The Arizona Cardinals dressed up for Halloween as a good NFL team. For 30 minutes, they really looked the part.
After 60 minutes, everyone at M&T Bank Stadium and around the league knew that it was just an impressive costume. These are the same Arizona Cardinals.
After building an impressive 24-6 halftime lead on the road, the Cardinals fell apart on both sides of the ball in the second half and lost to the Baltimore Ravens 30-27. Billy Cundiff ended the charade by kicking the game-winning 25-yard field goal as time ran out handing the Cards their 6th straight loss and 11th straight defeat on the road.
How did this happen? Here are six points from Sunday's ghoulish affair that stood out to me.
This offense is, well, offensive - The Cardinals didn't exactly build their 24-3 lead with an impressive array of offensive fireworks, but they did manage 151 yards of offense in the first half. But the second half was atrocious.
The Cardinals managed 56 yards of offense after halftime. The Ravens, a team with a litany of offensive problems themselves had 249 yards in the second half and 405 overall.
Much of the blame falls on Kevin Kolb--there's not denying that. But if there's any defense for Kolb it's that he's literally running for his life. Kolb was sacked six times in the game, and again the Cardinals tackles struggled. Heck, sometimes there wasn't even a tackle assigned against Terrell Suggs, who played as if the Cardinals killed his puppy. Can you block Suggs, one of the premier pass rushers in football, with a single tight end named Jim Dray? Nope. As I watched the mismatches in the blocking schemes, the words of ESPN's Ron Jaworski rolled through my skull. On Burns and Gambo this past week, Jaws diagnosed the Cardinals blocking problems as either "bad coaching or dumb players."
The offensive line is, well, offensive - The Cardinals o- line is pretty good at run blocking. The pass blocking is nearly non- existent (see above). The combo of Levi Brown, Daryn Colledge, Lyle Sendlein, Rex Hadnot, Brandon Keith and Jeremy Bridges has had a hand in allowing their quarterback to be sacked 24 times. And it's not like the Cardinals' offensive line was a strength a year ago. Yet Arizona was one of five NFL teams that didn't invest a draft pick in an offensive lineman this past April. Three of the other teams that didn't (New Orleans, NY Jets and Tampa Bay) were all playoff teams that had at least one Pro Bowler on the line. The Saints and Jets had two! The other team that didn't, the St. Louis Rams, had invested high draft picks in tackles Jason Smith (2nd overall pick in 2009) and Roger Saffold (2nd round pick in 2010).
With years of struggling tackles, the Cardinals have failed on draft day to address a major need on this roster. They're paying for it now.
Speaking of draft failures... - As if we needed another reminder that the Cardinals should have drafted Terrell Suggs in 2003. Suggs played as if he still feels slighted by the Cardinals trading down with him on the board. The former Sun Devil had 13 tackles, one sack, four tackles for loss and 2 quarterback hits. He was completely dominant all over the field on Sunday. And just think, he wanted to wear the Cardinal red. Eesh.
The Ravens were trying to give it back - Not only did Baltimore sleepwalk through the first half in digging themselves a 21-point hole, but even during their valiant comeback, they were sloppy.
On the fourth quarter drive that ended in Jay Feely's 45-yard field goal that tied the game at 27-27, the Ravens squandered two opportunities to get off the field. On a 3rd and 7 from the Arizona 44-yard line, Kolb was sacked, and fumbled, bringing up a fourth down. But wait, cornerback Carey Williams was called for defensive holding, giving Arizona a new set of downs. Two plays later, Ed Reed's interception of Kolb was nullified by LaDarius Webb's defensive pass interference call leading to another first down.
On the ensuing drive, Ray Rice picked up a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a 7-yard gain on 1st down, leading to a three and out. Sure, it was a horrible call on Rice, but he did technically "taunt" David Carter of the Cardinals, even though Carter started it.
Baltimore left the door open for the Cardinals on a few occasions, and for the fourth time in close late-game situations, the Cardinals couldn't take advantage.
The secondary problem - I'm pretty close to having all my fears about Patrick Peterson's coverage abilities being gone. Peterson is still overzealous in coverage sometimes (he did get flagged twice--once for pass interference and once for illegal contact). But I believe he's got the combination of talent and swagger necessary to be a good corner in the league for a long time.
A.J. Jefferson, the other starting corner, is a different story. Jefferson was also flagged for a pass interference call, and he was ganged up on by the Ravens' passing combination of Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin.
Jefferson got abused in one drive in the third quarter by Boldin. Boldin caught 4 passes for 80 yards on the drive, and was targeted three other times. It got so bad that Peterson called for a switch and he assigned himself to cover Boldin, who later drew a pass interference flag at the one- yard line.
Everyone will tell you, to have success in the NFL at the cornerback position, you have to have a short memory. Let's hope Jefferson has one, and can shake off a nightmarish performance in Baltimore, otherwise, he'll have a bright red target on his back for the rest of the year.
Speaking of targets - It's become a recurring theme, at least in my head. How can you not use Larry Fitzgerald more if you're offensive coordinator Mike Miller or Kevin Kolb? I know Fitz gets double- teamed a lot. He's been double-teamed a lot his whole career. That's what makes him such a unique weapon--the fact that he's never truly covered because of his ability to go up and snatch the ball at its highest point.
Yet, here we are after another Cardinals' loss, and I'm bringing up the fact that Fitzgerald had the ball thrown his way 5 times in this game. FIVE TIMES!!! The Cardinals invested $183 million (potentially) in contracts for Fitzgerald and Kolb back in August. Fitzgerald's usage is tantamount to buying a Ferrari, and driving it around the block to get your mail at the community box.
On that one hellish drive in the third quarter, Boldin was targeted seven times by Joe Flacco, or two more than Fitzgerald got his way the whole game. It makes no sense to me whatsoever.
Hey, a game like this provides a lot to talk about so here we go...Andre Roberts is useless in this offense for Arizona. Roberts has been targeted 8 times in the last two games and has one catch. He's on the field for virtually every snap, and is no factor in any facet of the offense. He's still the #2 receiver on the depth chart and has a total of 13 catches this year...It was nice to see the young linebackers O'Brien Schofield and Sam Acho get on the field and make positive plays. Each had a sack that caused a fumble, and Schofield's set the Cardinals up for a short touchdown drive. With this season over at 1-6, it's time to see more of these guys and less of veterans Clark Haggans and Joey Porter...Richard Marshall didn't get mentioned above, but don't think I didn't notice his lack of coverage...If you take away the 66-yard completion to Larry Fitzgerald in the 2nd quarter, Kevin Kolb went 9 for 20 for 87 yards with one td pass and one interception. That's a passer rating of 53.54. That one pass raised his rating to 68.2...