake carried for a one-yard gain, his final touch of the day. The Cardinals then took two deep shots downfield to KeeSean Johnson, completing neither of them. Arizona punted the football and the Lions ran a great four-minute offense to set up the game-winning field goal. In a game where the offense consistently missed the mark, was it any surprise that the play-calling on offense would fail the defense?
Wake Up Call
Expectations were high as the Cardinals entered week three. Facing a winless Lions, the Cardinals expected to find success. Instead, they allowed Detroit to hang around long enough until the Lions took advantage of enough chances to earn the victory. Arizona’s defense played well but is dealing with injuries at safety as Budda Baker, Chris Banjo, and Jalen Thompson are all out next week. Baker could be out for an extended period as the All-Pro is scheduled for surgery for a UCL tear in his thumb. However, the Cardinals face road games against the Panthers and Jets over the next two weeks. The schedule should allow Arizona to fix the issues and find their mark.
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Cardinals and covers the San Francisco 49ers for Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada