The Arizona Cardinals entered Sunday with question marks on offense and the need for their defense to step up and overwhelm what had been an inept Houston Texans offense. The good news was that the Arizona offense put up 21 points against an always tough Texans defense. The bad news came in the form of 31 points surrendered to Texans quarterback Tom Savage and the Houston offense. How did the game unravel for the Cardinals? Here are three big takeaways from Sunday’s loss to the Texans.
Blaine Gabbert Earns Playing Time
Coming into Sunday’s game, few fans and pundits had high hopes for Blaine Gabbert, as he started his first game for the Cardinals. Gabbert is a former first round pick for the Jacksonville Jaguars who has struggled since coming into the league in 2011. Long labeled as a bust, Gabbert is with his third team and began this season as the third quarterback on the depth chart. Coming over during free agency, Gabbert previously played for fellow NFC West rival, San Francisco 49ers. Injuries to Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton put Gabbert into the starting role on the weekend and he put in a solid performance in an attempt to right the ship for Arizona.
Gabbert completed 22 of his 34 attempts for 257 yards. He added three touchdowns but threw two late interceptions. Even with the two interceptions, Gabbert performed well and put the ball in places for his receivers to make plays. One such recipient was rookie tight end Ricky Seals-Jones. Seals-Jones made his first three catches of the season totalling 54 yards, including two touchdowns. The rookie was impressive in his homecoming as he is from the Houston area and played college football for Texas A&M. Larry Fitzgerald was the leading receiver for Arizona finishing with nine receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown. Gabbert showed poise in the pocket and made strong throws. He may not be the answer in 2018 for the Cardinals, but he deserves the chance to prove that he can be.
Adrian Peterson Not the Answer
One failing on offense against Houston was the poor performance of running back Adrian Peterson and the ground game. Peterson has had an up and down season since coming to Arizona in a trade from New Orleans. Since coming over, Peterson has rushed for 450 yards on 136 carries for two scores, with 369 of those yards coming in a Cardinals jersey.. However, those numbers are boosted by two games where Peterson gained more than 130 yards, against the 49ers and Buccaneers. When those games are removed, Peterson has gained just 76 yards on 73 carries.
Against the Texans, Peterson carried the football 14 times for 26 yards, an average of 1.9 yards per carry. There weren’t many holes for Peterson to run through on the day but he struggled to make use of the little room he could find. Even with an injury depleted offensive line, the Cardinals need Peterson to eat up yards and keep the pressure of the passing game and Gabbert. Perhaps an issue is the inability for Peterson to be a threat in the passing game. The running back has made seven catches for 50 yards. The lack of a passing threat effectively telegraphs a run play for the opposing defense if Peterson is in the game. Even if the Cardinals do throw the ball with Peterson in the game, little attention is afforded him as the defense would prefer passes go his way.
Defense Makes Savage Look Good
Texans quarterback Tom Savage entered Sunday’s game with three starts this season, the last two of which were in replacement for injured rookie Deshaun Watson. Through three starts, Savage had never completed more than 53.8 percent of his passes in a game and had thrown for a total of two touchdowns and two interceptions. Savage hadn’t won any of the three starts in 2017, and has looked incompetent for most of that time. On Sunday he was able to change that against an underperforming Cardinals defense.
Savage completed 22 of 32 attempts for 230 yards including two touchdowns and an interception. The interception came on an athletic and amazing one handed catch by Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson. Outside of the play, Peterson was terrorized by Savage and talented receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins caught four passes for 76 yards and a score. On the touchdown, Hopkins beat Peterson with his speed and just ran past the corner. It was a bad day all around for the Cardinals defense as they suffered against the run with defensive tackle Corey Peters out with injury. The Cardinals gave up 134 yards on the ground against Houston. Both Lamar Miller and D’onta Foreman gained more than 60 yards on the ground for the Texans. It was a rough day for the defense.
The Cardinals remain in third place in the NFC West and fall further back in the playoff hunt. With the loss, the postseason is all but a dream, as the Cardinals are three games back out of the last playoff spot. The Cardinals have their next three games at home and welcome the Jaguars on Sunday. There are six days for Arizona to figure things out.