Arizona Cardinals: The Good, Bad and Ugly of the First 4 Games of the Season
The good, the bad and the ugly from the first quarter of the Arizona Cardinals’ 2012 season has been the epitome of each descriptive word.
Despite sitting atop the NFC West at 4-0, there are plenty of “bad” and “ugly” moments to sift through, so this won’t be as lopsided as one may assume. If you watched Sunday’s victory against the Miami Dolphins, you understand what that means.
Before you read through the list, think about your favorite moment of the season so far; think about that one play you were certain doomed the team to a loss; then, think about the most boneheaded play that left you wondering if the wins were just smoke in mirrors.
Finally, think about which member of the Arizona Cardinals roster is your quarterly MVP of the team.
Proceed onto the slideshow, and if something or someone you were thinking of was missed, leave a detailed comment letting us know—what would you add? Subtract? Who should be the to-date MVP?
The Player: Andre Roberts
Fresh off the best game of his young career in which he caught six passes for a career-high 118 yards and two touchdowns, wide receiver Andre Roberts now leads all NFL receivers with four touchdowns and is tied for the overall lead.
He has at least one touchdown catch in three of the Cardinals’ four games thus far and is on pace for 60 receptions for 916 yards and 16 TD.
He has been quietly going about his business, and the protocol was the same during Sunday's overtime victory over the Miami Dolphins, according to Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic.
There were questions about his ability during the offseason; he has answered those questions with his play on the field.
The Unit: Front Seven
If inside linebacker Daryl Washington had not been stripped of a sack on Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Michael Vick, the Arizona defense would be tied with the Cincinnati Bengals for the NFL lead with 17 sacks through four games.
Nonetheless, they have 16 and are on pace for 64, which would be the most sacks by a defense since the New Orleans Saints recorded 66 in 2000—the NFL record is 72, set by the 1984 Buddy Ryan-led Chicago Bears defense.
Washington and outside linebacker Sam Acho lead the team with three each; linebackers Paris Lenon, O’Brien Schofield and Quentin Groves and defensive end Calais Campbell each have two.
It has been a well-rounded attack from coordinator Ray Horton—one that must continue for the defense to remain successful.
The Play: QB Kevin Kolb to WR Andre Roberts, 15 yards, touchdown
Opponent: Miami Dolphins
Situation: 4th-and-10, fourth quarter, 0:29 seconds remaining (clock stopped)
As up-and-down as Kevin Kolb was against the Miami Dolphins, this one throw could only be described by Arizona Republic columnist Dan Bickley as “an artful, transcendent moment,” and one “that only comes from big-time quarterbacks.”
OK, stop laughing. While the throw was a great one, Bickley’s over-excitement about Kolb’s throw to Roberts to tie the game with just 0:22 left in regulation is mostly justified.
Kolb completed the pass after sidestepping pressure and looking through his progression. He remained poised, saw Roberts break for the pylon on a post-corner route and hit him with a perfect strike—a bolt even the current Peyton Manning cannot deliver.
The game went to overtime and kicker Jay Feely did what he does best, sending another away team home in defeat.
It was Arizona’s 500th victory in franchise history. Their eighth straight home win. Their seventh consecutive overtime victory—an NFL record.
The victory after a 13-0 halftime deficit moves Arizona’s all-time record in such games—after being down by at least 13 points at halftime—to 10-214-1.
This is not your father’s Arizona Cardinals team, and that one play is a great example why.
The Player: Early Doucet
Fifth-year receiver Early Doucet has been largely a disappointment throughout his career.
At first, he could not contribute because of health issues. Once he got over the injury bug, he started dropping passes.
This season he cannot get open. Of the 98 passing plays of which he has been a part, Doucet has been targeted only 15 times—a 15.3 target percentage. That is down from 19.3 percent last season (89 targets on 460 pass-plays).
Dropping passes also hurts. Doucet dropped a sure touchdown last week against the Eagles. Kolb went to rookie Michael Floyd on the very next play, a pass that was juggled off a deflection and eventually caught for the first touchdown—and first catch—of his career.
Floyd followed that up with four catches for 35 yards against Miami the next week. With Floyd's production trending upward, Doucet could be facing a demotion to No. 4 receiver soon.
The Unit: Offensive Line
As a whole, the offensive line has been below average. Right tackle Bobby Massie, forced into the lineup after the Levi Brown injury and subsequent switching of D’Anthony Batiste from right to left tackle, has had a mixed bag of a rookie season.
Where the line play really comes down, however, is the aforementioned Batiste.
No tackle in football has a worse rating than Batiste, according to ProFootballFocus (paid information). Before Week 4, Batiste had allowed the most sacks of any offensive lineman to date. That dishonor now belongs to Massie, who was taken to school by Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake to the tune of 4.5 sacks.
He allowed five on the day, bringing his total to seven for the season—two more than Batiste’s five.
The group has allowed the third most sacks overall (14), the second most total pressures (61) and the most QB hurries (41).
The patch-work left tackle may hold for now, but it may not hold long. If Batiste does not get it together, the coaching staff should consider replacing him. Perhaps give rookie Nate Potter a shot—he cannot possibly do any worse.
The Play: Kevin Kolb intercepted by Sean Smith, touchback
Opponent: Miami Dolphins
Situation: 2nd-and-goal, fourth quarter, 7:25 remaining (clock running)
Twenty-two real-time minutes prior to Kolb making the throw of the first quarter of games, he made the worst throwing decision of his career. Protecting a one-point lead on Miami’s goal line, coordinator Mike Miller called what essentially was an old play out of Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense.
The play is called “Sprint Right Option.”
On this play, the Cardinals featured a “heavy” formation, with three tight ends packed in tight on the line, Fitzgerald lined up with a hand in the dirt next to tight end/long snapper Mike Leach to Kolb’s left and running back Ryan Williams lined up behind Kolb, who was under center.
Kolb sent Fitzgerald in motion from left to right, and upon Fitz getting to the end of the line (TE Rob Housler) hiked the ball.
Fitzgerald ran along the goal line toward the near pylon as Kolb rolled right—as per the design of the play—in an attempt to find him open. Fitz was not open.
After CB Sean Smith shoved Fitzgerald out of the end zone (a play No. 11 would later explain as being legal, according Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com), Kolb threw the ball anyway. Smith caught the ball and did his best toe-tap along the sideline, just getting both feet inbounds.
The play nearly cost Arizona a win, as on the next play, rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill hit receiver Brian Hartline streaking across the secondary on an 80-yard catch-and-run for a go-ahead touchdown.
Then Kolb completely redeemed himself by providing the play of the 2012 season’s first quarter.
The Player: Beanie Wells
As good as Beanie Wells’ 2011 season was, that is how bad 2012 has been.
Before leaving the game against the Eagles with turf toe, Wells had carried the ball 29 times for just 76 yards (2.6 yards per carry) in three games—without a single touchdown.
Wells now resides on the Injured Reserve/designated to return list because of the injury and cannot play again until at least Nov. 25 (Week 12 vs. St. Louis Rams).
Through four games last season, Wells had carried the ball 79 times for 381 yards (4.8 YPC) and six TD. With his injury and possible demotion—depending upon how Ryan Williams performs over the next two months—he may not reach that at all in 2012.
The Unit: Week 4 Secondary
Miami rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 26-of-41 for 431 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for an 86.5 QB rating. Receiver Brian Hartline set a Dolphins franchise record with 253 yards receiving on 12 catches. He caught the 80-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that nearly broke the back of the Cardinals.
Davone Bess added seven receptions for 123 yards.
Arizona cornerback William Gay was torched in the first half by Bess, allowing him four receptions for 72 yards. He was put on Hartline later and promptly surrendered a 57-yard completion.
The secondary struggled to cover receivers all afternoon, allowing a staggering 171 yards after the catch.
It was a forgettable day in the midst of an otherwise formidable first handful of games; do not forget, rather remember and learn from what occurred during the fourth victory of the season.
The Play: Ryan Williams fumbles, recovered by Vince Wilfork, Arizona 30-yard line
Opponent: New England Patriots
Situation: 3rd-and-13, fourth quarter, 1:10 remaining (clock stopped)
It was a play designed to run some extra time off the clock and protect a two-point lead as Williams found room to run on the outside, moving the ball ahead to give punter Dave Zastudil a better chance at pinning Tom Brady and the New England offense deep inside their own territory.
The play, a toss to the left side of the offense (also the short side of the field), was doomed from the start. It was previously highlighted in this article, broken down frame-by-frame to help explain exactly what went wrong.
What went wrong ultimately was the call itself. If New England showed a zone-coverage, the play may have worked. But, as Kolb sent two men in motion, the defense showed its hand—man-to-man coverage—and Kolb ran the play anyway.
The ensuing fumble caused Williams to have an emotional break down on the sideline, even after Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a potential game-winning field goal as the game ended.
While his team celebrated on the field, all he could do is sit on the visitor’s bench and weep—distraught over nearly costing his team the game, according to Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic.
“I was just doing my best not to cry on the field, national TV,” Williams said. “And I ended up crying anyway.”
2012 First Quarter Team MVP
The third-year inside linebacker is fitting perfectly into the defense Ray Horton employs in Arizona.
Through four games, Washington has 34 tackles, two for loss, three sacks (but should be four), one pass defended and a forced fumble that set up the late game-tying touchdown against Miami.
Wherever he is needed on the field, that is where he shows up. He gets himself in the right position to make plays, and he makes them regularly.
His leadership skills are noticeable simply by watching his actions during pre-snap calls. He moves his defenders like pawns on a chess board, getting them in place to defend the king that is his end zone.
As a result, the Cardinals defense has allowed just one rushing touchdown through four games, tying them for second league-wide—only the Houston Texans have not allowed a rushing touchdown.
Week 4 saw his unit get pushed around by a rookie quarterback. That won’t happen often, and the fact they came out on top is a testament to Washington’s leadership skills paired with his athletic ability and the coaching of Horton.
If Washington continues his strong play, he could challenge for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award. The fact that he is on pace for 12 sacks is remarkable—the NFL record for inside linebackers is eight—and would place him in the middle of the DPOY conversation.