The Arizona Cardinals' playmaking defense has generated plenty of momentum and excitement around the upstart 2012 team, but any playoff aspirations will be crushed if the offensive line continues its poor play.
Despite a disappointing 19-16 overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills at home, Arizona remains tied atop the NFC West with San Francisco and Seattle. In order for the team to gain any traction from its current two-game skid, the bigs on offense must step up in both dimensions.
Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb was sacked five times on Sunday, with the final one knocking him out of the game late in the fourth quarter with a rib injury. In the prior two games, Kolb took eight and nine sacks, respectively.
Kolb sometimes struggles getting the ball out on time, but who can blame him?
Quarterbacks always shoulder the majority of the blame, especially ones like Kolb, who have such massive contracts. It hasn't been his fault, though. Defenders are pinning their ears back and flying full force at the vulnerable Cardinals' QB.
Sometimes offensive line chemistry can be blamed on injuries, which the Cardinals have suffered from to a degree with tackle Levi Brown and guard Jeremy Bridges both on injured reserve.
That is still simply not an excuse to be manhandled at the point of attack to the degree that Arizona has, and it is costing the team from potentially being undefeated.
Daryn Colledge summed the unit's woes well after a horrendous performance in Week 5 in St. Louis on Thursday Night Football (via ArizonaSports.com):
"We've got some guys not lining up right and we've got guys on the offensive line not playing their techniques. You end up having 16 mental errors and all of a sudden the game's out of hand."
When basic fundamentals are still being discussed as problems entering the middle of the season, you know it's a bad situation.
But as putrid as the pass protection has been, the Cardinals' run blocking is essentially just as bad. Prior to the Buffalo game, Arizona was averaging just 2.7 yards per carry on the ground. Not being able to establish any semblance of a rushing attack has forced Arizona into many obvious third-and-long passing situations, where they've converted less than one-third of their attempts.
The very easy matchup against the Bills' defense and a couple of long scrambles by Kolb netted the team 180 yards on 30 carries. Here's why it shouldn't be hailed as too much of a success: Buffalo gives up an average of nearly 172 yards per game, second-worst in the NFL
It got so bad that Bills head coach Chan Gailey elected not to kick a long field goal near the beginning of overtime. He trusted what might be the worst defense in the league to get a stop after the Cards were pinned deep in their own territory. Backup QB John Skelton then threw his third complete pass out of ten—only this completion was to Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd, which iced the game.
Skelton and Kolb's bad numbers again are far from their own faults. The blame has to be placed squarely on the five men blocking for them.
Bills' fans should not be jacked up about their five sacks from what has been a wildly disappointing 2012 from their hyped defensive line. It came against the worst pass-protecting team in the league.
In fact, the Cardinals may be this year's version of the 2011 Bills.
They have started out the season very strong, but like Buffalo last season, they are in grave danger of suffering a similar collapse down the stretch without a revamped offensive line.