Last season, it was a breeze.
The very first game of 2015, the Cardinals marched 80 yards for a touchdown on their initial possession of the season, against the Saints. The next week, they didn’t even bother with a drive — David Johnson simply took the opening kickoff and raced 108 yards for a TD. In the third game, the offense didn’t score right away, but that was OK — Justin Bethel picked off a Colin Kaepernick pass on the 49ers’ first possession and ran it in for a touchdown. The Cards scored 86 points in the first quarter in 2015, 25 more than their opponent.
This year, after eight games, they have scored only seven points.
It’s a crazy stat, one that speaks to the Cards’ issues perhaps more than anything else. Last year, they played from ahead. Those seven points, by the way, came on a Johnson 58-yard touchdown run — meaning that in the first quarter, the Cardinals have yet to put together a drive that encompasses entering the red zone and then scoring. If you would’ve told me that this would be a thing halfway through the season, I’d never have believed it.
Worse, the Cards have given up 41 first-quarter points, meaning they are the ones playing from behind. The defense could use more first-quarter stops itself.
A game against the 49ers might help, although it’s fair to remember (albeit with Drew Stanton at QB) that the Cardinals would have been scoreless for the entire first half against the same struggling defense in San Francisco if it hadn’t been for a timely Chandler Jones tip/Calais Campbell interception right before halftime.
Tags: David Johnson, offense
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The Cardinals have the No. 1 offense in the NFL.
Yes, the official measure is by yards, and yards don’t win games. But it’s usually a pretty good measure of effectiveness, and with their 421.1 yards-per-game average, the Cards are the tops in the league (the Patriots are second at 418.7.) If you want to measure by points, the Cards are second in the NFL, with their 302 just one behind New England. The point is, the Cards move the ball well, and the sample size is big enough to understand this is reality in 2015.
(A quick side note: It will be an interesting matchup Sunday against the Bengals. Yes, Cincy laid an egg against the Texans, but it only allowed 10 points, and the Bengals have given up only 10 points in each of their last three games.)
The Cardinals have gained at least 414 yards in each of the last four games. The have at least 400 yards in seven of nine games — after gaining at least 400 yards in a game just six times total from 2010 through 2014. They’ve rushed for at least 100 yards in all but one game. With the league’s third-ranked defense (316.1 yards a game), the Cardinals outgain their opponents by more than 100 yards a game.
This is about balance. This is about an abundance of weapons (The Seahawks shut out John Brown and Michael Floyd got hurt and suddenly Jaron Brown stepped up.) It’s about good health, of course. It’s also about a quarterback who has been pretty magnificent thus far.
Of the seven defenses left on the schedule, four are top 11: Bengals (11th), Vikings (9th), Rams (6th) and Seahawks (2nd.) Of course, the Cardinals just lit up Seattle’s defense for 39 points and 451 yards. Assuming no major injuries, the Cards have shown they can move the ball on anyone.
Tags: Bengals, offense, Patriots
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On the season, Jaron Brown has one reception for six yards, and given the weapons ahead of him — Fitzgerald, Floyd, Ellington, Smokey Brown, even John Carlson — that’s not a surprise. But Jaron is, through no fault of his own, the tangible proof for coach Bruce Arians that the Cardinals’ offense isn’t playing well enough.
Talking about his frustration and inability for the Cards to score more touchdowns — it’s nice Chandler Catanzaro is 14-for-14 on field goals, but still — Arians said the first thing he thinks of is two targets of Jaron Brown.
“That’s 100 yards and two touchdowns in just two plays we’re leaving on the field,” Arians said. “We’ve got to start hitting those plays, and it’s not just him.”
It wasn’t quite 100 yards Brown would have had, but it was certainly two touchdowns. In the fourth quarter against the 49ers, Brown was wide open behind the defender on a 45-yard bomb, and quarterback Drew Stanton simply led Brown too far (as you can see below). Against Washington last weekend, Carson Palmer again had Brown open deep on what would have been a 35-yard score in the fourth quarter. The pass was pretty much on target — although a little longer throw might have done the trick — as defensive back E.J. Biggers barely knocked it away. In both cases, touchdowns would have crushed the opponent. In both cases, the games remained close. Certainly, Brown wouldn’t mind an extra 2-80-2 on the stat line.
“We haven’t even begun to scratch how good we can be,” Arians said. “Again, Carson being off a month, the timing … there are a lot of excuses you can make. None are accepted.”
Tags: 49ers, Bruce Arians, Jaron Brown, offense, Redskins
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When the Super Bowl is played Sunday, it will feature the best offense in the NFL — Denver scored 606 points this season, an incredible 37.9 per game — against the best defense in the NFL — Seattle not only allowed the fewest yards, but also the fewest points this season. A tangible example of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. It’s hard not to see it as the answer about that “defense wins championships” cliché that floats out there.
It also got me thinking about the Cardinals, and their better recent teams.
The 2008 Cardinals made the Super Bowl after scoring 427 regular-season points (26.7 points a game) and followed up in the playoffs with 30, 33 and 32 points before scoring 23 in the Super Bowl. Of course, that team allowed 426 points, which is why they eeked out a 9-7 record. It was a potent offense. This season, the Cardinals put together 10 wins in large part because of the defense. The Cards were tops in the league in run defense, sixth overall and seventh in scoring defense. It would be interesting to consider that 2008 offense — Kurt Warner, Fitz in his prime, Anquan Boldin, 1,000-yard Steve Breaston and the Edge/Hightower RB tag-team going against the 2013 Cardinals defense.
Which is the better path to take? It’s hard not to think that defense wins titles. It’d be good to see Peyton Manning win another Super Bowl, but I’m not totally sure why the Seahawks aren’t favored in this game, at least a little. Maybe it’s because of last year’s Super Bowl, when a couple of defensive-dominant teams ended up playing in a scorefest. That was in the climate-controlled Superdome, though, and Manning won’t have that advantage Sunday.
As far as the score-first Cardinals versus the defense-first Cards? There’s a reason why Kurt Warner has said this year’s Cardinals team was better than his 2008 version. Part of that was that this year’s team could score a little bit too — with 379 points (23.7 a game) it wasn’t like the Cardinals couldn’t find their way into the end zone. I’d argue that Andre Ellington gave the offense an explosive element that 2008 offense didn’t really have either. Nevertheless, it’s a great debate to have.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Anquan Boldin, Broncos, defense, Edgerrin James, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, offense, Seahawks, Steve Breaston, Super Bowl, Tim Hightower
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Bruce Arians called it a beginning, and his players all talked about the optimism they have going forward into 2014 after a 10-6 record in 2013. The tangible proof in the improvement, however, goes beyond the five-victory rise from 2012. Many of the other numbers on both offense and defense also underscore the Cards’ change this season.
Offensively, there was nowhere to go but up after the disaster of 2012. That started with the play of quarterback Carson Palmer, especially after the unit started to grasp Arians’ scheme. Palmer threw too many interceptions — with 22, the Cardinals actually threw one more than the QB group did in 2012 — but all the other numbers were much better, including the overall rank (the Cards were 12th in the NFL, after being dead last in ’12) and points scored (the Cardinals increased their per game average by more than eight points a game.)
|Year||1st downs||Points||Yds||Yds rushing||Yds Passing||Sacks allowed||Comp pct||TD||INT||NFL rank|
We all know the Cardinals’ defense was pretty good in 2012, finishing 12th in the league. Then Todd Bowles came in as defensive coordinator, there was much hand wringing, and then the Cards ended up a fantastic unit. They ended up sixth in the NFL, best against the run (after finishing 28th last year) and were the main reason the Cardinals became a factor in the NFC West and the NFC overall. Now we see how many interviews Bowles gets to be a head coach and whether the Cardinals can keep their DC for at least another season.
|Year||Points allowed||Rush yds per game||Rush D NFL rank||Yds per game||TDs allowed||Sacks||INT||INT TDs||NFL rank|
Tags: Carson Palmer, defense, offense, Todd Bowles
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It only makes sense, as the offense rounds to form, that the points are starting to come for the Cardinals. At this point, the Cards have 254 points scored this season after 11 games. All of last season, the Cardinals scored 250. (And a h/t to Kent Somers for pointing it out.) But the points are coming in many ways that are new. The mere fact that the Cardinals have scored at least 20 points in seven straight games is nice, since last year, the Cardinals reached 20 points exactly once in their final 12 games of the season.
As was mentioned Sunday, the 40 points against the Colts was the most the Cards had scored since beating Denver, 43-13 — I like to refer to it as Jay Feely’s Fantastic Show — in December of 2010. It was also the fourth straight game the Cardinals scored at least 25 points. The last time that happened? Back in Weeks 3 through 6 of 1988, the Cards’ inaugural season in Arizona, when Neil Lomax and company scored at least 30 in beating the Bucs, Redskins, Rams and Steelers.
It isn’t as if the Cards are scorching the scoreboard. They are on pace for a respectable 369 points, although that falls short of the 400-plus points the Cardinals scored in 2007 and 2008. They are still only 18th in the league in points. But after last year, when they were next-to-last in points (to the Chiefs), the trend is encouraging. And pointed up.
Tags: Jay Feely, Neil Lomax, offense
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The Cardinals have a whole new coaching staff, a new quarterback, and a new offensive system. At this point, the offense has not been as crisp or productive as the Cards have hoped. But it does seem like it is better than last season at this point.
Generally, the numbers bear it out.
|Year||1st downs||3rd-down Pct||Yds||Yds rushing||Yds Passing||Sacks allowed||Att||Comp||TD||INT|
As you can see, there isn’t a giant discrepancy. There is a pretty healthy difference in the running game — more than 100 yards — and the arrow would seem to point up for the Cardinals heading forward with the way Andre Ellington and now Stepfan Taylor have looked. The third-down conversions aren’t much better, and the fewer third-down chances says to me more about the Cards getting some yards on first- and second-down rather than shorter drives. As long as Carson Palmer stays healthy too, I think the offense creates a bigger gap between now and 2012 too, both with the schedule coming and the recollection that the Cards’ offense got worse — much worse — in the second half of the season last year. Sacks are way down too, believe it or not. Palmer better figure out the interception problem, however. That’s the glaring error of 2013.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Carson Palmer, offense, Stepfan Taylor
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There’s been a lot of talk about the Cardinals adjusting their playcalling to fit with what seems to be a transitioning philosophy on offense — a little more deliberate, sticking with the run, etc. But offensive coordinator Mike Miller said nothing really has changed in what he has been dialing up on game days.
“It feels pretty much the same,” Miller said. “I haven’t really done anything differently. We’ve made adjustments in-game that come up specific to that opponent. But as far as the way we call it, I mean, we ran no-huddle in the Seattle game, mixed it up in the New England game. It’s been ‘up’ we just haven’t called it.”
Through three games, the Cardinals are fairly balanced, although not 50-50. The Cardinals have 87 pass attempts and been sacked five times, and nine of the 12 quarterback runs have been scrambles from a passing play, for 101 pass plays. With the three intentional quarterback runs, they have had 78 rushing plays. Interestingly, even though the offense needs to generate more yards and have been outgained, the Cardinals have almost even time of possession with opponents (29:46 to 30:14) and the Cardinals are one of only six teams in the NFL to score at least 20 points in each of their three games.
(They are the only team in the NFL to allow less than 20 points in each game too.)
— There were a couple of statistical changes from the Philadelphia game, affecting the sack totals of a couple of linebackers. Sam Acho had previously been credited with a tackle after a Michael Vick one-yard scramble in the second quarter, but after further review it was deemed Vick only got back to the line of scrimmage — which by definition gives Acho a sack. In the third quarter, Daryl Washington had been credited with a 12-yard sack of Vick on a first down play, but after further review it was decided Vick was a runner when Washington got to him, so instead of a sack it became a 12-yard tackle-for-loss. It means Washington now only has two sacks this season and Acho now has two himself.
Tags: Daryl Washington, Mike Miller, offense, sacks, Sam Acho
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