Cincinnati Bengals vs. Arizona Cardinals: Grades for Each Cardinals Unit
Say it with me: It’s only the preseason. If you watched the game Sunday night, you saw a struggling first-team offense and a stifling first-team defense against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Arizona Cardinals thought the days of offensive ineptitude were over, but that apparently is not the case.
Every team—even the great ones—has its struggles from time to time. But for as well as quarterback Carson Palmer played during the first two preseason games, in which he led touchdown drives to open each game, Sunday night’s performance was a bit of a surprise.
The offensive line provided Palmer with a clean pocket most of the first half, but the veteran quarterback was, for lack of a better term, consistently inconsistent.
What grade would you give the Arizona quarterbacks, the offensive line and the rest of the team based on Sunday night’s 19-13 loss?
Read on, then tell me in the comments section what you’d dish out.
Palmer was inaccurate on multiple deep throws early. On the first drive alone, he missed long to Michael Floyd on consecutive plays that resulted in a Dave Zastudil punt.
His 31.0 passer rating really drops the grade, but Drew Stanton’s performance helps it some. He was by far the best quarterback on the field Sunday night, going 10-of-13 for 108 yards (8.3 yards per attempt) and a touchdown for a 126.4 passer rating.
Rookie Logan Thomas worked the fourth quarter and struggled out of the gate. He was sacked on his first snap before going just 2-of-7 passing for 21 yards (3.0 YPA) and a pick. He ended up with a zero passer rating.
In the short term, this game looks bad for the quarterbacks considering the regular season is two short weeks away. But in truth, this game came at the perfect time. Head coach Bruce Arians has time still to make adjustments and work with the quarterback room in hopes of ironing out any issues with the offense.
Just be thankful this is the preseason and not Week 1.
Last week in Minnesota, six running backs had at least one carry. Given that this week was the last tune-up for starters and those who have a shot to make the roster, that total was cut in half.
That’s three running backs, in case you were about to dust off the old TI-83.
Starter Andre Ellington led the way with nine carries for 46 yards (5.1 yards per carry). His stat line would not have looked so good if not for a 24-yard gallop that helped set up a Jay Feely field goal.
I was impressed with the running backs in pass protection. Stepfan Taylor especially stood out on an occasion or two in the second half. That will help the grade, but overall, it was not a great night for the running backs.
Once again, the group failed to hit running lanes with authority. Jonathan Dwyer still thinks he can outrun NFL defenders, as he continues to bounce runs to the outside. He’s done it several times this preseason and, with the exception of his goal-line touchdown last week against the Minnesota Vikings, it has yet to work.
Wide Receiver and Tight End
It was a tough night for wide receivers and tight ends. Larry Fitzgerald and rookie John Brown led the way, but other than a couple diving grabs from the two, the group as a whole struggled to get involved.
Starting tight end John Carlson was invisible in the passing game, not having a single target.
Rookie tight end Troy Niklas had a chance to convert a third down late when he was targeted by Thomas as the hot route against a blitzing Bengals defense. He did not realize he was the “hot,” and failed to get his head around in time to see Thomas’ pass hit him.
It’s not the first time Thomas has hit him with a football.
Blocking was really good as a whole from this group, so that helps the grade immensely tonight. Otherwise, it would have been a very disappointing grade for such a talented bunch.
Big ups to the starting five; those guys played well against a good Bengals defensive line.
Both tackles—Jared Veldheer on the left and Bobby Massie on the right—allowed some pressure, but other than that Palmer had a clean pocket.
The run blocking was not as impressive, but holes were there for Ellington. The young back did not see the lane every time, thus making the line look bad to the layperson.
The second-string offensive line played well also, not allowing a sack during Stanton’s time on the field. The run blocking was not as solid from them, but again, lanes were there at times and Dwyer tried bouncing multiple runs outside rather than hitting those lanes.
Third-stringers are third-stringers for a reason, and tonight we found out why. Thomas was under heavy pressure on more than one instance, forcing hurried and inaccurate throws. We didn’t see much rushing from the third-team offense as they attempted a fourth-quarter comeback, so they will not be graded on that aspect.
The starting unit, which now includes defensive tackle Frostee Rucker in place of the injured Darnell Dockett, did a fantastic job stopping the run Sunday night. Bengals starting running back Giovani Bernard carried 10 times for just 17 yards (1.7 YPC).
The line was an integral part of last year's No. 1-rated run defense, and it showed up once again to stifle any rushing attempt. Calais Campbell and Co. did not get much pressure on Andy Dalton, but they did pave the way more than once for the linebackers to get in the quarterback's face.
The backups did not get much push in the pass rush. On the flip side, they were pushed around in the run game by Cincinnati’s backup offensive lines. Kareem Martin made a couple nice plays, including a tackle for loss in which he would have had a forced fumble had the play been extended an extra half-second. Other than that, there was not much positive of which to speak.
Unfortunately, that brings down the grade, but it’s still not bad, considering the late-game struggles.
As mentioned, the defensive line created lanes through which the linebackers could shoot on blitzes, but no one was able to finish off Dalton or backup quarterback Jason Campbell.
Zero sacks hurts.
Starting inside linebacker Kevin Minter sat out a second straight game giving Kenny Demens his second consecutive start. What’s good about that is Demens showed up ready to play, and he thrived in his starting role.
So did veteran Larry Foote. For the second week in a row, Foote was the best linebacker on the field for the Cardinals. Could it be that Todd Bowles’ defensive scheme is such that it allows inside linebackers to thrive?
We’ve heard all offseason how the loss of Karlos Dansby would come back to bite the Cardinals. Well, that may not be the case.
As for the outside, Sam Acho was around the ball a bunch but didn’t record a single tackle. He had pressure on Dalton a couple times and appeared to get off the ball quicker than the past two games. That means he’s feeling confident in the condition of the leg he broke last season. Good news for the defense.
The top cornerbacks made some plays on the ball Sunday night, and they didn’t allow Cincinnati receivers to get behind them. The longest reception from a Bengals starter was tight end Germaine Gresham’s lone catch, a 33-yard grab that was the fault of linebacker Kenny Demens, not anyone in the secondary.
Where I was really impressed with the secondary play was in run support, specifically from the safeties. All three of the top guys—Tony Jefferson, Rashad Johnson and rookie Deone Bucannon—made plays at the line of scrimmage to halt running plays.
The three were each credited with a tackle for loss, accounting for half the team’s total of six. (The TI-83 helped me with that conversion.)
Leading up to the third preseason game, some had speculated that the kicking competition between veteran Jay Feely and undrafted rookie Chandler Catanzaro would be settled by the time the game had ended.
If you ask me, it was.
Feely missed a 48-yard field goal (way) wide right in the first quarter, and his kicks—though better than last week’s—were not as impressive as Catanzaro’s.
More than the kicking game, though, the rest of the special teams played great. Dave Zastudil punted well as usual. Of his six punts, three were downed inside the 20-yard line, with one stopping in its tracks inside the 10. He averaged 44.3 yards per punt.
The return game was not very good, but then there were not many opportunities. Punt returner Ted Ginn Jr.’s first return did not go as well as he hoped. Instead of calling for a fair catch as he should have, he chanced it and was blasted by cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick as he caught the ball.
It’s a minor miracle he hung on to the ball.
It’s hard to grade coaching in the preseason because so much going on. There isn’t much planning involved leading up to the game, and while coaches have some idea of how they want to call the game based on what they know of the opposing team, they really don’t know much because of their unfamiliarity with a number of the players.
And because of that, it’s difficult sometimes to place blame on the play called or the player trying to execute that call when something goes wrong.
Sunday’s game had many ups. It had even more downs—a lot of it can be placed on players making mistakes and failing to execute. Like Palmer’s interception. Fitz told Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com the pick-six was his fault:
You can never hang your quarterback out to dry. I have to do a better job reading and recognizing the defenses and do what I am coached to do.
The defense played a hell of a game. Other than not finishing off sacks of Bengals quarterbacks, Bowles’ men executed very well all night long.
|Positional Unit||Overall Grade|
Even though the Cardinals lost and parts of the offense did not look good, namely quarterbacks, the team played well throughout. The secondary played lights-out football Sunday night, which really helped hold the Bengals in check and kept the offense in the game.
Looking ahead to Week 1, Palmer and Co. have time to work out the deficiencies that arose in their half of play. Ellington was just OK. Other than the 24-yard gain, he didn't do anything amazing as we've come to expect.
The offensive line really looked good out there. Veldheer and Massie did their thing, while new left guard Ted Larsen held his own. Lyle Sendlein was back in at center, and both he and right guard Paul Fanaika did their jobs well. Palmer had time to throw throughout the duration of the first half, and running lanes were available for Ellington.
Again, I can't stress enough how good the defense looked. Cornerback Patrick Peterson allowed a couple receptions to perennial Pro Bowler A.J. Green, and on the other side, Antonio Cromartie nearly came up with an interception off Dalton.
We'd like to see Cromartie work some on form tackling, but hey, most corners are not fond of putting a shoulder into a receiver—especially one as big and physical as Mohamed Sanu.
Overall, this was a positive outcome. Final score does not matter much during the preseason other than to boost pride, so the 19-13 loss should be forgotten. The team was a solid performance from Palmer away from looking like the dominant team some expect to see this season.
The sooner he and the offense iron out the problems, the sooner that domination can occur.
All stats provided by ESPN