The Arizona Cardinals come out of Week 2 with a disappointing loss to the Washington Redskins. There were positive plays on both sides of the ball, but when it mattered most in the fourth quarter the team couldn't hold on to an eight-point lead. Both the defense and offense failed in crunch time.
In the NFL, injuries are part of the game but it was clear that the team missed inside linebacker Daryl Washington (calf) and also were hampered in the running game without LaRod Stephens-Howling (hand). In his first start, Stewart Bradley looked like a guy with a lot of work to do and without a second trusted option to run the ball, it seemed as if coach Ken Whisenhunt "saved" Beanie Wells for the second half.
Here's five big plays or series that changed the game.
1. First half offensive drought / running back depth
The Cardinals got pounded in the first half by the Washington Redskins. The numbers are jaw-dropping. Washington had 17 first downs (5 AZ), 253 total yards (85 AZ), 42 offensive plays (20 AZ), 114 yards rushing (6 AZ) and four penalties for Arizona for 50 yards with none for Washington.
The defense takes some blame here but it's the offense that only tried to run the ball three times compared to 15 pass attempts. Kolb went 8-15 for 91 yards which sounds good on paper but only one of the five first half drives went over two minutes and used more than four plays.
That's not going to get it done.
One question we have, and will try and get answered, is how much the running back depth impacted the play calling in the first half. It certainly felt like Whisenhunt was "saving" Beanie Wells for the second half with LaRon Stephens-Howling sidelined with an injury and no apparent faith in Alfonso Smith or Chester Taylor.
We saw in Week 1 that Wells had 77 yards in the first half but sputtered in the second. We saw Tim Hightower in this game run 15 times for 83 yards in the first half but only carry five more times for 13 yards in the second. The difference, and a big difference in the game, was the Redskins giving the ball to their rookie Roy Helu who rushed 10 times for 74 yards, with most of that coming in the second half on key late drives. We miss you Ryan Williams!
2. Bend don't break defense - two interceptions, blocked field goal, red zone D
The Cardinals defense is going to rightly take a lot of flack for giving up 455 yards and helping Rex Grossman on his quest to win the fictional Breakout Comeback Player of the Year Award. The defense, again, gave up big plays and only recorded one sack.
While the Redskins outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo consistently beat the Cardinals tackles and created pressure without blitzing, the Arizona front four did little on their own and got beat by Grossman when they did blitz because they rarely got to him.
That said, the "Bend Don't Break" defense scheme did work in other ways. The Redskins final score was below league average (barely) and the red zone results for Washington, 2-7, is impressive. Of course, a better team is going to convert more of those opportunities but that's a problem for another day.
The three key plays from the defense all came in the first half while the offense was struggling so for all the flack they will get, they kept the team in the game with two interceptions and one blocked field goal.
The first interception came in the red zone and was a result of good pressure on Grossman and a solid play on the ball by Adrian Wilson.
The second came on a ball that Grossman over threw a bit which resulted in a tip that Richard Marshall was able to snag. The Fox broadcast called out A.J. Jefferson for holding the receivers arm but after watching several replays, his contact came just a split second before the ball arrived.
And of course, Calais Campbell once again used his long arms to block a field goal, the third of his short career.
3. Kolb to Fitz strike
The Cardinals had just giving up a seven-play, 39 drive which resulted in a Washington field goal and made it a 14-13 game early in the fourth quarter. Kolb came back on the first play (after a deadball penalty), hit Larry Fitzgerald in stride on the sideline against man coverage for a 73-yard touchdown.
Kolb took a huge hit in the back right after he released the ball and in the process earned a lot of fans inside the locker room and out for his willingness and ability to take a hit and still make a long accurate throw. This quick strike capability was missing from the Cardinals offense last year, it's good to have it back.
The touchdown was crucial as well for extending the lead and keeping momentum built in the third quarter. Arizona had finally gotten the offense rolling in the second half with Kolb putting together two long drives (one ended in a Kolb interception, the other a Wells touchdown). This touchdown gave Arizona a 21-13, two score lead with just under 11 minutes left in the game.
4. Fourth down TD, Grossman to Moss
All the momentum the Cardinals gained with the touchdown bomb to Fitz was lost in the very next defensive possession. The Cardinals allowed Grossman to drive 73 yards in 13 plays. They converted three, third down attempts. The drive was highlighted by a 20-yard pass to Gaffney.
It looked like the defense had once again held in the red zone forcing a fourth down and three at the Arizona 18 yard line. The Redskins rolled the dice and went for it with about five minutes left in the game and down two scores. A stop by the defense essentially ends the game.
Instead, Coach Mike Shanahan not only went for the first down but he went into the end zone. It was a gutsy call that payed off with Santan Moss beating Patrick Peterson to the corner of the end zone. The Cardinals got no pressure and Grossman made the throw.
5. Three and out, 57 seconds
Coming after the Washington fourth down TD pass, the Cardinals still had the game in their hands. They held on to a two points lead with just over five minutes left in the game. An extended drive gives the defense a breather and takes precious time off the clock. A score of any kind pretty much ends the game.
Instead, the Cardinals went three and out and used just 57 seconds. The first play was a Wells run that went for three yards. Instead of giving Wells the ball again on second and seven, Whisenhunt called for a pass play. Kolb missed Doucet. On third and seven Ryan Kerrigan tipped a short pass attempt that ended the "drive".
This kind of possession at this point in the game can't happen. We saw it in Week 1 against Carolina as well when the Cardinals weren't able to keep the ball long enough to help win the game.
Revenge of the Birds blog has their take on five positives and five negatives from the game. Check it out:
Five Positives From The Arizona Cardinals/Washington Redskins Week Two Game - Revenge of the Birds
With every loss, it's easy to find the negatives and focus on them throughout the week. I'm going to concentrate on five positive aspects of the Cardinals first loss of the season to the Washington Redskins to help keep things in perspective.
Five Negatives From The Arizona Cardinals/Washington Redskins Game - Revenge of the Birds
The Arizona Cardinals suffered an agonizing loss yesterday when they were defeated by the Washington Redskins, 22-21. There were a few things that the Cards did well during the game, but overall, there were too many mistakes for them to overcome the Hogs. The five biggest negatives from yesterday's game