After starting the season 4-0, Arizona has dropped its last three games in as many weeks. Is it safe to say it is headed down a slippery slope for the rest of the season, or can it salvage its playoff hopes?
The way Ray Horton's defense is playing is enough proof that it can indeed save its season, but offensively, this team needs to take a giant leap forward. Right tackle Bobby Massie and left tackle D'Anthony Batiste have crushed any hope this team has had. Week after week, they give up pressure after pressure to opposing defenses.
Fans continue to beg for change along the offensive line, yet no one has any answers as to who is going to play tackle. Injuries at both tackle spots have forced this mess.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals just have to ride it out. But if blame does indeed need to be passed around, general manager Rod Graves is the one who deserves it. His poor drafting and inability to acquire adequate depth explains why this team is inept along the offensive line.
And things don't get any easier heading into Week 8. Arizona squares off against one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL.
Even though the offensive line has proven that pass-blocking isn't its strong suit, it did make a defining statement in the run game on Sunday. According to Pro Football Focus, every offensive lineman that played at least one snap for the Cardinals earned a positive run-blocking grade.
The two top performers were left guard Daryn Colledge and center Lyle Sendlein. Colledge earned a plus-3.6 grade as a run-blocker, and Sendlein graded out at plus-2.5. Both were season highs for the interior line combo.
When running inside the left side A-gap, LaRod Stephens-Howling picked up 3.5 yards per carry. Not overly impressive, but coming into Week 7, the Vikings were allowing under 100 yards rushing per game, which placed them in the top 10 of all defenses in the NFL.
Aside from the 3.5 yards-per-carry average, the thing that impressed me the most about the Cardinals run game was the fact offensive coordinator Mike Miller stuck with the run. In weeks past, he had abandoned the run way too early, which allowed defenses to tee off on the quarterback more than they already had.
Arizona's 26 carries marked only the third time all season where it had crossed the 20-carry plateau. It did it last week against Buffalo, and it did it Week 3 against Philadelphia. Has Miller finally realized that the run game is incredibly important? Especially when your quarterback and offensive line have major problems.
This week will be another tough test as the Cardinals backfield squares off against Vic Fangio's 10th-rated run defense. San Francisco is allowing 98.9 yards per game and 3.8 yards per attempt, so with enough patience, it could break the century mark for the third week in a row.
Even though Arizona's offensive line made a statement in the run game, their defensive line did the exact opposite. Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett usually control the line scrimmage with ease, yet Sunday proved that even the best of players have bad games every now and again.
Both players fell flat on their face against the run. PFF gave Campbell a negative-3.0 grade against the run and Dockett received a negative-2.0 grade. The most surprising disappointment of the two was definitely No. 93. He is one of the five best run-stopping 3-4 defensive ends—unfortunately, Dockett's play was a little more expected.
After a strong Week 1 performance against the rookie, J.R. Sweezy, he hasn't been able to duplicate that same success since. Out of 31 3-4 defensive ends, he is currently third from the bottom in terms of effectiveness against the run. Flashback to last season, and one would have never thought he would regress so quickly.
It would be far fetched to call Dockett a liability because he is a phenomenal pass-rusher. But I think his hamstring injury is still bothering him. When you observe his get off you notice, he almost looks a step slow. And there's no way his age has anything to do with that.
Squaring off against Alex Boone, Mike Iupati and Jonathan Goodwin will definitely be the biggest test of the season for Campbell and Dockett. The 49ers interior offensive line is one of the absolute best in all of football. I sure hope both players watched a lot of tape because they should expect San Francisco to run a ton of inside zone and trap plays.
The 49ers currently sport the second best rushing attack in the NFL.
Rising: LaRod Stephens-Howling
Stephens-Howling is often the forgotten man in Arizona's backfield. But really, he is more like old-reliable. When Coach Whisenhunt needs a good game and everyone else is on injured reserve, he can count LSH. Against Minnesota, he forced nine missed tackles—that's eight more than he had forced all year long.
Falling: Bobby Massie
I hope there ends up being one week where Massie gets off my list. It seems like its a guarantee that his stock will keep falling and falling. Pretty soon, his stock will completely bottom out. By game's end Sunday he had allowed two sacks and eight quarterback hurries. For the season, he has now allowed 12 sacks, two quarterback hits and 31 hurries.
Rising: O'Brien Schofield
For the third week in a row, O'Brien Schofield played an outstanding game. He started the season a little slow, yet he is starting to prove he is Arizona's outside linebacker of the future. His play against the run was stout, and he recorded one quarterback hit and one hurry. Over the last three games, Schofield has recorded 10 quarterback pressures.
Falling: Daryl Washington
Daryl Washington won't stay on this list past Week 8. I fully expect him to have a strong rebound game on Monday Night Football, yet a less-than-spectacular performance from Washington is worth noting. He is the most consistent defender on Arizona's defense, but his play against the run was atrocious. I will give him credit, as he notched two sacks, but as the leader of the defense, his play against the run needs to improve.
The Outlook Heading Into Week 8
If the Cardinals want to keep their playoff hopes alive, Monday's game is a must-win. Playing the 49ers is never easy; however, the Cards are at home. They have proven that they play their best football at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
When playing San Francisco at the University of Phoenix Stadium, the all-time series is tied 3-3. The Niners lead the series 24-17 and have outscored Arizona 978-821. It will be a defensive battle all night long; there's no question.
Coach Whisenhunt's club can't afford to get behind early because it's almost impossible to garner a comeback victory against Jim Harbaugh. His team is built to play with the lead.
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