The Arizona Cardinals were humbled. Plain and simple.
Yes, Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, Chase Edmonds and left guard Justin Pugh was unavailable. But for the first time this season, the Cardinals were vulnerable and looked like shades of their 2020 former selves.
They were a beatable football team.
ALL the latest Cardinals news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Cardinals newsletter here!
You have to give the Carolina Panthers credit. While their record still shows they’re a .500 team, defensive coordinator Phil Snow has gotten the most out of his unit.
The Panthers rank second-fewest in points allowed and teams have punted the most against the Panthers, per The Athletic’s Ben Baldwin.
Arizona’s offense was bound to collapse with backup quarterback Colt McCoy, especially against a stout defense. They’ve handled themselves when healthy, and it’s important to get Murray and Hopkins in good shape after the Week 12 bye. So their poor offensive performance against Carolina shouldn’t be the main talking point concerning the outlook of this team.
But there’s a reoccurring theme that needs to be corrected in order for the Cardinals to be a serious contender.
Key Weakness Continues for Cardinals
Arizona’s defense as a whole has been a key strength this season. The team was fourth in sacks heading into Week 10’s matchup. It was tough to have veteran All-Pro J.J. Watt go down after Week 7, but every team has to deal with their fair share of injuries.
While the Cardinals were in the middle of the pack in terms of allowed rushing yards per game before Sunday (111.1 per game), stopping the run has been an issue in spurts for the year. The Cards have given up over 150 yards on the ground in the last three games.
“We knew we didn’t play our best game, not even a good game,” safety Budda Baker said postgame. “So for us, it’s getting back to work.”
It’s fair to point out that Arizona has been gashed by top-tier running backs. Dalvin Cook, Aaron Jones and Christian McCaffrey are among those who’ve dominated defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s unit.
“He can do it all,” Kingsbury said in regards to McCaffrey. “He’s explosive. The first guy never brings him down. They do a great job of featuring him. You see the difference he makes. He’s a huge weapon.”
McCaffrey rushed for 95 yards on just 13 carries. But even backups Ameer Abdullah and Chuba Hubbard had runs of 15 and 16 yards. Players had trouble wrapping up tackles and accomplishing their assignments against the run on the opposing offensive lines. So who had their warts versus the Panthers rushing attack?
The linebacker crew.
Veteran Jordan Hicks did lead the team in tackles with 10. However, the three lowest-graded defenders according to Pro Football Focus were linebackers Isaiah Simmons, first-round rookie Zaven Collins and Tanner Vallejo.
Collins is in the same conundrum as Simmons’ rookie season in 2020. Kingsbury said after the game that sixth-round linebacker Vallejo has earned more playing time than Collins.
It could also fall on coaching. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s offense was running circles on Arizona in terms of concepts.
Arizona has been programmed to get to the quarterback, but the Panthers’ art of running the football and making quick check-downs to McCaffrey proved to be the difference-maker.
Arizona’s defensive line was a no-show in the stopping the run department as well. The coaching staff could easily chuck the offensive tape, but there’s an awful lot to learn from the tape on the defensive side of the ball.
There’s still time to correct it and the Cardinals’ next opponent, Seattle Seahawks, could be without lead back Chris Carson for another week. Regardless, I’d have to imagine Arizona’s mindset this week is to erase their rushing defense mistakes.
Updates on Both Quarterbacks
Colt McCoy suffered a pectoral strain against Carolina according to NFL insider Ian Rapoport on Monday.
Kingsbury on November 15 told the media he’s considered day-to-day and that practice will dictate whether he plays this weekend.
Of course, the possibility of McCoy playing against the Seahawks hinges on Kyler Murray’s availability. The team could easily rest Murray’s ankle for two more weeks due to the Week 12 bye.
“It’s going to be close,” said Kingsbury on Murray’s potential return.
The mobile Chris Streveler would be the runner-up at quarterback if both couldn’t play. Weirdly enough, he led the only touchdown drive.
But no matter what, history over the last two weeks has shown if Murray isn’t ready, there’s no need to rush him no matter the outcome.