GLENDALE, Ariz. – We watched the classic Clint Eastwood movie, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” on Friday night, trying to remember the cool, pre-GOP convention Clint.
Since preseason NFL games don’t warrant much exertion in the analysis department, that’s as hard as we’re going to work with this tie-in before we launch into our breakdown of the Cardinals’ 12-7 win over the Cowboys on Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium, a win that improved the Cards to 2-0 this preseason.
Turnovers: Arizona forced six of them — or Dallas committed six of them, depending on your perspective. Safety Tony Jefferson led the way with two interceptions. That’s eight turnovers forced by the Cardinals defense and special teams this preseason while the offense has committed just one, a Drew Stanton interception at the Cowboys’ 2-yard line that highlighted the Cards’ red-zone struggles (more on that later).
The defense: Arizona’s first-team D hasn’t allowed a point in two preseason games, and the Cards went seven quarters, four minutes and five seconds overall before finally allowing their first preseason points on an Alex Tanney to Gavin Escobar 5-yard TD pass. Coach Bruce Arians joked that the veterans would have to figure out a fine for the unit that allowed those points. He also noted that Dallas had too many explosive plays, but before the game he said he wanted to see how the Cardinals handled the Cowboys’ power running game, and he liked what he saw. Dallas had 16 carries for 44 yards.
Cornerback Jerraud Powers: Powers, a free-agent acquisition, had a forced fumble and an interception. He also got beaten in coverage twice, but one of those was due to a lack of pressure by the Cardinals’ front, which gave quarterback Tony Romo eons to find a target.
Receiver Kerry Taylor: The former ASU standout had four catches for 85 yards in his bid to win the fourth receiver spot. Before a hamstring injury recently sidelined Taylor, Arians said that Taylor had ascended to that fourth spot. He may have done so again, catching four of the six balls thrown his way but missing a TD pass when Drew Stanton led him by a half-stride too much on a pass that caromed off his fingertips.
Rushing offense: It wasn’t exactly the Vikings’ rushing game, but the Cards showed improvement, gaining 105 yards on 31 carries. In his first game of the preseason, Rashard Mendenhall was effective, carrying seven times for 32 yards. “The slanting (of Dallas’ defense) is something we don’t see every day in practice, but overall, I thought we handled it pretty good,” Arians said. “We ripped off a couple pretty good ones. I saw good improvement there.”
Dave Zastudil and the special teams: Zastudil had four punts for a 47.3-yard average and two downed inside the 20. The coverage teams held Dallas to three yards on two punt returns and Justin Bethel forced a fumble. That’s a good day. The only hiccup was Jay Feely’s missed 30-yard field goal.
No significant injuries: In the preseason, that’s the best news a coach can deliver.
Carson Palmer: We really need another category, because Palmer wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t good either. And there’s also the reality that this was the preseason for a veteran QB who knows his way around the block. After starting OK, Palmer finished with four straight incompletions to cap a 7-for-15, 66-yard day that earned him a 59.3 rating. “It’s unacceptable to have nine points off the opportunities we had,” said Palmer, who missed Alfonso Smith in the end zone on what should have been a TD pass.
Drew Stanton: He finished 10 of 19 for 152 yards with a pick, some poorly thrown balls and a 57.3 passer rating.
Red-zone offense: On four trips inside the Cowboys 20 in the first half, the Cardinals came away with three points, a missed Jay Feely field goal, a Stanton interception and a poor throw from Palmer to Mendenhall on fourth-and-2 that landed at Mendenhall’s feet.
“It’s not acceptable now,” Arians said. “We have to learn to score touchdowns.
“We play extremely well all over the field until we get inside the 20, and then we have a ton of mental errors. It baffles me. With all three groups, we had mental errors inside the red zone that ended up being field goals.”
Palmer noted that none of the breakdowns were due to the Cardinals getting beat physically.