by Page Gerrick Denny // @PDenny29
The Arizona Cardinals are through the first five weeks of the NFL season, which seems as good a time as any to check in and see how the team is doing.
On paper, this team looked like a solid contender going into the 2017 season, with hopes heavily resting on star running back David Johnson, and a strong secondary. It was understood that success would depend heavily on a few key elements:
- Offensive line must protect quarterback Carson Palmer
David Johnson must be fed frequently
- Defense must increase interior pressure on opposing QBs and stop the run
- Special Teams errors must be minimized on snaps and kick coverage, and kicking accuracy/output must be increased
So, how are the Cardinals doing so far? The season has been like buying a classic car that has great bones but needs some work. You get the engine purring with a rebuild, but then you realize that the struts are shot and the transmission is toast. In other words, they’re not doing well.
I’m going to be brutally honest here, okay? The offensive line is absolutely terrible. They have more issues than a daily newspaper in New York City, in part due to the injuries of tackle D.J. Humphries and guard Alex Boone, who are expected to return for week 6. The line is essentially made up of the five largest guys they could find.
Palmer has been sacked a stunning 19 times and has withstood 50 hits in just five games, and is completing less than 60% of his throws. Granted, blocking a pass rush is probably one of the most difficult things to do in sports, even for talented offensive lines, but I just don’t think there’s enough talent in the line to hope for much improvement.
The line is collapsing so quickly that Palmer can’t even go through his progressions, which minimizes the vertical passing game, a key component of the Cardinal’s past success. While Larry Fitzgerald is still setting records (now the third player to ever go 200 straight games with a reception), the fact that Arizona is second in passing yards is due almost entirely to volume rather than efficiency.
Much of the problem in the run game can be attributed to the devastating Week 1 injury of running back David Johnson. With this loss, the offense has become one-dimensional, and almost entirely unable to string two good runs together, as shown in Philadelphia when they had a total of 14 carries for 31 yards.
That doesn’t sound as bad as it really is until you realize that 14 of those yards came on a sweep by J.J. Nelson in the first half. The Cardinals are dead last in the NFL for total rushing yards and yards per carry.
The special teams play has been mostly terrible.
On 18 punt returns, the unit has allowed 265 yards for an average of 14.72 yards per return and 53 punt return yards allowed per game, setting up solid field position for the opposing team. The Cardinals own punt returning has been similarly disappointing, with 9 punts returned for an average of 3.2 yards, while kick returns fare only slightly better.
old veteran kicker Phil Dawson is doing alright, going 6 for 6 on extra points and 3 for 3 on field goals under 29 yards, but on FGs over 29 yards he’s made only 6 of the 9 attempted.
With a diminishing offense and bad special teams, the Cardinals defense was supposed to be one of the few bright spots this year. They’re probably still the best unit by a solid margin, but they’re struggling in some unexpected ways, especially now that Markus Golden is out for the season with a torn ACL.
While the unit is playing fine against guys like Jacoby Brissett and Brian Hoyer, they’re struggling against above-average passers like Matt Stafford, Carson Wentz, and Dak Prescott, who have combined for over 700 passing yards and 10 touchdowns against them.
They are ranked 17th overall in total defense. The pass defense is ranked 23rd with 1,156 yards allowed, 10 TDs, 4 interceptions and 10 sacks for 73 yards lost, while the run defense is 13th with 474 yards allowed, three TDs and 2 fumbles. The unit is struggling to force turnovers in bunches, and fumbled footballs are bouncing away from them.
The unit is really feeling the free-agency loss of defensive end Calais Campbell, which defensive coordinator James Bettcher is failing to make up for in his lineman rotation by committee of Frostee Rucker, Robert Nkemdiche, Corey Peters and Rodney Gunter.
There’s no better way to phrase the state of the Arizona Cardinals as a whole than to say they’re struggling on all fronts, and I don’t think things are going to get much better. Head coach Bruce Arians’ famous philosophy of “no risk it, no biscuit” is not panning out as well as everyone had hoped, and they’ve been off in all three phases to varying degrees, all year. Their confidence and their quarterback are continually taking hits, which makes one wonder how many times both can be hit without collapsing entirely. It also makes one wonder how long owner Michael Bidwill is going to continue placing confidence in his general manager, coaches, and coordinators. Time will tell, I suppose.
Today, the team acquired running back Adrian Peterson, so you can see what I think about this move and how it changes the fate of the Cardinals by heading over to my other article.
Talk Arizona Cardinals football with Page on Twitter // @PDenny29