In 2010, the Cardinals were an abysmal 1-7 on the road.
On Sunday they traveled to Landover, Md. in order to take on the Washington Redskins with hopes of beginning this season's portion of their road schedule on the right foot.
Unfortunately, Redskins placekicker Graham Gano introduced a different interpretation to the Cardinals wishes as he used his right foot to boot the 34-yard, game-winning field goal with 1:50 remaining in the contest.
Following a costly fumble by Chansi Stuckey on the Cardinals' ensuing possession, it was game, set, match.
Here are the five things we learned:
1. The offensive line took a significant step backward in pass protection.
If last week’s performance helped to show how the offensive line was able to adequately withstand a pass rush, this week helped to quickly eliminate any inkling that those premonitions would continue. Throughout the 21 minutes in which the Cardinals held possession, Kevin Kolb was basically running for his life. Kolb was forced to look away his primary targets on a number of occasions due to consistent pressure that he was receiving, ultimately resulting in hurried unproductive passing attempts.
While his mobility and determination to avoid the rush was admirable, he unfortunately wasn’t successful in his attempts. Kolb was sacked three times and on a number of occasions was the recipient of vicious contact while delivering, or attempting to deliver, the football.
We all know how this story is going to play out if they don’t get their pass protection situated. At different points of last year they had four separate signal callers taking snaps—yes, some of that was due to inefficiency at the position, but it was also due to the offensive line's overall ineptitude to protect the quarterback.
Inconsistency in pass protection has plagued the unit for the better part of two years now; the time is now for Russ Grimm to solidify the offensive line play . It may require some reshuffling in order to get the right people in place, but it’s a far better situation than potentially having to replace the $65 million investment that trots out with the No. 4 in the shape of a bullseye on his back.
2. On the positive side, the offensive line performed well in the running game.
Beanie Wells ran for a cool 93 yards on just 14 carries in the afternoon. While Wells continued to build off his productive performance from last week, a large part of that success can be directly attributed to the holes that were opened up in front for him. At times it appeared as if the seas were parting when the ball was handed off, as there were gaping holes for the effective Wells to barrel his way through.
It’s a tad concerning that the Cardinals didn’t alter their game plan late in the contest in order to take advantage of their success on the ground. More specifically, on their second-to-last possession they chose to throw the ball on two of the three downs instead of pounding the ball on the ground and grinding out some time on the clock. That quick three-and-out lasted less than one minute and afforded the Redskins with ample time to execute their game-winning drive.
The Cardinals lost the time of possession battle by a ratio of nearly two to one. While I understand that arguably the best wide receiver in the National Football League helps to dictate the cadence at which the offense operates, it's important this team becomes far more balanced. Introducing the AFC North mentality (smash-mouth, run-oriented football), in which Ken Whisenhunt is a former pupil, into the open style of the NFC West could prove to be their path to success in securing a division title.
3. Bendability—they got Bendability!
The Redskins were able to gain a lot of yardage throughout the afternoon (455 yards), however, for all of their efforts, it didn’t translate into the smorgasbord of points they had hoped for. The defense helped to stymie Rex Grossman early and coaxed him into two crucial turnovers (one of those turnovers occurring inside of the Cardinals' red zone) and the special teams unit helped to block a Graham Gano field goal attempt from 30 yards out. Through the first two weeks of the season, the Cardinals have a Cold, Hard Football Facts Bendability rating of 21.69 (yards gained/points scored), a category they ranked 26th in the league last year posting a rating of 13.77.
4. Kolb to Fitzgerald has a nice ring to it.
On a play in which Kevin Kolb took an exceptionally big hit, he still managed to connect on a deep strike to Larry Fitzgerald. The 73-yard score was the first hookup of the season for the tandem and it certainly won’t be the last time. This explosiveness and dynamic ability is exactly what Michael Bidwill and Rod Graves envisioned when they brought in Kolb and signed Fitzgerald to a long-term extension.
5. Coffee’s for closers.
With an eight-point lead heading into the final 11 minutes of the contest, the Cardinals had multiple opportunities to slam the door shut on the hometown Redskins. Instead they allowed Washington to engineer a six-minute, 13-play scoring drive that brought them, and their fans, within striking distance. That drive included three separate third-down conversions and a crucial 4th-and-3 in which Grossman hit Santana Moss in the corner of the end zone. On their next possession, Gano hits the game-winner.
If you want to be considered an elite team in this league you have to learn how to close out ball games. Plain and simple.