The Arizona Cardinals just can’t get it over the line in 2021. Worse so, shades of 2020 are starting to creep in. Arizona has slipped from the throne of NFC to a team stumbling towards the playoffs. This latest loss in Week 16 to the Indianapolis Colts, the third consecutive loss in a three-game skid, was a game of missed opportunities for the Arizona Cardinals, who, once again, beat themselves as they fell to 10-5.
The Cardinals seemingly knew what they had to do to win this game and actually did it, but achieving this came at the detriment of several components of Arizona’s game plan. Despite facing a quality in-form opponent, losing to the Colts is a disappointment for Arizona. It is a loss that reflects badly on the squad in all phases, and only increases the pressure on the group as the regular season approaches its end.
Arizona Cardinals Week 16 Loss Sees Struggles in All Phases
Special Teams Woeful
It’s the missed opportunities that killed Arizona, who beat themselves again. Present in all phases, Arizona’s inability to finish was never more prevalent than in the kicking game on Christmas Day. Matt Prater has been a solid guy for the Cardinals this season, benefitting from Prater’s consistency. However, the absence of veteran punter Andy Lee was a vital disruption to the continuity of an otherwise-reliable special teams unit. Lee’s secondary responsibilities as holder fell first to backup quarterback Colt McCoy. Per the broadcast, McCoy had never held before in his twelve-year NFL tenure, and his first attempt wasn’t the best. Ball leaning, laces facing the kicker, Prater shanked it left, and the Cardinals left empty-handed on their first possession. It started early, and it didn’t improve.
Yes, there were holding issues, perhaps highlighting Lee as an essential component of Arizona’s special teams machine, but a guy of Prater’s caliber has to do better. He finished the day one-for-three, and those points left on the board by Arizona’s kicking game almost made up the losing deficit. In a game of missed opportunities, missed kicks cost the Cardinals dearly.
Offensive Miscues Continue
Kyler Murray’s midseason injury seems to have torpedoed Arizona’s offense this year. The Cardinals survived Murray’s absence with McCoy, but the long-term effects of Murray’s missed time are still being felt. Kurt Warner mentioned rhythm on the broadcast; it’s what made Arizona’s offense so great early on, and it’s the lack of such that’s costing the group down the stretch. Between fading performances and some suspect play-calling, Arizona’s offense sometimes seemed toothless and ineffective against a Colts defense down some key pieces.
It was a game characterized by its absences. The Colts were missing a bunch of guys on both sides of the ball, but the absence of Arizona’s veteran center Rodney Hudson was the most crucial of the game. Missing Hudson caused significant movement on Arizona’s offensive line. Max Garcia slid to center, and Josh Jones came in at guard; both played poorly. Garcia achieved Pro Bowl alternate honors recently, but the Cardinals didn’t see anything that looked like a Pro Bowler as the backup center delivered a bunch of bad snaps to Murray, one of which cost Arizona a safety. Between this safety and Prater’s missed kicks, the Cardinals granted the Colts their winning margin. Garcia and Jones racked up a few penalties for holds and false starts, looking like the backups they are and should be. Arizona’s offense is already misfiring, and problems upfront are perpetuating these struggles.
Missed Opportunities After Solid Day Against the Run
Jonathan Taylor busting out a 47-yard run on the first play seemed damning for the Cardinals. Yet, but that long run actually projects well on Arizona’s performance against the run across the board. Taylor was allowed to go over 100 yards and somehow did so behind a crippled offensive line. However, that one play accounted for almost half of Taylor’s yardage on the day; Arizona actually did a good job of slowing Taylor down.
Star safety Budda Baker played arguably his best game of the season in the loss. A roaming presence in the box to account for Taylor’s threat, Baker was all over the place, shutting down both the run and the pass. He got both Taylor and Carson Wentz behind the line of scrimmage and was Arizona’s best defensive player. The Cardinals set out to stop the run and actually did, but in doing so, failed to do everything else.
The rhetoric surrounding the Colts was that, eventually, a team would force Wentz to beat them. It ended up being the Cardinals, with Wentz passing well on the day. It doesn’t reflect well on Vance Joseph, however, that Wentz is beating players like Joe Walker in the passing game when both Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins are standing on the sideline. Add in the continuous decline in performance from Arizona’s young cornerback group, and Wentz was allowed to win the game for the Colts. This loss wasn’t unfortunate, nor a complete disgrace. It was just a bad loss that reflected badly on the Cardinals in all phases. Their performance against Taylor came at the detriment of everything else, but that only makes it worse to realize that, if not at the hands of Carson Wentz, the loss was fundamentally Arizona’s own doing.
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