The Cardinals are second in the NFL in rushing defense heading into Week 12, allowing just 81.4 yards a game (The Jets are first, at 73.2.) But as the Cardinals head down the stretch with their final six games, that ranking will be tested and how the Cards hold up may go a long way in determining how real their playoff hopes will be.
Of the Cards’ final six opponents, all but one rank in the top half of the NFL rushing the ball and three are in the top six — including the top two rushing teams in the league, Philadelphia (150.6 yards a game) and Seattle (147.9). The others are San Francisco (sixth, 141.0), Indianapolis (15th, 112.9), Tennessee (16th, 112.3) and St. Louis (22nd, 99.4).
(How the Cardinals run the ball themselves will make a difference too — Arizona is 25th in the NFL at 85.6 yards a game — but that’s a topic for another post.)
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles came into the season saying he wanted the Cardinals to stop the run first and his players have often echoed it. That wasn’t the case last season and it often bit the Cards. This year, only three times have the Cards given up more than 56 yards to the other team’s leading rusher. Of course, in all three instances, the Cardinals will play those teams again, with the Rams (Daryl Richardson, 63 yards), 49ers (Frank Gore, 101 yards) and Seahawks (Marshawn Lynch, 94 yards) still out there. Richardson is no longer the Rams go-to guy but Zac Stacy, although Stacy has looked good. No reason to dwell on what Gore and Lynch bring; they are among the best in the NFL and the Cards have seen that up close and personal too many times.
Next week against NFL leading rusher Shady McCoy and Chip Kelly’s new-look offense will be interesting as well.
There’s a reason it’s a football cliché that teams must first stop the run. The Cardinals need to live it as gospel.
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The Cardinals were hoping to at least get a split in this five-game stretch against the elite of the NFC West. That didn’t happen, clearly. So the Cards move on, with an extra couple of days to prep for a flailing Atlanta team that will come into Arizona a week from Sunday. The next three games are home against the Falcons and Texans – neither of which have played very well and have been punished with injuries – and then a road trip to Jacksonville. The season could turn quickly. But the Cards better figure out what ails them, especially offensively.
It’s late. This won’t be long. But in light of a rough game against the Seahawks Thursday night:
– Bruce Arians said he didn’t consider a quarterback change. What would go into the process, he was asked. It’s not just interceptions themselves.
“It’s the reasons for the interceptions,” Arians said. “Is it his decision-making? If it’s his decision-making, then we will make the change. The first (interception) to me was obvious pass interference (on Larry Fitzgerald), and the safety makes a great play. The second one was just a poor decision. Those are the ones we have to look at.”
– No surprise defensive end Calais Campbell played. He said there was a doubt coming into the day, but once he ran around he felt ready. He had a team-high eight tackles. Campbell also warmed up in an old-school Bryan Cox neck-brace/extension (google the image) but apparently discarded it before coming out for kickoff.
– I haven’t seen Andrew Luck play yet, but my vote right now for the best QB out of the current young bunch is Russell Wilson. He is so impressive on so many levels.
– The slow start was on both the offense and defense Thursday. Veteran safety Yeremiah Bell lamented too many busted coverages early — something that shouldn’t be happening — and Daryl Washington complained about the shoddy tackling. The offense needs to be much, much better but that’s 66 points allowed in the two games this week.
– So in the last two Thursday games the Cards have played, they have allowed a total of 16 sacks. That’s a tough way to live on national TV.
– Not the way I’m sure Machine wanted his send-off. Regardless, good luck in retirement.
– Larry Fitzgerald could have drilled defensive back Walter Thurmond on a blindside block early in the game. He did not, and Thurmond, while blocked, could’ve been much worse for wear. Later in the game, Fitzgerald did pop Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman harder, although replays showed Fitz could’ve creamed him much harder. And you wonder why Fitz has such a good reputation among his peers.
“I tried not to hit him too hard,” Fitzgerald said. “They fine you on those crackbacks and penalize you too. I didn’t want to put my team in a position to lose 15 yards in the red zone like that. I just tried to make a smart play.”
– GM Steve Keim said Bradley Sowell was going to have his ups and downs at left tackle. Thursday was definitely a down. He had a rough game getting pushed back, down and away by what is a very good Seattle defensive line. There were plenty of plays where other linemen had issues, but Sowell – with the Seahawks able to pin their ears back and come without fear of the run – was overmatched one-on-one much of the time.
– Not a whole lot else to say on this one. The Seahawks a good team. Better than the 49ers right now. After these two games, the Cards know where they stand. They wish it was in a better spot.
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When Steve Keim was named general manager of the Cardinals, he pointed to a pair of moments that went through his head that were driving forces in motivating him in his new job. One was the feeling he had standing on the turf at University of Phoenix Stadium after the Cards won the 2008 NFC Championship game, being showered by we’re-going-to-the-Super-Bowl confetti. The other was the feeling he had standing under the gloomy Seattle sky late last season as the Cardinals were getting run over by the Seahawks, 58-0.
No team in the NFL should ever endure a game like that. When it does, it signals that there is much more wrong than just a talent difference. It also tends to leave a bad taste, although for the most part, the Cardinals shrugged it off this week. Center Lyle Sendlein didn’t have much reaction, although he pointed out he was injured by that point in the season and absent. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald was blunt: “Different team, different year. That’s ancient history.”
Indeed, many on the roster not only didn’t play in that game but weren’t even members of the Cardinals. The coaching staff has turned over almost completely. With the Cardinals playing the Seahawks tomorrow night for the first time since then, it doesn’t mean it isn’t remembered this week at all by the Cards still left. But it doesn’t seem to be some major rallying cry either.
“Not a lot of guys were here to experience it,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We brought it up one time in a team breakdown (post-practice) this week and we left it at that. Guys know the magnitude of this game.”
– Turnovers have been brutal for the Cards – eight of them in the three losses – and Bruce Arians certainly hasn’t been happy with it. How to fix it? “Quit doing it,” Arians said. “Hold on to the damn ball and quit throwing it to the other team. It’s really simple. It plagues some teams and right now it’s plaguing us and we have to fix it.”
Arians knows he’s stating the obvious, but especially with the fumbles, he really does believe it’s that simple. Cutting down Carson Palmer’s interceptions is more complicated, especially since Arians said because Fitzgerald has been limited in practice so much because of his hamstring problems “the timing that we had earlier in the season is gone.”
– The drives from the 49ers’ games were still bothering both Cardinals’ coordinators this week – for offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, it was the failed drive on which Fitzgerald fumbled. For defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, it was the San Francisco possession right after that fumble that lead to the game-sealing touchdown.
“Man, I just feel personally, had we just scored on that second (third-quarter) drive, it’s a whole different ballgame,” Goodwin said. “We had our mojo. Anytime you turn the ball over you lose momentum and you put your defense in a bad situation. If we could just stop turning it over. You can see the development of our offense coming along. We just have to stop killing ourselves.”
Bowles said his unit’s problem was that suddenly, players started trying to do way too much and overcompensated in the idea of making a big play and ending the drive. So players were out of position and the Niners ran it right down the field.
“Guys trying to make a play and going over the top or going underneath to do something they didn’t need to do,” Bowles said. “Opening things up and we couldn’t get off the field.”
– Fines from last week’s games don’t usually get confirmed until Fridays, but a couple of players involved apparently spoke up. Mike Jurecki reported that nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu was fined $10,000 for kicking 49ers guard Alex Boone, while Matt Maiocco reported Boone was dinged $7,875 after swiping at Ta’amu before the kick.
– Hard to believe the last time the Seahawks visited, Russell Wilson was quarterbacking his first NFL game. He’s built quite a résumé in a very short period of time.
– Rookie Andre Ellington is averaging 7.04 yards per carry, best among NFL running backs with at least 25 carries this season.
– I think it’d be an upset if Calais Campbell doesn’t play. I think he’s fine and his scare from last weekend won’t impact his play. Which is a good thing. Campbell always plays well against the Seahawks and the Cards need him.
– The Cardinals haven’t won a division game since beating the Seahawks here last season in the opener. However this game turns out will influence greatly how this season plays out for the Cards.
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