OK, so all the hype turned into hyperbole as the Cardinals turn “One step forward, two steps back” into an art form in front of the entire nation.
The stage was set. Two hall-of-fame quarterbacks from two top teams going head to head in one of the loudest, most boisterous places to play in the National Football League.
Two steady defenses trying to contain the air show about to be witnessed by tens of millions of fans from coast to coast.
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to all this potential greatness.
The Cardinals of old... the “same old Cardinals” showed up, and turned this thrill-a-thon into a dud-fest. Unless you’re a Colts fan, of course.
So, without further adieu..
There really isn't much to be happy about following this season's worst offensive performance. Yes, even worse than the San Francisco game two weeks ago.
The Cardinals, as predicted, tried to establish the run early. Like I said, it’s what they do. But even with the addition of rookie Beanie Wells, they don’t do it very well.
Example, on every drive in the first half that the Cardinals started off with a run on first down, they were stopped either three-and-out, or after one first down. And when they tried to run on that first down, they were again forced to punt in a hurry.
The offensive line took a huge step back this week. They didn’t open any holes. The OL bookends, Mike Gandy and Levi Brown, were called for crucial holding calls on third down in consecutive series in the third quarter, killing each drive, and thwarting any thoughts of a comeback.
And the FUMBLES! Can someone please explain these ridiculous number of fumbles? For the second straight week, following a long drive and getting inside the 10-yard line, a Cardinals running back fumbled the ball!
This time, there was no one wearing red to save it either. This time, it was recovered by the opposition, and it shifted the momentum to Indianapolis. Instead of potentially going up 10-0, Colts QB Peyton Manning turned the fumble into a 95-yard drive the other way early in the second quarter. And it was all downhill from there.
Starting up front (because as we all know, it ALL starts up front), the Cards OL didn’t block the Colts two All-Pro DE’s (Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis) in pass protection. At all. Dwight Freeney makes a lot of left tackles look bad. But he truly schooled Gandy all night. Gandy was called for holding about one quarter of the times that he actually held Freeney. And it still didn’t help.
When Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner started a drive throwing, they moved the ball seemingly at will at times. But Warner was pressured big-time by the Colts front four all night. They really didn’t have to blitz because they were doing fine dropping seven into coverage on every play, thank-you-very-much.
But a sack here, another fumble there, and a few second-half holding penalties on third down killed any thoughts of a comeback. The OL played pretty lousy all night.
This was a bad night all around for the offense. Warner did his best while constantly under pressure, but there was no way they were going to keep up with the Colts when they’re fumbling twice, and throwing an interception in the endzone in the first half.
Good teams adjust, and the Cardinals offense didn’t until it was too late. (More on that later)
The Cardinals defense showed just how important Darnell Dockett is on this team. When Nine-O was in the game, Dockett was able to disrupt things behind the line.
But once Dockett left the game in the first half with an ankle that was rolled up on, Manning and company went to work, and shredded the Cardinals defense both on the ground, and through the air.
Joseph Addai, fairly ineffective in the first quarter, started peeling off runs of eight and 10 yards. Rookie Donald Brown gave Addai a breather in the second half, and looked just as good. Better, in fact.
For some reason (again, more on this later), All-Pro safety Adrian Wilson played center field and almost never approached the line of scrimmage. Thus, it allowed the Colts to run the ball better than they have all year.
The Cards were getting decent pressure on Manning in the first quarter. But when Dockett left, so did the pressure. Alan Branch played OK in Nine-O’s absence, but it seemed like the others softened up, and Manning was under no such duress the rest of the anemic second quarter.
A 3-0 Cardinals lead heading into the second quarter turned quickly into a 21-3 halftime Colts lead. Manning didn’t need a blitz to find open receivers left open in vacated areas of blitzing Cardinals, because they never really blitzed a lot.
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was schooled, big time. Every time he left his lane in a self-absorbed attempt to ‘make a play’, the wily Manning burnt him like a fair skinned Irishman tubing down the salt River, buck naked.
DRC wasn’t alone, as it seemed like Wilson was caught doing the same thing at times. That the coaches chose NOT to put pressure on Manning via blitz’s meant that he’d have more time to find an open receiver. All too often, both Wilson and DRC were caught on the wrong side, and watched completion after completion.
Note to Cardinals brass. Find the money to pay Dockett. Or this won’t be the last time this area gets a fat D grade this season.
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who now calls the plays for the Cardinals, had better refine his ‘run first’ philosophy, and acknowledge that this IS, in fact, a ‘Pass to set up the run’ offense.
Every single series in the first half that started with a run, ended quickly. When they started with a first-down pass, they managed to move the ball. The Cardinals aren’t going to fool anyone into thinking this is a running team.
Meanwhile, the Indy coaching staff made the adjustments necessary when the Colts started pulling away. They used four down linemen to harass and pressure Warner all night, not needing to blitz or stunt much.
Special teams were nothing special either way. They didn’t do anything spectacular, but didn’t stink up the place either. There were no big plays, either good or bad.
But the coaching was worse than the San Francisco game. They made no adjustments when the blocking broke down, bringing in an extra TE, or run two-TE sets in mass-protect. Warner needed time, and the Cardinals coaching staff did nothing to ensure he got some.
The team couldn’t have played much worse. But I lay this one on the coaching staff more than anyone or anything else. True, offensive linemen are paid to block, and they didn’t do their job very well, But it's up to the coach to make the necessary adjustments when it's clear what they’re doing, isn’t working.
The Cards will have a Bye this coming week. They will need to do a lot of soul searching in the next two weeks if they want to really right this ship before Houston comes to town on Oct. 11.
This game was a complete disappointment. It's the kind of game that has fans nationally suggesting these are the “same old Cardinals”. But I'm not throwing the towel in just yet.
There’s too much talent on this team for that. And that they play in the NFC West (where every other team lost Sunday, too), they certainly have plenty of time to get it together.
But this is a team that has traditionally played well at home under Whisenhunt the past two seasons. And they’ve played like crap in the first two games in 2009. They just happened to get schooled by a better team. A team that’s used to winning.
Its not time to hit the panic button, but there is a definite cause for concern. They are an amazing Brett Favre last-second touchdown from being two games out of first after just three games played.
As is always the case, the Cardinals turned what should be a manageable early home schedule into another early season "must-win" game.
Urgency? You bet your ass!