Cardinals QB Carson Palmer was sacked five times against the Eagles.
Close losses are worse than blowouts, especially when the offense turns the ball over three times and still has a chance at the end to win it with a long touchdown drive.
But that drive stalled on Sunday, and the Cardinals (7-5) now must regroup before hosting the St. Louis Rams in an NFC West matchup they must win if they want any shot at January football.
Here are some takeaways from the devastating loss to the Eagles.
Not much can be done offensively when the quarterback is under pressure as Carson Palmer was on Sunday. He fought through it and managed three touchdowns despite being mugged all afternoon.
Pressure came from everywhere against the Eagles; every offensive lineman struggled to hold off the pass rush. It affected Palmer on deep throws, as he floated many of them and could easily have been picked off more than twice.
It’s a step back for a patchwork line that performed well enough during the past month of games not to cost the offense field position and points. It’s also a reminder that without solid offensive line play, the offense cannot work as it should.
We all know how bad an offense can look with a poor line.
The poor play of the offensive line certainly aided in Palmer’s demise on Sunday, but he was not great when given time, either. This was especially noticeable on deep throws.
On his first interception, the Eagles had Michael Floyd bracketed over the top. A good throw to the corner of the end zone would have resulted in a touchdown, but the ball was vastly underthrown, allowing safety Nate Allen an easy interception near the goal line.
And on Palmer’s second pick of the day, a pass intended for receiver Andre Roberts, the correct throw was to the middle of the field, where no safety was playing. Instead, Palmer threw it to the left of the left hash and behind Roberts, making it another easy play for the defense—this time, cornerback Cary Williams.
Palmer completed 24 of 41 passes (58.5 percent) for 302 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions for an 85.6 passer rating on the day.
For the second straight game, running back Rashard Mendenhall ran well with the ball in his hands, carrying 18 times for 76 yards (4.2 yards per carry) on Sunday. He has averaged 4.2 yards per carry over the past two games, perhaps giving head coach Bruce Arians a reason to give him more carries.
With Andre Ellington inactive with a knee injury against the Eagles, Mendenhall split time with Stepfan Taylor. The two looked solid as a tandem, but that burst Ellington provides was definitely missed.
#Cardinals run game looked good... Felt like it was under utilized, especially early when the game was close/tied... Mendy's best work— Seth Cox (@SethCoxFB) December 1, 2013
On a one-year deal, Mendenhall could potentially run himself into another contract in Arizona if he keeps up—or improves—his pace down the stretch. If anything, he could earn a nice contract with another franchise if general manager Steve Keim declines to re-sign him.
Michael Floyd is playing some of the best football of any receiver in the league right now. Not only is he making interception-saving circus catches, but he’s also throwing blocks on the field like he’s a tight end.
On Sunday, Floyd had five receptions for 99 yards (19.8 yards per catch) and a touchdown. He was targeted by Palmer a team-high 10 times and indeed saved his quarterback from a third interception when he went up between double coverage to take a jump ball from the defense.
Based on what has happened over the past three weeks, Floyd is the best receiver on the roster right now. With all due respect to the great Larry Fitzgerald, he is being outperformed weekly by Floyd.
It’s an impossibility at this point. The Cardinals just cannot do it. Asking Cardinals defenders to cover tight ends is akin to asking a newborn child to drive you to the store. It won’t happen.
Tight ends Brent Celek and rookie Zach Ertz combined to haul in nine receptions for 97 yards and all three of Nick Foles’ touchdown passes on Sunday.
And it wasn’t just one or two defenders losing them in coverage. Everyone from Daryl Washington to Yeremiah Bell to Rashad Johnson to Tyrann Mathieu struggled in coverage of apparently the two best tight ends in the NFL. It was comical watching the defense lose sight of Celek and Ertz—the two must have been wearing their invisibility cloaks.
Yards are one thing, but keeping LeSean McCoy out of the end zone was big. McCoy carried 19 times for 79 yards (4.2 YPC) and added five receptions for 36 yards (7.2 YPC). He had 24 touches for 4.8 yards per touch.
That’s acceptable for a guy who came in averaging nearly six yards per touch on the season.
And the defense kept the big plays limited. McCoy had 11 plays of 20 yards or more entering play Sunday. His longest gain from scrimmage was 19 yards—done twice, on a run and a reception.
The game-winning drive happened to be the 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to open the second half for the Eagles, as they would hang on to win by a field goal. That drive did not define the half, however.
On Philadelphia’s final six possessions, Arizona’s defense would force two three-and-outs and five total punts, surrendering only 35 total yards in the process.
The Cardinals out-gained the Eagles because of it, but again, yards are not what are important. One more scoring drive at any point for the offense and we’re discussing Arizona’s fifth win in a row and not a tough loss.
Covering a tight end would have helped as well.