The Eagles beat down on the Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals are not in last place in the NFC West. The Cardinals are not the worst team in the NFL. Those are two positive takeaways for Arizona after their loss on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. A 34-7 loss on the road to the Eagles does not bring much in terms of bright spots. To put it bluntly, this was a bad loss, one that may define this team. For the squeamish, this will not be fun, but the dissection needs to be done. Here are the three biggest takeaways from Sunday’s loss for the Cardinals.
Jameis Winston channels his inner Ric Flair
One Dimension Not Enough
For much of the game on Sunday, the Cardinals struggled to do anything well on offense against the Eagles. Philadelphia pushed around the Cardinals along the offensive line. While Carson Palmer was sacked just twice, the Eagles got constant pressure and often forced throws earlier than what the play called for. That pressure leads to incompletions and being behind schedule on second and third downs. The Cardinals are not good enough up front to consistently gain 10-15 yards on third down. Palmer threw for 291 yards on Sunday, completing 63.6 percent of his passes, including a touchdown. Even with a talented group of receivers, having less than three full seconds to survey the defense and make the decision to throw is not an optimal format for Palmer to succeed. The veteran quarterback is on pace to throw for nearly 5,000 yards but is also on pace for less than 20 touchdowns in 2017.
On Sunday, the Eagles jumped on the Cardinals quickly, scoring twice in the first quarter. The Cardinals attempted to run the ball early, but abandoned the venture quickly, ending the game with just 14 attempts. That said, Chris Johnson led the way with nine carries for 21 yards. Fellow running back Kerwynn Williams rushed for negative two yards on three carries. The Eagles were able to get penetration at the point of attack on run plays and seemed to swarm around the ball. The lack of run game led to shorter possessions for the offense which meant more time for the Arizona defense to go against the talented Eagles offense. To control the ball there needs to be a second dimension on offense. In the absence of David Johnson, the Cardinals lack that ability to provide even the threat of a run game.
Bruce Arians Needs to Change
The loss of David Johnson has been something the Cardinals have not been able to adjust for. Granted, losing an All-Pro running back is difficult for any team to adjust for, but something needs to be done. The person in charge of the team needs to be the one to make that change. Bruce Arians has done wonders to get fans to believe in the Cardinals. He took a struggling Carson Palmer from Oakland and brought him back into respectability. He also breathed new life into Larry Fitzgerald’s career by focusing the passing game around the talented receiver. Now it is time for Arians to change his philosophy mid-season and adjust his offensive approach. The Cardinals offense is predicated on down the field passing. Against the Eagles, pressure forced quick throws and missed throws. The lack of a run game allowed Philadelphia to focus on the passing game and resulted in double teams for Fitzgerald.
The game plan on offense was not getting it done but changes were not made. Additional blockers were not used in the second half and the screen and underneath game was under utilized. The Cardinals looked lost and never found their footing against an athletic Eagles defense. The seemingly strict adherence to the game plan in the face of a mounting deficit only exacerbated the problems and dug Arizona into a deeper hole. Something needs to change on offense or this will not be the last poor performance.
Cardinals Defense is Looking Suspect
The Cardinals’ victory against the 49ers was not a result of a dominating performance by the defense. Penalties, drops and inept quarterback play allowed the Cardinals to win the game in overtime. The game did feature consistency in receivers for San Francisco finding open spaces. Where the 49ers failed to capitalize, the Eagles did not waste their opportunities. On the day, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz finished with 304 yards, completing 21 of 30 attempts, and four touchdowns. The Eagles offense routinely found holes in the secondary kept Wentz fairly clean, giving up just one sack on the day. When Wentz did face pressure he was able to slip away and extend the play or run for a few yards. All four touchdowns featured a Cardinals defensive back either falling over, turning the wrong way, or doing both during coverage. The secondary looked ill prepared for what the Eagles ran on offense and it showed on those plays.
The Cardinals also struggled to contain the run game for the Eagles. Philadelphia ran the ball 33 times for 122 yards, about four times the yards gained by the Cardinals run game. Leading the way for the Eagles was LeGarrette Blount, who gained 74 yards on 14 attempts. The big, bruising running back found space both in the middle and on the outside as he helped the Eagles control the ball nearly 11 minutes more than the Cardinals. The run game prevented the Cardinals from committing multiple players deep in the secondary which allowed the Eagles receivers to take advantage of the single coverage.
The Arizona defense has built a reputation of being a fierce unit who force turnovers and suffocate the opposition. 2017 has seen the defense become average at best. In total yards the defense is ranked 17th in fewest surrendered. Through the air the Cardinals have given up the tenth most yards in the entire NFL. While the run defense is much better (tenth least), the last three games have seen the Cardinals give up an average of 105 yards per game. Keep in mind that against the 49ers the team’s best running back, Carlos Hyde, battled a hip injury which kept him out for long stretches of the game. In that same game the Cardinals gave up 95 yards on the ground. Against the Eagles, Arizona showed that they are not a title contender. There are still eleven games left in the season and there are chances to be better. On Sunday they fell flat, what happens next?