Cleat Geeks

Arizona Cardinals; A LINE In The Desert Sand

The oldest team in the NFL sure played like it on Sunday in Detroit, at least on the offensive side of the ball. After the 53-man roster cut-downs the Arizona Cardinals had an average age of 27.28. Over half a year older than the second-most veteran team, the Carolina Panthers who had an average age 26.75. That was as of September 2nd, before the Panthers released 35-year-old Punter Andy Lee who was subsequently picked up by the Cardinals.Image result for john wetzel arizona cardinals

It’s easy to point all the blame directly on 37-year old quarterback Carson Palmer, and while they only gave up one sack on the day, inept offensive line play consequently helped the Lions hold the Cardinals offense to 309 total yards, 45 of which came on the ground. The biggest failure of duty falls on the shoulders of Left Tackle John Wetzel, who came in to replace injured starter D.J. Humphries. Humphries will miss 1-2 weeks with a knee sprain. Wetzel, who Pro Football Focus graded out as “poor” on Sunday with a 28.5 grade. He allowed eight hurries, as well as giving up a QB hit and a sack. Equating to 10 total pressures on only 45 pass blocking snaps. Wetzel finished with an 82.8 pass block efficiency rating (PBE measures pressure surrendered on a per-snap basis, weighting towards sacks) which ranked last among all offensive tackles during week 1 of the NFL season.

Wetzel wasn’t the only offensive lineman from the Cardinals to receive a poor rating from Pro Football Focus. Left Guard Mike Iupati was graded out at a 53.3 and Right Tackle Jared Veldheer (1st career game at Right Tackle after spending his previous 87 games as a starting Left Tackle) finished with a grade of 39.1, both rated as poor. While Center A.Q. Shipley and Right Guard Evan Boehm both received “average” grades, with both having ratings in the 70’s. It’s already been announced that Veldheer will not move back over to Left Tackle while Humphries is out of action. Keep an eye on the left side of the offensive line this Sunday.

That’s not to say that Palmer was good, because that would be a lie. But take in account that 18 of his 50 drop-backs resulted in pressure in his face from the Lions defense, in addition to there being three drops on the afternoon and there is plenty of blame on the offense to go around.

In fact, Pro Football Focus gave only three Cardinals even good grades coming out of Week 1: Safety Antoine Bethea (80.6), Defensive Tackle Corey Peters (80.5) and the highest rating came from this years 1st round pickb Linebacker Haason Reddick (80.9). All defensive players.

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One can also point to coaching decisions as why the Cardinals currently stand at 0-1. Ahead 17-9 over Detroit in the 3rd quarter, running back David Johnson fumbled in his first carry after suffering a dislocated wrist. Inserting any player, especially a running back after such a significant injury falls directly on the head coach and training staff. Johnson fumbled in Lions territory on the play, which Detroit turned into a quick three points. That was the last play of the day for David Johnson, who will be out for the next 2-3 months after having wrist surgery earlier this week.

As Arizona’s offense sputtered time and time again, the defense which held their own for the first three quarters of the game, eventually wore down as they gave up 20 points in the final 15 minutes.

According to Pro Football Focus, the coaching staff sent five or more pass rushers on only 15.5% of all passing plays which consequently resulted in only a singular sack for the defense. That lack of pass rush limited Markus Golden (12.5 sacks in 2016) finished the game with one solo tackle to his name and no other stats. Compare that to 2016 when the team sent five or more defenders on 41% of the opposing teams drop backs, which led to the Cardinals leading all of the NFL in sacks and it’s easy to see that the coaching staffs decision to send less pass rushers at Lions QB Matthew Stafford backfired.

Image result for john wetzel arizona cardinalsThe coaching staffs plan also exposed a couple defensive backs in the Cardinals secondary as both Justin Bethel and Tyrann Mathieu struggled at times with Detroit’s air attack. While Bethel intercepted Stafford for a pick six on Detroit’s first possession of the game to give the team an early 7-0 lead, he also got beat by Lions rookie wide receiver Kenny Golladay for multiple touchdowns. Overall Stafford threw in Bethel’s direction ten times, resulting in 6 catches by Lions receivers for 98 yards and two touchdowns, both by Golladay. Maybe more worrisome is that Tyrann Mathieu struggled all day to to make plays on defense. Mathieu was lined up across from Lions WR Golden Tate on 25 routes. Of those 25 routes Stafford targeted his receiver eight times, which Tate hauled in all eight passes for 75 yards. Not exactly what everyone was expecting after Tyrann had an impressive pre-season.

 

Look for the Cardinals to go back to their roots in Week 2 and get after the QB when they face an Indianapolis Colts team void of their franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck, who still hasn’t even practiced after having surgery eight months ago.

WEEK 2 PREVIEW

Arizona heads into a week 2 match-up with a Colts team that got destroyed by NFC West counterpart, the Los Angeles Rams in Week 1 by a score of 46-9. Talk about a get right game if there was ever such a thing during week 2 of an NFL season.

The fact is, over the last decade, teams that start 0-2 make the playoffs only 12% of the time. With a Cowboys team heading into Glendale in Week 3, this Sundays game against the Colts could suddenly be a make-or-break game for the Arizona Cardinals.

Whether the Colts run out Jacoby Brissett or Scott Tolzien as their starting QB, one thing is for certain. The defense is gonna have to get after either quarterback from the the first possession. Tolzien started the opener last week for Indy but was promptly benched mid-way through the game for Brissett. Brissett, who the Colts traded for at the beginning of the month, is the more dangerous of the two as his scrambling ability will give him the opportunity to extend plays to give his WR’s a couple extra seconds to shake their man and get open.

It’s imperative that the coaching staff unleashes edge pass rushers, Chandler Jones and Markus Golden against either Tolzien or Brissett. The last thing the Cardinals need is for either of the Colts QB’s to gain confidence as the game progresses, and QB’s don’t gain confidence when their offensive lineman have to keep picking you up off the ground after each play. As Palmer can attest to.

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It sounds like Kerwynn Williams will be given the first shot to try and replace some of the production that is now available with David Johnson on the shelf, while Andre Ellington will get some opportunities to show that he can still be a productive running back in the NFL. The team signed veteran running back Chris Johnson, after releasing him on September 2nd. The team also added Scottsdale native and ASU standout D.J. Foster, who was on the Patriots practice squad. Arians said that he likes Foster’s versatility, as he can not only run the ball but probably more importantly can catch the ball out of the backfield and also line up as a slot receiver. It’s still unknown what roles that Johnson and Foster will provide, but at this point the Cardinals are hoping to strike lightening in a bottle with one of the running backs on their roster while David Johnson is out. One thing is very clear as we enter the second week of the NFL season, every position from Palmer to the running backs, to the offensive line and even the receivers are all going to be needed to step up their game if the Cardinals have any chance to formulate a winning season in 2017.

While the aftermath of Week 1’s loss to Detroit was felt all around Cardinal Nation, that loss will seem like a stroll in the park compared to what we all will feel if the team doesn’t leave Indianapolis with their first victory of the season.

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