Cardinals rewind: Gutting out an uneven performance
The first quarter of Sunday's Cardinals-Jaguars game was enough to make you rip out your hair. Jacksonville got lengthy returns on Arizona's first two kickoffs, touchdowns off both and early leads of 7-0 and 14-7.
But even though the Cardinals lost the edge they displayed the week before in a win over the Texans, and even though running back Andre Ellington actually lost some hair courtesy of Jaguars defensive end Jason Babin, Arizona responded by clamping down on defense while the passing game produced its best effort of the season, and one of the best in the league this season, in a 27-14 win.
That's happened to the Jaguars (1-9) plenty of times this season, so don't expect this aerial attack to last. But the Cardinals (6-4) continued to win the games they're supposed to win, putting themselves in good position for the playoff push over the season's final six weeks.
Here's a recap of how they got it done.
Michael Floyd's 91-yard TD run: Midway through the third quarter, the Cardinals were facing a third-and-10 at their own 9-yard line after Carson Palmer was sacked for a 4-yard loss. With the Jags' Mike Harris coming on a corner blitz, Palmer hit Floyd over the middle for a first down, but Floyd broke a tackle, cut to the sideline and took it all the way, giving Arizona a comfortable 24-14 lead.
WR Michael Floyd: Floyd entered the game nursing an AC sprain in his shoulder. It never showed. He had a career high in receiving yardage with six catches for 193 yards and the 91-yard touchdown, the longest in the NFL this season and the Cardinals' longest pass play since 1988. The play was spectacular, with Floyd shrugging off a tackle and then outracing the Jags secondary to the end zone with receiver Larry Fitzgerald along for the ride. It was the kind of game (and then some) to finally warrant the Cardinals' selection of Floyd in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft while ignoring more pressing needs.
CB Jerraud Powers: Powers had a team-high six tackles, two passes defended and a fourth-quarter interception that set up Arizona's final field goal. He was also whistled for defensive holding, but that was offset by a Jacksonville penalty. It's been an uneven season for Powers, a free-agent acquisition brought in after the Cardinals lost Greg Toler in free agency, but he has been solid of late.
The offense can involve multiple receivers: The Cards aren't going to pass for 400-plus yards every week. They probably won't do it again this season. But it was encouraging to see the offense involve Floyd and tight end Rob Housler (six catches for 70 yards) while keeping Larry Fitzgerald (six catches for 61 yards and a TD) in an integral role. Now about that running game ...
Rashard Mendenhall could hit holes more quickly: Mendenhall has been criticized for dancing a bit in the backfield. It's probably overblown, and Mendenhall faced a stacked box for much of Sunday's game, but he did get caught a few times trying to find space rather than accepting what was in front of him and taking the short gain. That said, Andre Ellington fared no better (worse, actually). Plenty of teams still run the ball against eight-man boxes -- that's life in the NFL -- and the Cards have to do a better job in this department. They were facing the league's worst statistical run defense and managed 14 yards on 24 carries. That's pathetic.
The defense is showing maturity: The Cards were listless and out of sync on the Jaguars' first two drives, but they rallied, buckled down and still held Jacksonville to 274 total yards (32 rushing) and 2 of 14 on third downs.
Wide receiver Teddy Williams, who joined the team less than a month ago, was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. He likely will have surgery this week. Cornerback Justin Bethel (head) left in the first half and didn’t return. He has a concussion and will be monitored under league protocols.
-- The Cardinals didn’t commit a turnover for the first time since the third week of last season.
-- In a rarity, the special teams had an off day. The Cards allowed 36 yards per kickoff return, setting the Jaguars up in good field position for their first two (and only) scoring drives. Dave Zastudil had eight punts for a mediocre 38.8-yard average and just one downed inside the 20-yard line. Worst of all, special-teams ace Justin Bethel left the game after an illegal blindside block and gunner/speed receiver Teddy Williams was lost for the season.
-- Palmer was sacked three times Sunday, but his protection was good for most of the game. With time to read and throw, he had his most effective performance of the season. Can the Cards keep that up with Bradley Sowell at left tackle, Paul Fanaika at right guard and up-and-down Eric Winston at right tackle?
-- John Abraham recorded his seventh sack in the past four games, and he drew a holding call on another play. Abraham is the outside pass rusher the Cardinals have needed for a very long time. He's 13th in the league in sacks despite limited play the first few weeks while Sam Acho and Lorenzo Alexander held down the starting outside linebacker spots.
-- Jay Feely has made 17 straight field goals since a Week 1 miss from 50 yards in St. Louis. He had makes of 21 and 32 yards Sunday.
Cardinals vs. Colts, Sunday at 2:05 p.m.: Bruce Arians' former team comes to town with a seemingly insurmountable three-game lead in the AFC South. Second-year QB Andrew Luck is having another good season. He has completed 206 of 347 passes (59.4 percent) for 2,430 yards with 14 touchdowns and just six interceptions for an 87 passer rating, which ranks 15th in the NFL.
Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter