When the Arizona Cardinals have played average this season, they have won. When they have lost, save for the loss to the Green Bay Packers, they have played poorly. Losing to the Packers and the Los Angeles Rams is one thing, but the performance against the Carolina Panthers, and this latest showing against the Detroit Lions, have been unacceptable, dealing significant damage to Arizona’s post-season aspirations. Arizona has had plenty of good this year; not everyone has played perfect all year, but they have been complimentary across the board and made it work, from the coaches down to the players. However, against the Lions, not only was there a lackluster performance from the players but, on the sideline, play-calling was ineffective against one of the lesser squads in the league.
The Cardinals lost a bad one on Sunday, losing back-to-back games for the first time in 2021. Whether for lack of effort or underestimating the opponent doesn’t matter. After a 7-0 start, the Cardinals look dangerously close to the end-of-season burnout that cost them last year. Down the stretch, the Cardinals have to avoid losses like Sunday’s game against the Lions.
Play-Calling Was Ineffective In Worst Game Of The Year For Arizona
Underestimating The Lions
The Lions are not the worst team in the NFL, despite their record. Granted, the Cardinals are a much better side, but anyone who thought the Lions played like a one-win team this year was severely mistaken. As bad as Arizona were on the day, credit where credit’s due, the Lions did have some standout players.
Jared Goff succeeded where the Rams failed by extending his five-year unbeaten streak against the Cardinals. Despite being unceremoniously dumped by the team that drafted him, Goff has a chance to continue in Detroit with performances like this. Goff is not winning MVP anytime soon, but he played a clean game against Arizona. He presented a challenge to Arizona’s defense that offered a chance at redemption, and the Cardinals failed to grasp it.
On defense, Detroit ostensibly shut down what was the league’s most explosive offense not so long ago. Their unit is not brimming with All-Pro talent, but there are some solid players over there in Detroit, and they rose to the challenge on Sunday. Fifth-year linebacker Charles Harris seemingly made every play in the first quarter, finishing the game with 12 total tackles and 1.5 sacks to his name. Another rising star on Detroit’s defense, cornerback Amani Oruwariye, also continued to impress, picking off Kyler Murray on a spectacular diving interception. The Cardinals are better than the Lions, but the Lions are better than their record suggests, and they showed it on Sunday. Any given Sunday…
Play-Calling Was Ineffective On Both Sides Of The Ball
Kliff Kingsbury and Vance Joseph have garnered a bunch of praise this season, and deservedly so. Kingsbury is in contention for Coach of the Year, endorsed by no other than Bill Belichick, and Joseph is rumored to return to the head coaching carousel. On Sunday though, neither met the lofty standard they’ve set in 2021.
Kingsbury’s gameplan was almost certainly irreparably compromised by Detroit taking the lead early on. This should have been a game for the Cardinals to control for sixty minutes and move on. Throwing the ball 50 times is not a sustainable way to control a game, an unfortunate consequence of Arizona’s inability to manifest a lead early on. Detroit went ahead, the Cardinals were forced to chase the game, and it just was not working. A casualty of this was James Conner. When Arizona’s offense was on its knees with injuries, Conner was a revelation and is a big part of where the Cardinals now sit in December; he’s probably Arizona’s offensive MVP. So, naturally, he carried the ball only eight times. Chase Edmonds’ return was a factor, but the fact of the matter is that Conner was egregiously underutilized against the Lions, as was the running game as a whole.
Goff is a dart-thrower; he has one of the lowest average yards-per-pass-attempt in the league. Allowing him to hit long touchdowns is poor, especially for a defense of this caliber. Joseph’s innovation up-front has worked wonders for Arizona this year. However, his penchant for dropping pass rushers into coverage has not been as effective. Against the Lions, it caused some ugly looks. Scheming aside, Amon-Ra St. Brown beating a pair of Jordan Hicks and Devon Kennard is a failure on the defensive side of the ball. We’ve seen Chandler Jones out in coverage, and now Kennard. Throw in the usual struggles against the run, and Detroit put up 30 for the first time this season. On a bad day for Arizona, play-calling was ineffective on both sides of the ball.
Players Play, And Players Played Bad
For all of Arizona’s procedural failures against the Lions, they did not exactly get the best out of their top players. Arizona’s usually dynamic offense just wasn’t firing, and their slow start ultimately cost Conner. Kyler Murray’s league-leading accuracy was notably lacking. He posted a season-low completion percentage of 56.1%, and Arizona struggled to remain on schedule. When Murray is sailing passes beyond wide-open receivers from a clean pocket, then it’s hardly a recipe for success.
Arizona’s young secondary has become a strength of the team after early doubts, but they are showing signs of faltering. Byron Murphy’s excellent early-season play has faded somewhat, and Arizona’s usually reliable safety duo of Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson was notably ineffective. The Cardinals as a whole were bad on Sunday, and it’s not for lack of talent. This will technically be another short week, and the song will remain the same on Saturday: Win and You’re In. Perhaps simple, perhaps not. 10-4, onto Indianapolis.