After a Week 3 blowout loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Arizona Cardinals need to play better in all three phases of the game. Their offense, defense and special teams units all turned in subpar performances in the team’s second loss of the season.
According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), only six offensive players and four defensive players finished the day with a positive grade.
Defensive end Darnell Dockett turned in one of the most impressive showings of his career by tallying three quarterback sacks, one quarterback hit and four quarterback hurries. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Dockett was the lone standout performer. The coverage on the back end of the secondary was shaky, and the linebacker play was uninspiring, to say the least.
Offensively, things proved to be just as dull. Aside from center Lyle Sendlein, left guard Daryn Colledge and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin’s offense laid an egg. Arizona mustered up a mere 247 yards on 55 plays and converted five measly third downs on 13 attempts.
To win ballgames in the NFL, teams must be able convert on third down and rack up 350 yards of total offense or more.
Heading into Week 4, the Cardinals have the 23rd-best offense in the league and the 23rd-best third-down conversion rate. With head coach Bruce Arians calling the shots in the desert, one would expect the Cards offense to be in much better shape. However, there’s a reason for its shortcomings. Running back Rashard Mendenhall and the hog mollies up front have failed to establish a consistent run game.
Right now, Arizona has one of the least efficient run blocking offensive lines in the league. On 67 carries, the backfield is averaging below four yards (3.9) a pop. Assistant offensive line coach Larry Zierlein has to make it a point to coach up Colledge and Paul Fanaika. The guard play has been atrocious.
Things don’t get any easier for the Cardinals this week. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven’t surrendered a rushing touchdown all year, and opposing tailbacks are averaging 3.9 yards per carry against defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan’s defense.
However, Sunday’s game on the road won’t be won on the offensive side of the ball, it will be won on the defensive side of the ball. Mike Glennon will make his first pro start, so defensive coordinator Todd Bowles needs to dial up an aggressive game plan. Bowles needs to send blitzes at Glennon from every which way.
In addition to blitzing linebackers Jasper Brinkley and Karlos Dansby, the Cardinals need to blitz defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. On six pass-rush attempts, Mathieu has one quarterback hurry out of the slot cornerback position.
When one takes the time to examine the Buccaneers' weaknesses along the offensive line, right guard Davin Joseph and left guard Carl Nicks are easily the two biggest liabilities up front. This, in turn, means Arizona’s defense should send constant pressure between the A-gap and the B-gap.
In theory, the dynamic plan of attack should work to perfection as long as the Cardinals’ rushers get home on their assignments. Nevertheless, the task always looks easier to accomplish on paper.
Neither Brinkley nor Dansby has been able to record a quarterback sack on 40 pass-rush attempts. Still, you have to think their time is coming. Both players have been in on a couple of plays where the quarterback released the ball just prior to the sack. Brinkley has three quarterback pressures total and Dansby has three.
Going across the country and winning on the road is one of the hardest things to do in the NFL, but the Cardinals have to find a way to get back on track against a sinking team that is staring down a potential 0-4 record.
This is a great opportunity for Arians and his 53-man roster. If the team bounces back in a big way, pundits will praise the first-year head coach for his ability to overcome adversity. Additionally, they will praise him because he didn’t let one loss turn into a multitude of losses.
As far-fetched as it seems, a win on Sunday will put Arizona right back in the playoff hunt. There are only five teams in the NFC who currently boast a winning record through three games.
Furthermore, a win on Sunday will put the Cardinals in a second-place tie with the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West.
As the season progresses, this team will need to find a way to pace itself correctly and not succumb to any letdown games. Losing to a 0-3 Bucs team with Glennon at quarterback would be considered a letdown, and Arians knows it. He thinks his team has the matchup edge, though. Here’s what he told reporters this past Wednesday in regard to Tampa’s change under center, via Vince Marotta of ArizonaSports.com:
They obviously felt it was needed, I don't know why, not being a part of their organization. But any time you face a rookie quarterback, you know that it's his first time out there. We should have an advantage, I think.
He’s right: The Cardinals do have the advantage. Historically, they’ve played well against first-year quarterbacks. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, they’ve beat Sam Bradford, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson during their rookie campaigns.
Without a doubt, Glennon will be the fourth.