Despite losing a last-second heartbreaker on the road, head coach Bruce Arians has to be happy with the progress his football team made in Week 1 against the St. Louis Rams. According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Cardinals received high marks in the passing game and against the run.
Quarterback Carson Palmer graded out as PFF’s top passer, and wideout Larry Fitzgerald was the seventh-best receiver. Strong performances from two of Arizona’s top offensive weapons undoubtedly put a smile on Arians’ face.
Without question, he was hoping Fitzgerald would help resurrect Palmer’s career and Palmer would help resurrect Fitzgerald’s. However, the two biggest names on the offensive side of the ball weren’t the only ones who put together top-notch performances.
Fourth-year receiver Andre Roberts made big-time catches time and time again on third down. In fact, of Roberts’ eight catches, four of them came on third down. Moreover, all four of his third-down receptions kept the chains moving.
After this past Sunday’s game, Palmer had this to say about the 195-pound pass-catcher, via Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com:
Andre’s a guy, when the lights go on he shows up. He made some really tough catches. They were trying to get their hands on him, pushing him around, he kept his feet, kept his balance and focused on the ball. But he made some really, really good plays and I’m not surprised one bit. That's what I expect out of Andre.
Pundits shouldn’t be surprised that Roberts made a few tough catches in traffic to keep drives alive. Since entering the league in 2010, he has gotten better and better every year. In 2012, he posted career highs in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
Furthermore, Roberts made it a point of emphasis during the offseason to become a more sure-handed receiver. Last year he finished the season with 10 drops on 107 targets. That means he would drop one pass every 10.7 targets. To put it nicely, that’s not very good.
Through one week of the season, he’s off to a good start. On nine targets, Roberts didn’t register a single drop. Aside from improving on his pass-catching technique, it’s evident that he has enhanced his route-running ability as well.
On this second-quarter play, Roberts was lined up in the slot on the left side of the formation. The Cardinals needed six yards to secure the first down, so it was essential that all the wideouts ran their routes past the first-down marker.
Roberts not only ran his route past the first-down marker, but he also recognized the Rams' coverage scheme right off the bat. Once he recognized their coverage scheme, he found a soft spot in the zone and sat down between three defenders.
A clean, crisp route and even better awareness were the keys to that third-down conversion. Going forward, expect Roberts to continue to see a bulk of the action based on the fact so many defenses will be keeping close tabs on Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.
Defensively, a couple of newcomers stole the show under the direction of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Together, inside linebackers Jasper Brinkley and Karlos Dansby combined for 16 tackles, three quarterback hits, one quarterback hurry and 10 defensive stops. Additionally, both players were stout against the run.
Coming into the season, the inside linebacker position posed huge questions marks. Fans and media members alike wondered if Daryl Washington’s four-game suspension would hold Arizona’s defense back. Some felt Dansby was too old to play at a high level, and others felt Brinkley was nothing more than a top-tier backup.
Even though it was only one game, Bowles has to believe Dansby and Brinkley can hold down the fort until Washington returns. Neither player will ever be considered an All-Pro caliber player, yet both players proved they are capable of making big-time plays.
On this fourth-quarter pass play, Brinkley did a great job of reading and reacting. Running back Daryl Richardson was quarterback Sam Bradford’s primary target. Bradford was hoping the Cardinals defense would get mixed up if wide receiver Tavon Austin ran a shallow crosser in front their linebacking corps.
This, in turn, would allow Richardson to slip out of the backfield unnoticed. Unfortunately for Bradford, Dansby picked up Austin on the shallow crosser, and Brinkley never took his eyes off of the second-year tailback out of Abilene Christian.
Brinkley was in Richardson’s hip pocket for the entirety of the play and the end result was an incompletion and a pass breakup. Despite having his fair share of hiccups in coverage, Brinkley showed that he was competing until the final whistle blew.
Sure, the Cardinals had a few poor performances to go along with their strong performances, but that’s the nature of the beast. Not every player can consistently be on his game on a weekly basis. Good players have bad games and bad players have good games.
The key is to have more players have good games than bad games. Plus, there is always a silver lining when teams lose. Every game presents a learning opportunity and different in-game situations.
Not to mention disciplined and well-coached teams are always the ones who bounce back. Arizona exhibited moxie and grit against St. Louis. Which should lead you to believe that the Cardinals are talented enough to start winning and closing out games at home and on the road.