What do the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers have in common, other than being bad teams in the NFC West? They now share the distinction of being the only two teams that have lost to the Carolina Panthers in 2010. Jonathan Stewart rushed for over 70 yards in the first quarter alone and finished with 137 yards on 27 carries. Carolina starter Jimmy Clausen threw for a touchdown pass and was not intercepted, getting his first career victory as a pro.
The theme for the Cardinals during the game was mistakes. Ken Whisenhunt summed it up like this, "Seemed like every time we had a chance to do something, we made mistakes. I think our guys were fighting; they just made too many bad plays to overcome."
There were poorly thrown balls by John Skelton, there were more dropped passes, two botched onside kick attempts and no running game. Skelton looked very much the rookie he is and, except for his one interception, had a better line than last week against Denver. He finished 17-33 for 196 yards. Again he did not get the ball in the end zone and could not get the offense moving consistently. The team was 4-15 on third down.
Perhaps the most frustrating things were the inability to run or stop the run. Carolina's passing attack on the season is dreadful, so offensively they are pretty easy to read: they are going to try and run the ball with Stewart a lot. As for Carolina's defense, who have given up over 130 yards a game on the season, they held Arizona to 43 yards.
It just looked like the Cardinals could not compete physically. Denver was not physical, and the result was 43 points for Arizona. Carolina was physical and the result was 12.
Kerry Rhodes said this, "Losses are always tough, but we're putting ourselves in position for them. It's no big secret. We're just not playing consistent enough to win games in this league."
The Cardinal defense played much better in the second half, but as Whisenhunt noted, you "can't just wake up in the second half" and expect miracles. Something of note was the defensive front. Arizona has played a 3-4 scheme almost the entire past two seasons. In the game against the Panthers, they played much of the second half (where there was much more success) with a four-man defensive line, moving Darnell Dockett back to the inside.
There are many who have felt that the Cardinals' defensive personnel is better suited to a 4-3 scheme, and for now there is some evidence that it may be true. I think the scheme has not been the issue at all this year, but execution. However, I do think that Dockett is better suited as an inside lineman.
Tim Hightower fumbled again, but was bailed out. Steve Breaston recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. It was the tenth time they have scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery. However, three of these have been off of their own fumbles. You might say that it has been their most effective offensive play this season.
The onside kicks? One was a necessary attempt at the end of the game. The other was on the kickoff to start the second half, much like what New Orleans tried in the Super Bowl. "I felt like it was there, and it was there," Whisenhunt said of the play. "The ball sat on the ground forever. If it had gone a yard and half or two yards more and we get the ball, maybe that changes it. We didn't execute." He was apparently desperate to create some energy for the offense and force some momentum.
Feely, who according to the TV broadcast team has had six successful such kicks, couldn't get enough on either kick to get the required ten yards. It might have been the only time all season that fans missed Neil Rackers, who is one of the best at executing onside kicks.
Injuries were a factor. LaRod Stephens-Howling left the game with a hamstring injury and Early Doucet hurt his hip.
As for the rest of the season? It is hard to believe that the Cardinals will manage to win another game. They have Dallas at home on Christmas and San Francisco, who are still in contention for a division championship.
A 4-12 season is too much like almost every year from 1988 to 2006. The obvious plus side to this is draft status. Whisenhunt has already said that they are playing to win, and players hate losing. They are not trying to lose; they just are good at it. The only thing to hope for is to see development by Skelton and the other young players like Dan Williams, Daryl Washington and others.