Cardinals vs. Jaguars: Takeaways from Arizona's 27-14 Win Over Jacksonville
Granted, the Jaguars had to go for it on fourth down after initially being stopped after three plays, but a breakdown is a breakdown. Tight end Danny Noble got behind the secondary, caught a pass from Chad Henne and raced 62 yards into the end zone.
The defense would allow another touchdown on Jacksonville’s second drive, and it appeared it was going to be a long day for the Cardinals. But the defense clamped down and shut out the Jags the rest of the way.
We have more on the defense and much more on the rest of the game in this takeaways piece, so let’s get to it.
Does Carson Palmer Get It Now?
What a performance by quarterback Carson Palmer. Not only did he not throw an interception, but the former No. 1 overall pick surpassed 400 yards for the sixth time in his 10-year career.
He completed 30-of-42 passes (71.4 percent) for 419 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 119.0 passer rating.
It is the 20th time he’s accumulated a rating above 110, and it’s the first time he’s thrown for 400 yards and won a game. He had been 0-5, undoubtedly gaining such big yardage in failed comeback efforts.
Does that mean Palmer finally understands head coach Bruce Arians’ offense? According to the coach himself, that may be the case:
It will be interesting to see how Palmer can build off this game in the coming weeks.
What Happened to the Rushing Attack?
Rookie Andre Ellington was shut down by Jacksonville’s defense, gaining just three yards on eight carries for a 0.4 yards-per-carry average. Rashard Mendenhall wasn’t much better, carrying 13 times for 14 yards (1.1 YPC) and a touchdown.
The Cardinals gained just 14 yards on the ground (Palmer’s minus-three yards on kneel downs count), which is tied for the eighth-worst in franchise history. It’s also the fewest rush yards gained in a win in franchise history, beating the 25 yards set Dec. 27, 1998 against the San Diego Chargers—yes, the playoff-clinching game that came one week before beating the Dallas Cowboys in a Wild-Card game.
What exactly happened to the rushing attack on Sunday? Right tackle Eric Winston gives his take, per Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com:
We have spurts where we look damn good but we are not there consistently. We just didn’t run the ball well today. That’s an ugly day. Obviously you have that many (defenders) in the box it will open up some big plays and we got them, but eight-man box, you still have to be able to hammer out three and four yards and we weren’t doing that.
The Jaguars came into today allowing the most rushing yards per game (153.0) and the fifth-most yards per carry (4.5) in the NFL. So 14 yards and 0.6 yards per carry is what we get?
Pass Protection Holds Up for Most Part
Although Palmer was sacked three times on Sunday, he had a clean pocket much of the day. Only a few times did he have to escape the pocket to make something happen.
As a unit, the offensive line has really come together this season. It has allowed us to see what Palmer can do when given time, and the results have been positive of late. Three straight wins—including one on a trip to the East coast to play an early game—looks good no matter how it gets done.
But it looks better when the line is able to move defenders around and provide a clean pocket for the quarterback.
That wasn’t the case during the four-game winning streak that began the 2012 season. Kevin Kolb was under immense pressure throughout, and it eventually started costing the team wins.
It’s getting better on offense for the Cardinals this season. Each game provides us with another reason why this team can contend. The offensive line not being a complete disaster is this week’s reason.
Nothing Wrong with Michael Floyd’s Shoulder
Second-year receiver Michael Floyd left last week’s game against the Houston Texans with a sprained shoulder and was questionable to play this week. He played, and he played well.
Man, did he play well.
After dropping a couple passes that appeared very catchable early in the game, Floyd went off for six receptions, a career-high 193 yards (32.2 yards per catch) and a touchdown—a 91-yard catch-and-run from Palmer in the third quarter that put the game out of reach for the Jaguars.
His shoulder looked healthy today. Though it is unknown if it was giving him any pain during the game, we do know it did not affect him if it was. He was brilliant.
Rush Defense Steps Up Against MJD
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew is still a good running back, though he has struggled this season, averaging fewer than 3.0 yards per carry four times in nine games.
But Sunday was a new low. Jones-Drew carried 14 times for 23 yards (1.64 YPC) and a one-yard touchdown. That 1.64-yard average is the second-lowest in his career when carrying at least 10 times.
The Cardinals came in allowing the third-fewest yards per carry (3.5) and the third-fewest yards per game (86.9). Those numbers improved on Sunday after allowing 30 yards and a 2.0 yards-per-carry average.
Third-Down Defense Even Better
Jacksonville converted two third downs against Arizona, and one came because of a penalty. Overall, the Jaguars went 2-of-14 (14.3 percent) on third downs.
They ran twice for five yards, and Henne completed 4-of-9 (44.4 percent) for 37 yards. Both Cardinals sacks came on third down as well, and the Jags went three and out four times in the game. There would have been another had they not converted on a fourth down—their fourth-down touchdown came after being stopped on three plays.
Third downs had been a problem all season; coming into Sunday’s game, Arizona had allowed the ninth-highest third-down conversion in the NFL at 40.9 percent. The Cardinals boasts one of the best defenses in the league, but its Achilles heel had been getting off the field. Too often, drives were extended on a big third-down conversion.
That was not the case on Sunday.
It Might Be Time to Try out a New Punt Returner
Patrick Peterson had a historic rookie season of punt returning. He took back an NFL-record-tying four punts for touchdowns.
Since then, he’s returned zero for touchdowns and has come close maybe twice. He has also fumbled or muffed a return far more often than is acceptable—he did it again in Jacksonville, nearly giving the Jaguars possession in the red zone.
Rookie defensive back Tyrann Mathieu was very dangerous as a return man at LSU, so it might be time to give him a look for a game. One of these times, Peterson is going to muff a punt and it’s going to cost the Cardinals a win.
Let Peterson focus on covering the opposition’s No. 1 receiver and leave the punt returning to someone else.