Cardinals right tackle Kelvin Beachum summed up another mind-numbing afternoon at State Farm Stadium Sunday when asked to describe his team’s 31-21 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
“It’s a broken record, man,” he said.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “Little things over and over and over.”
Was it ever. And it started out so promising. After Seattle took a 3-0 lead on the first possession of the game, the Cardinals did something they hadn’t done all season: score a first-quarter touchdown.
On a possession that started at the 17-yard line, there was a Kyler Murray 21-yard run on third-and-5, a 14-yard pass to tight end Zach Ertz, an 11-yard run by James Conner on a first down (which was their best first-down play of the game), and then the capper, a 22-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Outscored 55-9 in the first quarter of their previous eight games, the Cardinals actually led at the end of the quarter, also for the first time this season.
But they lamented what could have been because the usual litany of self-inflicted wounds began on the next possession, which had rookie Lecitus Smith at right guard after Will Hernandez exited because of a chest injury.
After the Seahawks went three-and-out, center Billy Price launched the snap over Murray’s head on third-and-1 from the 29-yard line.
Seattle then scored to go ahead 10-7 early in the second quarter one play after cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. almost had an interception in the end zone. But everyone knows that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
On the Cardinals next possession, a third-and-8 turned into third-and-18 on successive false starts by left guard Cody Ford and Smith. That possession began at the 10-yard line because of holding by linebacker Ben Niemann on a Greg Dortch 30-yard kickoff return to the 32 that was negated.
Ertz said, “We started exactly how we wanted to start, felt like we were going to roll on offense. We finally started fast and got a lead for the defense. From there it just felt like the wheels fell off. We could never find a rhythm again. We were third-and-8 at one point with a really good third-down call – one we were confident in – then go third-and-18. It’s just been the story of the year: one step forward and two steps back.”
“We have not been in sync with that stuff all season,” Kingsbury said. “It starts with coaches, and then players have to take ownership and responsibility for that. If we can’t stay onside, snap the ball and execute routine plays, it’s going to be tough against quality teams and that’s what ended up getting us.”
There were three more false starts in the game, including one by wide receiver Ronnie Anderson, whose “force-feed” game ended with three targets, one bad drop at about the Seattle 25-yard line, and one reception for minus-4 yards.
Still, the Cardinals stopped the Seahawks on two four-play possessions and headed to the second half trailing 10-7.
The second half began ominously with two three-and-outs sandwiched around a Seattle three-and-out. However, when linebacker Zaven Collins intercepted a Geno Smith pass intended for running back Kenneth Walker Jr. and returned it for a 30-yard touchdown, the Cardinals suddenly led 14-10 with 9:18 to play in the third quarter.
It was similar to the week before when the Cardinals went ahead of the Vikings 17-14 with 9:01 left in the third quarter. In both cases, of course, the good feelings didn’t last.
When the Seahawks took over at the 25-yard line, to that point, the Seahawks had converted 3-of-8 third downs and Walker had only 33 rushing yards on nine carries. He had a 15-yard run, so his other eight attempts totaled only 18 yards. The Cardinals were executing their plan just as they wanted.
Those didn’t last long either.
The Seahawks were successful on all four of their third downs in a 75-yard drive that resulted in a 17-14 lead, aided by another near-miss interception inside the 10-yard line on a tipped pass. Walker, though, had only 16 yards on six attempts in that drive, but he did have a first down on third-and-1.
After one first down, the Cardinals moved backward, thanks to sacks on first and third down that lost 16 yards. In the game, Murray weas sacked five times for 35 yards.
Walker went to work on the next possession with 31 yards on seven runs including another third-and-1 conversion and a 1-yard touchdown. The Seahawks converted three third downs in that drive to improve their number for the game to 10-for-15.
The Cardinals offense, which had three good possessions and seven pathetic ones, answered with a good one, going 75 yards in 14 plays to cut the lead to 24-21 with 3:32 to play and all three timeouts remaining. At least, the issues with getting plays in on time were solved on this day.
However, the defense was gashed by a 51-yard catch and run by tight end Noah Fant on a pass completed behind the line of scrimmage. Then, from the Cardinals 34-yard line, Walker carried the ball on every play for 29 yards (defensive end J.J. Watt gave Seattle five yards on an encroachment penalty), with the final nail a 5-yard score).
Seahawks coach Pete Carrol said, “It’s so important to stay with the running game and keep working at the adjustments, so that you have it to finish the game. When I talk about running the football, I’m not talking about running the football in the first or second quarter, that’s not what it is. It’s so that you have it to win football games. That’s where you can really play championship football.
“That’s how to complete the opportunity. We’ve won by 10 or more (points) three times now, so we have a chance to run the clock out and the guys are doing it. This finish was my favorite one. I just felt like we were so complete all of the last three times we had the football.”
The Seahawks ran 31 plays for 230 yards on those touchdowns drives and Walker had 76 of the yards on 17 carries.
Asked if he believes the defense got worn down by Walker, Kingsbury said, “I did. Yeah, I did. I think when you go right back out, that’s tough obviously. Then offensively, we weren’t able to sustain drives. A bunch of three-and-outs, which kept him on the field and they were able to get the run going. He’s a tremendous back. We knew they would do that, but I do think those guys got worn down a bit.”
Golden wasn’t buying that theory.
“I wouldn’t say worn down,” he said. “I’ve just got to give that guy the credit. Young rookie, he’s got a bright future. He ran hard today; you’ve got to give that guy his credit. He came out there and made plays. We saw him on film and knew he was good, we knew we had to gang tackle. He made some plays, you’ve got to give him credit.”
The Seahawks controlled the ball for 34:31 in the game and had it for 14:39 on their last three touchdown drives. They had another 6:08 drive for a touchdown. The Cardinals’ longest possession of the game was 4:33 on their first touchdown drive. They had other possessions of 2:36, 1:49, 1:45, 1:38 and 0:54.
Aside from their three touchdowns, the other seven possessions totaled 17 yards on 27 plays.
On first downs, the production was particularly brutal, especially in the second half. In the first two quarters, they ran 12 plays on first down for 35 yards. In the second half, thanks to three sacks for losses of 21 yards, it was 11 plays for minus-3 yards. That’s a total of 23 first-down plays for 32 yards. It can’t get much worse than that.
Surely, the ever-changing offensive line continues to be an ongoing problem.
Just when it appeared there might be some stability, Hernandez was injured. He and Beachum had been the only constant on the line in the first eight games.
Beachum said simply that it’s “difficult” when there are so many moving parts. If Hernandez can’t play next Sunday against the Rams, the Cardinals will start their sixth different offensive line combination in 10 games with 11 different players.
Said Murray, “The continuity has got to be there and it’s tough. Those guys are working together, trying to get in a groove together, but when you’ve got (all that) rotation and guys go down it is tough.”
The tired cliché of “next man up” was noted by Beachum, but the reality is there’s a reason backups are backups. And when too many are playing, especially on the offensive line, it’s a recipe for disaster. That’s what the Cardinals could be facing.
It’s also important to point out that the Cardinals are 3-7 since the start of the 2021 season without center Rodney Hudson and 11-5 with him. And there seems to be no light at the tunnel for him to return to the field.
Still, Ertz maintains there’s hope, with the 3-5 defending Super Bowl champs, the Rams, up next after losing to Tampa Bay 16-13 Sunday and gaining 206 yards (3.7 per play) while converting only 4 of 15 third downs in the loss.
“It’s a prideful group,” Ertz said. “Guys that pride themselves on being really good football players and executing at a high level. We’re just not getting it done. In this league, when you’re not getting it done, it just piles (up). Momentum in my opinion is one of the realest things in this league, positive and negative. So you just have to find a way to get out of the funk and win a game.”
With the offensive line in a state of disrepair, just like the Rams, it’s hard to imagine that happening very often.
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