Might the Arizona Cardinals be in the midst of a tailspin? The short answer is no. Although the Cardinals have now dropped two in a row, the team hasn’t looked overwhelmed or overmatched in either game. The most recent defeat came at the hands of Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. While it isn’t time to push the panic button, there were some concerning aspects of Sunday’s game that are worth paying closer attention to as the season nears its end. Today we point out some of those concerns and look back at Sunday’s loss on the road.
Defense Isn’t the Issue
Heading into the season, the Cardinals had major question marks on the defensive side of the ball. Aside from safety Budda Baker and linebacker Chandler Jones, the unit seemed to lack playmakers. However, as the season has unfolded, the Arizona defense has proved to be far from the issue. Vance Joseph’s unit held the Patriots to under 200 yards of offense. New England’s Cam Newton struggled, throwing for just 84 yards on 9 of 18 passing, including two interceptions. The first interception happened on the game’s opening drive. The offense capitalized with a touchdown and the early lead.
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Arizona’s second interception set the offense up with a chance to take the lead in the final minutes. While the Cardinals failed to take advantage of the gift, Arizona’s defense more than did their fair share to swing the game in their favor. The defense also put the clamps on the New England ground attack, limiting the Patriots to 110 yards rushing, nearly 40 yards less than their season average. Of the four scoring drives posted by the Patriots, three started in Arizona territory with the final drive coming after a missed field goal to take a late lead.
Not So Special Teams
A major factor in the New England offense scoring on Sunday was the poor play of the Arizona special teams. The coverage units gave up two returns of over 50 yards, one each for the punt and kickoff teams. Making matters worse, Zane Gonzalez continues his tailspin over the last few games as he once again missed an important field goal. In Arizona’s overtime victory against the Seahawks, Gonzalez missed his first game-winning attempt. After his miss on Sunday, Gonzalez has now missed three attempts with a chance to tie or take the lead, in the game’s final minutes. Those misses came from 41 (OT vs. Seattle), 49 (4Q vs. Miami), and 45 (4Q vs New England) yards.
— GlendaleCardinals (@CardsGlendale) November 29, 2020
Gonzalez’s tailspin has been sudden. He hit nearly 89% of his kicks in 2019 with the Cardinals, enough to earn him an extension. However, he’s connected on just 76.2% of his attempts this season, the worst since he joined the team during the midpoint of 2018. Gonzalez was nearly automatic during his time at Arizona State University but consistency issues have plagued him since entering the league with the Cleveland Browns in 2017. Making matters worse, his misses tend to fall into the range of kicks between 40-49 yards, a range that many consider being hit at a high rate.
While not quite in a tailspin, the Arizona offense struggled to find a rhythm against the Patriots. Arizona took a 10-0 lead with under two minutes remaining in the first quarter. They did not score again until there were eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. In between, the Patriots employed a strategy of keeping Kyler Murray in the pocket and getting as many limbs in the throwing lane as possible. Murray completed 23 of his 34 attempts for 170 yards passing and an interception. New England’s plan worked as Murray had just five carries and finished with 31 yards on the ground.
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For the first time this season, Murray was held without a touchdown. The offense spread the ball around with five Cardinals finished with three receptions or more. Unfortunately, the New England defense forced the Cardinals into long drives which ultimately led to mistakes for Arizona. The frustrating part of the day was that the offense showed the ability to move the football, but just like in 2019, Kliff Kingsubury‘s bunch struggled to finish drives.
The #Patriots rank 30th in the NFL in average starting field position. The offense has issues, but giving Cam short fields as they did on Sunday is critical for the Pats D/ST.
Here's how the Pats D did just that vs Kyler & the #Cardinals.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) December 1, 2020
Avoid the Tailspin
The Cardinals have struggled the last two games. It hasn’t hit a full tailspin but the threat is there. Ahead of Arizona sits the Los Angeles Rams, fresh off a surprisingly poor showing last week. It is a home game and the first time the teams have met this season. A loss puts the playoffs in peril as the Cardinals just a one-game lead for the final spot. A victory gets them back in second place in the NFC West. It will also give the team another tiebreaker over a wildcard contender.
– 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