You have to hand it to Cardinals left tackle Bradley Sowell. He went undrafted in 2012 and hasn’t had much training with the media.
Despite that and a dreadful performance on Thursday against the Seahawks, Sowell was in the locker room to face the music and every reporter’s question after Seattle’s 34-22 win at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“I expect a lot of myself, and obviously I lost some battles tonight and gave up sacks,” Sowell said. “I have to be realistic and realize I’m going against the best guy every week and just try to get better and better.”
Realism is something Sowell wasn’t afforded by the Cardinals’ coaching and management staffs when they chose to cut bait with disappointing left tackle Levi Brown.
Brown couldn’t handle speed rushers. We all know that. But the truth is that he was an average left tackle in a league with very few elite ones. When coach Bruce Arians and GM Steve Keim insisted there would be no drop-off to Sowell, they may have been the only ones who believed it. And when they chose to put Sowell in as the starter at one of the most difficult positions in this game, they set him up for failure.
“What we’re banking on is a guy who is going to continually grow and get better and a guy we can win with in the future,” Keim said.
It was obvious from the get-go Thursday that there’s a lot of room for improvement.
The Cardinals defense didn’t help by surrendering two early TDs that gave the Seahawks defense the opportunity to pin its ears back and come after the quarterback. But Sowell allowed a pair of first-half sacks to Tony McDaniel and Chris Clemons and missed a cut block that allowed Seattle to throw running back Rashard Mendenhall for a loss.
When asked about Sowell’s performance in the postgame press conference, Arians said, “I can’t walk in here and talk about a guy’s performance without watching the tape.”
He didn’t need to. It was plain for everyone to see. For the second straight week, Sowell earned the worst grade among the team’s offensive player (-7.3) from Pro Football Focus. He allowed two sacks, two QB hits and five hurries. The Cardinals’ next two opponents, the Falcons and Texans, feature pass-rush standouts Osi Umenyiora (four sacks) and J.J. Watt (3.5).
“One thing I know about myself is that I’ll always play my hardest and I’m going to give it my all every week,” Sowell said. “If I lose a down or two; that’s just how it goes.”
The Cardinals had just scored on a 52-yard Jay Feely field goal to pull within 17-13, and the defense appeared to have adjusted to some good Seahawks game-planning after a shaky start. But Seattle responded with a 10-play, 80-yard drive on which QB Russell Wilson was 3 of 5 passing for 47 yards while also rushing twice for 11 yards. The way the Arizona offense was performing, a 24-13 deficit at that point seemed insurmountable.
K Jay Feely: Seriously; who else warrants a mention? Feely nailed his only field-goal attempts, which came from 49 and 52 yards, posted four touchbacks and allowed only 18 return yards — some of those ill-advised by Jermaine Kearse, who took one kickoff out from five yards deep and only returned it to the 13-yard line, creating poor field position that eventually led to the Cardinals’ first TD.
LB John Abraham: He posted a pair of sacks (his first of the season), two QB hits and two forced fumbles, one of which the Cardinals recovered. Abraham came into the season with 122 sacks and 44 forced fumbles in his career. When he sacked Wilson the first time, Wilson became the 61st QB Abraham has sacked and the third Seahawks QB (Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst).
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED
The Seahawks are the best team in the NFC West: Like the Cardinals, the Seahawks were playing on three days of rest. Unlike the Cards, the Seahawks had to go on the road to do it, yet from the opening kickoff, Seattle looked sharp, jumping to a 14-0 lead with some great game-planning that took advantage of Arizona’s defensive tendencies. It helped that Wilson consistently escaped the Cards’ pressure. Wilson looks so impressive in his second season that it’s hard to ignore the team’s decision not to draft him (a decision many other teams also made, and more than once). In fairness to the Cardinals, they had just one pick before Wilson went in the third round; they used that selection on Michael Floyd.
The trade-Larry-Fitzgerald camp won’t go away: Never mind the fact that the Cards wouldn’t get nearly as much for Fitzgerald as wide-eyed fans think (it’s a simple market reality). Never mind that there are few teams that would be willing and able to take on Fitzgerald’s mammoth salary. Some fans simply think the Cardinals should move Fitzgerald to give him a chance at winning. It’s a nice sentiment, but given what he is making and the analysis he conducted before deciding to re-sign here, nobody should feel sorry for Fitz. While we’re at it, how long before he starts garnering a little criticism, too, for not making big plays? Remember the red-zone opportunity the Cards had when Fitz slipped on a route as he ran along the goal line, meaning Carson Palmer’s pass was too far out of reach? Fitz has been hampered by a hamstring injury, but as NFL players often say, if you’re healthy enough to play, there are no excuses. For what he’s getting paid, Fitz still needs to make some big plays.
The Cards’ run defense isn’t quite as elite as we thought: Arizona entered the past two games as one of the league’s statistical top three rushing defenses. But the defense hadn’t faced offenses like those of the 49ers and Seahawks, who both boasted top-six rushing attacks. Those teams averaged a combined 297.9 yards per game, and they managed a combined 284 against the Cardinals, which isn’t bad but isn’t dominant. Arizona’s offensive struggles certainly contributed, but there is still work to be done on this front after Seattle averaged 4.2 yards per rush.
Starting left guard Daryn Colledge left the game after hurting his back on a play on which Palmer threw his second interception. Arians said he popped a disc out of place and suffered spasms, but he should be able to return by Wednesday’s practice. Arians is also hopeful that receiver Brittan Golden (hamstring) will return next week.
ODDS AND ENDS
— Don’t be fooled by TE Rob Housler’s numbers Thursday and the praise he’s receiving for them. Housler caught a season-high seven balls for 53 yards, but six of those catches came in garbage time in the fourth quarter after the Seahawks had built a 34-16 lead and started playing a soft zone. Housler still hasn’t made an impact this season.
— Once again, Arians was asked if he thought about pulling Palmer and going to backup QB Drew Stanton after Palmer threw two more interceptions to raise his season total to 13. “No” was the answer, and that makes sense. The backup QB is always a popular guy when the starter is struggling, but there’s a reason Stanton isn’t on the field: He’s not as good. There’s also the reality that the Cards are entering a stretch of winnable games against the Falcons (1-4), Texans (2-4) and Jaguars (0-6). A QB change may come at some point this season if things spiral out of control, but now is not that time.
— Here’s what Arians said about Palmer’s interceptions: “If it’s his decision making, then we make a change. But the first one to me was obvious pass interference, and the safety makes a great play. The second one was just a poor decision. Those are the ones we have to look at.” After watching film, Arians followed up on Friday by saying: “Looking back, neither interception was his fault whatsoever.”
— The Cardinals aren’t getting a lot out of Mendenhall, but they didn’t get anything out of their offensive line Thursday. The Seahawks owned the line of scrimmage, so it’s hard to find fault with Mendenhall (13 carries, 22 yards) when there’s nowhere to run. Maybe the Cards will give Ryan Williams a look at some point, but Williams doesn’t play on special teams, so that’s why Alfonso Smith is active and he’s not. Williams also isn’t as good in pass protection as Mendenhall. The Cards need as much help in that department as they can get after the Seahawks’ seven-sack performance.
— Arians said he still has faith in SS Yeremiah Bell even though he was beaten for two touchdowns Thursday. One the first, Bell got caught looking in the backfield when Wilson scrambled and couldn’t recover in time to catch up to Sidney Rice, who got behind everybody and hauled in a 31-yard TD pass. On the other, Arians said the underneath coverage was too soft and made the throw too easy for Wilson. That wasn’t Bell’s fault.
— Arians said center Lyle Sendlein was the only offensive lineman who played well Thursday. That jibes with Pro Football Focus’s grades for the O-line. Sendlein posted a +1.5, Colledge a +0.3; tackle Eric Winston a -2.8; guard Paul Fanaika a -3.8, guard Nate Potter a -6.9; and Sowell a -7.3.
— Arians said Thursday marked his first game in 20 years of coaching in which his offense didn’t have any explosive plays.
— The Cardinals will have two practices in pads next week, and Arians said they will look at some younger players. Right tackle Bobby Massie could be one of them after Winston struggled.
— Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett was fined $7,875 for a late hit on running back Frank Gore in the 49ers game. Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu was fined $7,875 for an altercation with Niners running back Kendall Hunter after he scored in the fourth quarter. Nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu was fined $10,000 for kicking 49ers guard Alex Boone in the face.
Hosting Atlanta, Oct. 27, 1:25 p.m.: The Falcons were popular picks to advance to the Super Bowl this season after last season’s NFC championship game berth. But with star receiver Julio Jones out for the season and a host of problems dogging this team, even getting to the playoffs would be a monumental feat after a 1-4 start. Atlanta just had its bye week and now faces equally woeful Tampa Bay. The Cards are hoping those two factors aren’t enough to right the Falcons’ ship before they arrive in Glendale.