Just when everyone thought the Cardinals offense couldn’t get any uglier, it did. And it came on a day when it actually looked competent at the start of the game.
But the same issues that have dogged them this season reared their ugly heads on the first possession that died in the red zone and then mostly for the remainder of the game.
At least when it mattered most.
Now, I realize the mindset of all fans (not only in Arizona) is that whenever an offense (or a defense) struggles, the emotional reaction is to point the finger at the coaches (either coordinator) or the quarterback.
It’s the easy path to take. But it doesn’t make it completely right.
That doesn’t mean coaches shouldn’t be immune to criticism. However, in a loss like this one, where is the vitriol for the offensive line, which led the way for quarterback Kyler Murray to be sacked six times for 51 yards lost?
Or a running game without James Conner that saw Eno Benjamin and Keaontay Ingram combine for 44 yards on 18 attempts (2.4 average). Heck, even Conner is turning out to be the same injured back that resulted in the Steelers not re-signing him after the 2020 season.
This season, he has already departed early in two games and then missed Sunday’s game against Seattle. When he’s played, the average per rush is 3.7 with a long of 17.
While we all root for Benjamin, who is a nice back, he doesn’t have the explosive ability that defenses have to account for. His long run on 15 attempts against Seattle was six yards. Seahawks rookie Kenneth Walker III had runs of 34, 21 and 17 yards on a 21-for-97 day (4.6 average) that totaled 25 yards on his other 18 carries.
The Cardinals’ consistent woes are traced to third-down and red-zone failures, many the result of negative plays.
Sunday, they actually converted four of their first five third-down opportunities. However, they didn’t convert their last 11 of the game. This a team that ranked 25th in the league entering the game with a 36.1 percentage on third down. After the woeful 4-for-16 effort Sunday, they are now 30-for-88, which is 34.1 percent.
After those first five third downs, Murray was sacked twice on third down, one in Seattle territory. There were three sacks on earlier downs that resulted in yards to go of 22, 19 and 13.
In the second half, rookie tight end Trey McBride had a false start that turned third-and-1 into third-and-6. After a 4-yard gain, Murray was sacked on a jailbreak fourth-and-2 for a 12-yard loss.
There would have been one successful third down in the second half, but Murray fumbled after gaining nine yards when a slide would have been the smart decision.
On a second-quarter second-and-7 that looked like it might be a nice gain on a draw to Benjamin, center Sean Harlow was pushed back into Benjamin’s path and Benjamin tripped on Harlow’s foot for a 3-yard loss. The next play was a sack.
Harlow, of course, was playing because Rodney Hudson missed his second consecutive game. Left guard Justin Pugh, who has been hampered in recent weeks by an elbow injury, left in the first quarter with a knee injury and didn’t return. His replacement was Max Garcia, who practiced on a limited basis this week because of a toe injury.
The line was beaten down and battered at the of last season, and it hasn’t changed much in 2022.
The second-quarter third-and-22 came after right tackle Kelvin Beachum missed a block, leading to a sack and Murray fumble. Beachum was so deep in the backfield that he at least was able to recover the ball.
The red zone has been another house of horrors. The Cardinals entered the game having scored nine touchdowns in 16 trips, but two came late in the Week 1 blowout loss to the Chiefs. They were 0-for-2 Sunday and in the 20-12 loss to the Rams when they managed only four field goals.
Then there is the kicking situation. With Matt Prater out with a hip injury, replacement Matt Ammendola missed a 43-yard field goal that would have tied the game last week against the Eagles and likely sent the game to overtime.
Inexplicably, Ammendola was kept around this week and missed an extra point when a Cardinals special-teams touchdown made the score 12-9 with 54 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Three times in the game from relatively deep in Seahawks territory, coach Kliff Kingsbury went for a first down on fourth-down plays from the 20-, 27- and 23-yard lines.
He admitted after the game when asked if he considered attempting field goals, “With our kicking situation, that played into it some. We’re normally aggressive on fourth down, but if Prater was here, you know, probably at least a couple of those we would’ve kicked at that point.”
That probably would have been the case on the first one, a fourth-and 4 from the Seattle 20-yard line in a 3-3 game. Murray had wide receiver Rondale Moore open, but his throw was low and Moore wasn’t able to grab it before it hit the ground.
Kingsbury said, “I think that fourth down hurt. Felt like we needed to convert that, and after that it just felt like we lost some confidence and didn’t play very good from that point on. Got to be able to convert those in that situation, and unfortunately didn’t work out. We didn’t recover well.”
Of course, had Prater been healthy, a 38-yard field-goal attempt to start the second quarter would have likely been a no-brainer.
As for Prater being back for the next game, he said, “I’m hopeful. It’ll be day-to-day, but we’ll see how this plays out in a short week.”
Meanwhile, there is something weird happening in the NFL. Kingsbury said this week, “It hasn’t been the prettiest brand of football yet overall. Business will pick up in November and I think that’s when the separation will happen.”
Sunday, the 49ers lost to Atlanta and scored 14 points, the Packers lost at home to the Jets while scoring 10, the Buccaneers scored 18 in a loss to Pittsburgh and the Ravens lost to the Giants with a 20-point output. The Rams trailed at halftime, but managed to outscore the Panthers 17-0 in the second half.
The common denominator was similar to the Cardinals, who had more yards (315/4.4 per play) than Seattle (296/4.5).
The 49ers totaled 346 yards. The Packers gained 278 yards (4.0 per play), were 4-for-16 on third down and 0-for-1 in the red zone. Baltimore totaled 406 yards and quarterback Lamar Jackson ran for 77, but his passer rating was 77.1 and the Ravens were 1-for-3 in the red zone.
Tampa Bay and quarterback Tom Brady, who left the team Friday and flew on his own to meet the team in Pittsburgh the following day after attending Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s wedding party in New York City Friday night, totale3d 304 yards (4.5 per play), was 4-for-14 on third down and 1-for-4 in the red zone. Brady’s passer rating was a pedestrian 87.8.
I realize Cardinals fans don’t care much about what’s taking place elsewhere, but somehow it feels relevant.
There are currently 10 NFL teams 3-3, seven 2-4, one 3-2-1 and one team on bye this week, Tennessee, at 3-2. Denver and the Chargers are 2-3 heading toward their Monday night game.
Four of those 3-3 or 2-4 teams are in the NFC West. After all, in a division often hailed as one of the league’s best, it has been anything but that this season. The Cardinals are alone in the cellar at 2-4, but they are only one game behind the 49ers, Rams and Seahawks, all at 3-3.
There’s always next week in the NFL, but the Cardinals don’t have much time to lick their wounds with New Orleans in State Farm Stadium Thursday.
Wouldn’t it be fitting if the return of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is diminished by the foot/ankle injury Marquise Brown suffered near the end of Sunday’s game?
Brown did say after the game, “I’m alright. I’ll find out tomorrow. The X-rays are good, so that’s the positive. I’ll go forward tomorrow and see what the next steps are that we’ll take.”
Still, while we all welcome back Hopkins, let’s remember one thing so few have vocalized as we tiptoe around Hopkins’ protestations about how the substance for which he tested positive ended up in his body: His absence was self-inflicted and put the offense and the team at a distinct disadvantage for six games and who knows how much longer.
While Kingsbury said Sunday, “Just to have his ability out there will be big for us,” he also said, “But a short week without practicing for however many weeks he’s not practiced, it’s a tall task.”
Let’s keep that in mind as so many fire their slings and arrows only at Kingsbury, who hasn’t had anywhere close to a full deck to work with on offense this season.
Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org