A sluggish start for the Arizona Cardinals did not help against a fired-up opponent on a national stage. For the first time since Bruce Arians roamed the sidelines, the Cardinals entered a November matchup with at least a share of the lead in the division. Following a stunning victory last Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals faced a quick turnaround with a Thursday night game against the Seattle Seahawks. Unfortunately for Arizona, there would be no last-second miracle to gain the victory. On a night where the Arizona offense struggled to find a rhythm, the Cardinals suffered their fourth loss of the season and ceded their spot atop the division. Today we take a look at the tough loss and figure out what went wrong for the Cardinals on Thursday night.
On a night where the Cardinals were missing pieces on defense, quarterback Kyler Murray and the Arizona offense was sluggish to start. Arizona punted on four of their five first-half possessions. To start the night, the Seahawks scored on a six-minute drive. Murray and the offense followed with a three and out, elapsing a total of 39 seconds of game time. This set the tone of much of the game. Arizona’s offense struggled to get moving. However, once they did get going, penalties often derailed any momentum. False starts along the offensive line stalled a pair of drives in the first half.
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The second-half did not offer much change as penalties essentially swung the game in favor of the Seahawks. Early in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals cut the deficit to two points. Taking over at their own 14-yard line, Arizona had a chance to take the lead with a long drive. On consecutive plays, the Cardinals were flagged for intentional grounding, then a holding penalty on J.R. Sweezy. The questionable holding penalty was ruled to have occurred in the end zone and resulted in a safety. Seattle would go on to take the subsequent possession and add a field goal, giving them the 28-21 lead.
The Cardinals entered Thursday night without defensive linemen Jordan Phillips and Corey Peters. Defensive Coordinator, Vance Joseph, was also without the full service of linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. However, the unit did not use the injuries as an excuse as they performed admirably on Thursday night. During the first meeting between the teams, the Cardinals defense surrendered 572 yards of total offense. This time, Arizona’s patchwork defense gave up just 347 yards to the Seattle offense. The star on Thursday night was rookie defender, Isaiah Simmons. Arizona’s first-round selection has struggled to find playing time this season but has seen his number called more often since his key interception against the Seahawks a few weeks ago.
Isaiah Simmons 1st NFL SACK💪
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 20, 2020
Simmons finished with 10 total tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack. It was by far the best game of the season for Simmons. Unfortunately, the Arizona secondary did not have as good of a game. While the Seahawks compiled just 197 yards through the air, they benefited from timely penalties from the Arizona secondary. Late in the first half, Patrick Peterson was called for pass interference, moving the ball inside the 10-yard line. Seattle would add a field goal before halftime. In the third quarter, Dre Kirkpatrick was flagged for a taunting penalty, giving Seattle a first down after they had been forced to punt. Two plays later, Seattle would score a touchdown.
Need the Balance
As the offense struggled to get going, it was the ground game that went missing for the Cardinals. Seattle crowded the line of scrimmage, inviting the Cardinals to throw the football. However, they would flood the middle of the field with defenders while keeping a spy on Murray. This slowed down the passing game. The first scoring drive for the Cardinals keyed off the run. Kenyan Drake did not have big gains on the drive, however, the decision to string runs together helped soften the defense. Arizona’s ground game, by extension, includes quick screens to the outside. This is often accompanied by a quick fake to the running back. The Cardinals capitalized on this as they were grouped for a screen to the outside before Murray found his tight end, Max Williams, for a 25-yard gain as he leaked downfield.
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Arizona finished the game with just 57 yards rushing on 18 attempts. Five of those attempts came on keepers for Murray. At least a few of those happened with the defense keying specifically on Murray while the running back was left uncontained. Seattle’s focus was on slowing Murray down by keeping a defender glued to him. Kliff Kingsbury offense has shown the ability to scheme runs to take advantage of this. However, the Arizona head coach did not make the conscious effort to get the ground game going to help alleviate the pressure on Murray. It was a disservice to both Drake and Chase Edmonds that the Cardinals ignored their talented rushing attack and thrust the weight of the game on Murray and his banged-up shoulders.
Need to Finish
The Cardinals are two bad throws away from a 5-5 record at this point in the season. An underthrow in the waning seconds of the season opener against the 49ers helped seal the victory on that day. The Hail Murray against Buffalo secured another victory. Simply put, Arizona is fortunate to be sitting at 6-4, a game back from the NFC West lead. However, this is a team that has thrown away a couple of chances at victories with underwhelming late-game performances against Detroit and now Seattle. Arizona remains in striking distance of a playoff spot and has the remaining schedule to pull it off. If the Cardinals hope to take that next step, they will need to get better at closing out games.
– 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