This Arizona Cardinals have a lot of improving to do.
While they entered Week 3 as road favorites in Seattle, they managed to under-perform throughout the course of the afternoon against the hosting Seahawks. While it was only a three-point loss, the 13-10 final score doesn’t tell the whole story. The ramifications of this loss appear to have far more consequential results.
The Cardinals' inability to close out games and secure victories will prove to be their downfall when the bell tolls and invitations for the postseason tournament are passed out.
Here are the five things we learned:
1. The lack of a deep threat opposite Larry Fitzgerald is beginning to hamstring offensive production.
After snatching five balls in the first half of play, Larry Fitzgerald was all but neutralized in the second half of Sunday’s game. Bracketed coverage and continual double teams enabled the Seahawks defense to eliminate their opposition's most dynamic weapon. Whether management wants to admit it or not, there is a lack of depth at the wide receiver position. Their inability to secure a deep threat to play opposite Fitzgerald during this past offseason will continue to haunt them as a decrease in offensive production is inevitable.
2. Sustainability and an increased commitment to the run are necessary.
The running game has to be more effective moving forward. In order to eat clock and secure victories, the offense needs to grind out the final moments of ball games. In back-to-back weeks, the Cardinals' overall inefficiency of controlling time of possession has resulted in short, unproductive offensive drives. This is a facet of the offense game plan that Ken Whisenhunt and his staff need to spend more time improving upon. In two consecutive weeks, a fourth-quarter lead has been squandered and two road losses have been accumulated.
3. Lack of third-down conversions proving problematic.
In keeping with the theme of sustainability, lack of third-down conversions on Sunday afternoon proved to be a key contributor to the Cardinals' eventual demise. Throughout the afternoon they posted a paltry 21 percent conversion rate, a glaring figure when you consider their inability to close out the Seahawks in the final quarter of play. Usually in order to improve on this aspect, you need to position yourself so that you are in manageable yard to go situations to increase your overall success rate and ultimately pick up those third-down conversions. The problem on Sunday afternoon, however, was that on multiple occasions they were in 3rd-and-short situations and they still were unable to convert.
While it was good to see Alfonso Smith and his quick burst out of the backfield, wouldn’t it have been better to have Chester Taylor taking the bulk of the short yardage plays? On three separate 3rd-and-1 situations Smith failed to reach the line of gain. It seems as though this was a tactical oversight in the personnel packages that were used.
4. Onto the bright side: the defensive side of the football.
In the first two weeks of the season, the Cardinals had encountered issues with both their pass and run defense. Against the Seahawks, things began to finally come together. The defensive line helped to play a crucial role in creating adequate pressure throughout the afternoon, forcing Tarvaris Jackson to the turf on multiple occasions. That increased pressure up front helped to relieve some of the pressure the secondary had encountered in their previous contests.
While it is far from a finished product, it is clear that the defensive schemes from coordinator Ray Horton are beginning to settle in and should only improve as time progresses.
5. The NFC West is wide open.
Its becoming increasingly apparent that the overall talent pool in the NFC West is substandard when compared against other divisions. While it may be early to make such an assessment, we are already over a sixth of the way through the season and there is no clear-cut leader within this division. Quite simply put, the teams within this division are riddled with inconsistencies. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if the division winner were to advance with a record similar to that of last year’s version of the Seahawks, with a win-loss record either at or below .500.
In Week 17, St. Louis hosts San Francisco while Arizona hosts Seattle, expect all four teams to be contending for the division title come the final week of the regular season.