Cardinals rewind: Defense excellent, offense 'putrid'
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Playing against a rookie quarterback surely factored into this, but it's still hard to figure out how a Cardinals defense minus five starters played so well in a 13-10 win in Tampa while an offense with almost all of its personnel (except top pick Jonathan Cooper) played so poorly.
The Cardinals limited Tampa running back Doug Martin to 45 yards on 27 carries and all Bucs receivers to under 45 yards, marking the first time since 1933 (when the NFL started keeping stats) that a team had a player with 25-plus carries and a receiver with at least five receptions, but no players with 45 yards of offense.
"I thought we played one of our best games," coach Bruce Arians said of the defense. "That's a great running back. To hold him to that kind of yardage, it took every hand."
On the flip side, Arians had one word to describe his offense.
"It was putrid," he said. "We continually harmed ourselves with mental errors, which sounds very repetitive, but it is getting very repetitive for me, too."
Arians said he has never had an offense take as long to develop as this one has.
"We've looked at it long and hard as a coaching staff (to see) if we're asking too much. Everyone decided obviously not," Arians said. "We've just got to do a better job as coaches and players. I don't think we're that far off."
The offense will have to figure things out with the current personnel, but the defense will get a big boost this week when inside linebacker Daryl Washington returns from a four-game suspension and nose tackle Dan Williams returns after missing two games due to the death of his father in an auto accident.
The Cardinals have sorely missed Washington's athleticism, speed, ability to generate pressure from the interior and ability to cover tight ends.
"With adding me on, I'm just a small part and hopefully a big piece of it," Washington said Monday. "We'll see how it goes. Give me one or two series. I think Wednesday (at practice) will define how the week goes for me.”
Tampa coach Greg Schiano wasn’t getting much from his run game, which gained 22 of its 80 yards on Dashon Goldson's fake punt. But the decision to throw on second-and-6 from his 11-yard line with less than four minutes remaining in the game and his team nursing a 10-3 lead was a poor one. His defense had held the Cardinals out of the end zone all day. Why risk giving them a short field? Why not put the game in the hands of your defense instead of rookie quarterback Mike Glennon? The Cards made him pay for that decision when Patrick Peterson intercepted a Glennon pass over the over the middle and returned it to the Tampa Bay 13-yard line. One play later, Larry Fitzgerald caught the game-tying TD.
Larry Fitzgerald: Slim pickens on this choice. The Cardinals offense was lousy on Sunday and Fitzgerald wasn't even targeted in the first half -- a dumbfounding statement no matter how many times you read it. But he caught five balls in the second half, including the game-tying TD on which he put a terrific move on cornerback Darrelle Revis in the end zone.
Patrick Peterson: Peterson had the interception late in the game that set up Larry Fitzgerald's game-winning TD catch, and he had another interception to seal the game on the Bucs' final drive.
If the offense has improved, it's only marginally: The Cardinals rank 26th in the NFL in yards per game (320.2) and 25th in points per game (17.2). The vertical passing game that Arians promised hasn't materialized yet. Were the Cardinals blowing smoke when they said the offense was ready to break out as the season started, is this still a work in progress or is this as good as it's going to get? If it's the latter, we know where that path leads.
Bruce Arians is through coddling RB Rashard Mendenhall: Mendenhall has been given a lot of time off in practices thus far this season to rest an ailing knee, hamstring and toe. But he had a rough day on Sunday, dropping a pass, nearly fumbling on one play (which could have been reviewed), and then fumbling on the next. The tipping point was when Mendenhall ran out of bounds late in the game with the Cards trying to run out the clock (the play was ruled a fumble in bounds and the clock kept running, but Arians wasn't happy).
“Rashard had a very tough day, and he can’t play that way," Arians said. "He can’t run out of bounds. He’s a veteran. And to run out of bounds at the end of the game, that was probably the worst mistake he made all day. We need to practice him a little bit harder. I think we’ve been too easy on him in practice because of his injuries, and we need to hone him up more because he’s not gaining anything.”
Andre Ellington has surpassed Alfonso Smith as the backup running back: Ellington gives the Cards a dynamic receiving threat out of the backfield, and he's the type of slashing runner that Mendenhall and Smith aren't. His pass protection is still a work in progress, but it didn't take long for him to pass Smith on the depth chart. Ellington had four carries for 29 yards and three catches for 22 yards on Sunday. Smith did not have a touch, although he was targeted once.
Arians won't have an update until Wednesday on the four players who left Sunday's game, but he doesn't think the injuries to defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (groin), inside linebacker Jasper Brinkley (groin), guard Daryn Colledge (leg) and linebacker Vic So'oto (concussion) are serious.
Linebacker Kevin Minter (hamstring) should return to practice this week.
-- With Daryl Washington returning from his suspension, Arians expects him to start alongside Karlos Dansby inside. Arians said it is unlikely that Dansby will play outside linebacker despite the team's rash of injuries at that position and Dansby's prior experience at that position.
"It's been a long time since Karlos played out there. It's totally different sight lines," Arians said, before turning on the humor. "He's playing pretty solid where he's at if he'd just start catching interceptions. He caught every ball in practice last week. He had nine interceptions in practice last week."
Dansby dropped an interception for the third time this season on Sunday.
-- Arians hopes Dan Williams will rejoin the team Tuesday night.
-- Arians said he wasn't close to allowing safety Rashad Johnson (severed fingertip) to play "after watching him try to run around with that mitt he had on. I don't think there was much he could do with that hand. As much leadership as he brings, I thought the hand was going to be too much of a problem."
Arians said Johnson will wear a different style cast this week and will have more time to heal and prepare, but "we don't have to force him in there. Tyrann (Mathieu) played extremely well. Javier (Arenas) played extremely well. Tony (Jefferson) played well. It's not dire straits where we have to put him out there."
-- Arians said newly signed linebacker Dontay Moch, a Chandler Hamilton product, got a game ball after sacking Bucs QB Mike Glennon at the 1-yard line to give Arizona good field position for its game-winning drive. "Once he starts using some more technique, he could be a devastating rusher," Arians said.
-- Arians thought outside linebacker John Abraham played his best game, noting that his run defense was solid.
Carolina: Sunday at 1:05 p.m. The Panthers had their bye last week. Despite considerable preseason expectations, Carolina got off to an 0-2 start. One of those losses was to powerhouse Seattle, but one was a head scratcher at Buffalo, lost when the Bills' Stevie Johnson caught a TD pass from E.J. Manuel with two seconds remaining. The Panthers appeared to right the ship with a 38-0 whipping of the Giants in Week 3, when QB Cam Newton threw for three TDs. Carolina's defense ranks third in the league in points per game (12).
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