Cleat Geeks

New Look Cards Seek a Week 6 Spark

If the Arizona Cardinals can’t beat the 2-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers this afternoon, the hope of a playoff push could disappear quicker than the Lost Colony itself. A team that has been a near mirror image of our Cardinals, the Buccaneers and ex-ASU head coach Dirk Koetter come to Glendale in what seems to be a make or break game for the home team.

Some of the peripherals of this game scream that it will come down to a last second field goal. The four combined wins between the two teams have all come against sub-.500 teams. Each team has a victory against a winless team. Two teams in the NFL have missed at least four field goals this season. The Cardinals have missed four, while the Buccaneers lead the league with five, in only four games. Check, check and check.

Here’s a look at how the result of today’s game can equate to nearly a 30% swing in postseason chances:

While the Cardinals rank 2nd in passing yards/gm, they are over 20 yards per game shy of the 2nd worst rushing team in the league. The Buccaneers, who rank 3rd in passing, only average one less yard per game through the air than the Cardinals. Similarly to Arizona, the Bucs have had a hard time finding a ground attack as they rank 27th in that department.

While the Cards and Bucs have had their struggles to start the 2017 season, both are anticipating having reinforcements come back for today’s game.

Tampa Bay is expecting their 3rd leading tackler from 2016, Linebacker Lavonte David, and Safety T.J. Ward to return to action.

For the 4th consecutive game, Tampa Bay will be without their leading tackler from last season, Kwon Alexander.

The Cardinals biggest weakness on the season should receive a much needed boost. Left Tackle D.J. Humphries and Left Guard Alex Boone are both expected to return from injuries against the Buccaneers. In parts of three games with the Cardinals, Boone has graded out as the top eligible offensive lineman for the team at 54.2. Due to injury, D.J. Humphries has played less than 20 snaps this season for the Cards. Although, in his limited playing time D.J. has an Overall grade of 67.4. In 13 games started last season, Humphries posted an Overall grade of 70.3. Now if both can stay healthy, the left side of the line should at the very least be better than what we’ve seen.

That same optimism can’t be shared when talking about the right side of the line though. Earl Watford left Arizona as a free agent and signed a two-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars this past off-season. Watford impressed his new team so much that the Jaguars released him two days prior to their season opener last month. On October 2nd, the Cardinals brought back their 4th round selection in the 2013 draft. Watford, making his first game action of 2017 and his first appearance in an NFL game on the left side of the O-line, was forced into action as a starter against the Eagles in Week 5. As the Cardinals starting Left Guard, Earl received a 34.6 Pass and 43.1 Run grade for an overall 38.3 rating from Pro Football Focus. In 788 snaps in 2016 for Arizona, Watford garnered a miserable 33.5 Overall grade.Image result for earl watford

Watford will replace Evan Boehm as the Cardinals starting Right Guard against Tampa. Boehm, a 4th round Center taken by the Cardinals in last years draft, has started the first five games at RG in 2017. Boehm earned early season grades of 35.5 and 74.5 in Pass and Run blocking, respectively. The second year Center turned Guard, now turned Center again has an overall season grade of 44.0. On the season, Boehm ranked 40th out of 51 eligible Guards in Pass-Blocking Efficiency. It has been announced that Evan will focus solely at Center and will be starter A.Q. Shipley’s backup.

On Wednesday, the Houston Texans signed the Cardinals 2017 4th round pick, Right Guard Dorian Johnson off of Arizona’s practice squad and onto the Texans active roster. While at Penn State, Bill O’Brien, whose the current head coach of the Texans, recruited Johnson. Dorian eventually decided to attend the University of Pittsburgh. Not a good look for the Cardinals to lose their 4th round pick, especially with an offensive line that has shown ineptness at various positions. The Cardinals are giving up 3.8 sacks/gm, while Tampa Bay is giving up 1.75/gm.

After allowing an NFL high 102 pass rushes through the first five weeks, 17 more than the 2nd worst team, Arizona’s offensive line as a whole is tasked with shutting down the Buccaneers fierce interior defense, led by DT Gerald McCoy. McCoy, ranks 4th among defensive tackles in both pass rushes, with 18, and pass-rush productivity. Even though he only has one sack to his credit. In fact, nobody for Tampa Bay has more than one sack through their first four games. Which helps explain why the Buc’s are dead last in the NFL with four sacks. Even though they rank last in sacks, the Buccaneers will feature two other pass rushers that also rank top 15 in productivity at their position by PFF, interior DT Clinton McDonald and Edge rusher Robert Ayers.

Earlier this week, the Arizona Cardinals traded a 6th round pick to the New Orleans Saint for 2015 NFL rushing leader and future Hall-of-Famer, Adrian Peterson. Peterson will replace Cardinals starting running back Chris Johnson, who was cut by the team immediately after the trade. No NFL team has finished a season with less than 1,000 rushing yards since 2011. The Cards are on pace for sub-900 yards in 2017.

On 77 carries this season, Cardinals running backs Chris Johnson, Kerwynn Williams and Andre Ellington have combined to break a total of six tackles to go with an average of 1.81 yards after contact. In New Orleans, Peterson broke five tackles on only twenty seven carries. Peterson also had a yards after contact average of 2.67 for the Saints.

In roughly 50 games since the start of the 2014 season, the Cardinals have used a man blocking scheme on running plays more than any other team in the NFL. During Peterson’s last healthy season with the Minnesota Vikings, the team used a man blocking scheme on 170 run plays. Of those 170 plays, Peterson had an NFL high 1,027 yards to go along with a 6 yards per carry average and a monstrous 482 yards after contact. Cardinals fans are holding their breaths in hopes the 32-year old Peterson can regain some of that 2015 magic.

Last season on defense, Arizona led the NFL in both the percentage of times that they blitzing, at 41%, and QB Sacks with 48. In 2017, the Cardinals are blitzing only 34% of the time, which is 10th in the league. The decrease in blitz packages have led to Arizona accumulating only 10 sacks, which ranks 24th. The Cards are on pace for 32 sacks this season, a full sack per game less than 2016.

The more disturbing trend on defense though is the lack of turnovers that the Cardinals are creating. Through nearly a third of their season, the Cards have four total turnovers in 2017, all interceptions. The Cardinals are only one of four teams in the NFL who have forced zero fumbles on the year. The lack of explosive plays on defense has led to a team plus/minus turnover ratio of -3, good for an eight way tie for 21st. Tampa Bay is 10th in plus/minus so far this season, at +2. The Bucs have six takeaways (3INTs/3FR) while turning the ball over only four times in their first four games.

Even though the Cardinals defense gave up 34 points to the Eagles last week, the top four graded out players by PFF were all on the defensive side of the ball. Probably more of an indication of how poor the offense performed in Philadelphia. Larry Fitzgerald graded out as fifth highest player from Week 5 for the Cardinals. Most of Larry’s six catches came in garbage time late in the fourth quarter.

While Deone Bucannon combined for seven tackles in his second game of the season versus Philadelphia, he still graded out as Poor, with an overall grade of 33.5 by PFF. The Poor rating still raised his season grade to a 29.8 through two games as Deone finished with a lone tackle in his first week back against the Niners. Deone was flagged twice for defensive pass interference against the Eagles last week. With Markus Golden lost for the rest of the season, the Cardinals are going to need a very productive D-Buc moving forward starting today if they want to make the most of what has become a very trying season, for fans and players alike.

Feel free to check out for yourself who the top rated Cardinals were from Week 5…. And some of those who were on the other end of the spectrum.









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