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Six Points: Bye week doesn’t cure Cardinals’ ills

The Arizona Cardinals talked a good game and said all the right things
during their bye week leading up to Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh

There were emotional team meetings. There was the fact that NFL teams
with home games after the bye had won with great regularity over the last
two seasons.

None of it mattered as the Cardinals dug a hole they couldn’t climb out of
in a 32-20 loss to Pittsburgh that sinks Arizona to 1-5 on the season.

Unlike their last loss to Minnesota, there were bright spots in this game.
There just wasn’t enough of them.

Here are six things that stood out to me from Sunday’s loss to the


At 1-5, there’s no coming back – I admit, I held out
hope longer than most. I know the Cardinals were 1-4 heading into week
7. I refuse to believe that the San Francisco 49ers are as good as their 5-1
start indicates, and with two head-to-head matchups remaining with the
Niners, the Cardinals still had chances. I don’t think that’s the case
anymore. San Francisco can go 3-7 or 2-8 the rest of the way and win this
division. That won’t happen because it’ll be Jim Harbaugh’s team feasting
on the weak NFC West the rest of the way with 5 in-division games.

There was a lot of talk from several members of the Cardinals, including
head coach Ken Whisenhunt and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, that was
centered around the “we’ll keep fighting” theme. That smacks of a team
that knows they’re finished. How else are we supposed to take it when the
members of the team are talking about just


Whiz’s comments – Many believed that Ken
Whisenhunt was in danger of losing his
job heading into this week, so imagine the number of fans climbing on that
bandwagon after the Cardinals’ 5th straight defeat. I’m not one of them

But the constant talk about not making plays is getting hard to listen to.

“It’s tough. It’s not any fun,” Whisenhunt said after the game. “I’m really
upset we can’t make enough plays to change an outcome of the game, but
we are going to continue to work. We are not going to give up. We are
going to get it turned around and move forward.”

I know a coach can’t come in to face the media following a loss and say,
“Forget this season, we’re terrible.” Whisenhunt, to his credit, has been
incredibly even-keeled in his time as head coach with the Cardinals, but
there seems to be a deep frustration deep within the coach that just hasn’t
fully surfaced (though it started to bubble following the loss at
Minnesota). I wonder how much longer it will take for it to rear its ugly
head. Perhaps a loss in Baltimore would unleash the monster.


Behind Kolb’s struggles – The bashing of Kevin Kolb is
prevalent among
both media and fans during the Cardinals’ lackluster 1-5 start to 2011.
Again, I was late to
that party. Has Kolb been great? Absolutely not. But I’ve also watched
Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals football since 1988 to recognize truly bad
quarterback play when I
see it. Do the names Tom Tupa, Stan Gelbaugh, Gary Hogeboom, Dave
Krieg and Derek
Anderson mean anything to you?

Kolb has been, in a word, average. He’ll get blamed for a lot of what
happened on the field
Sunday in Glendale, and in true Kevin Kolb fashion, he shouldered most of
that blame.
“Obviously there were a couple throws that I would like to have back,” Kolb
said. “Those plays
need to be made. That’s me too.”

Kolb wasn’t sharp against Pittsburgh, but two of the more damaging plays
on Sunday weren’t solely on him. On
the Cardinals’ first
possession, Kolb threw a hurried pass which bounced off the helmet of Rob
Housler and into
the hands of Ryan Clark. The Steelers scored five plays later. But what you
may not remember
is that the pass was hurried because right outside linebacker Lawrence
Timmons was
completely unblocked on his path to Kolb.
The other play that stood out was in the third quarter, when Kolb was
flagged for intentional
grounding in his own end zone leading to a safety that stretched
Pittsburgh’s lead to 26-14.
Once again, a linebacker coming off the edge was completely unblocked–
this time it was
LaMarr Woodley coming from the left side. Kolb had no time to react, and
just like that, the
game was pretty much lost.

Kolb is doing the right thing by shouldering the blame publicly for the
failures in assignment
or scheme, but I’d hope that he’s chewing some ears on the sidelines and in
team meetings
after those two colossal failures.


The depth (or lack thereof) at RB – Beanie Wells has
been very good this
season for Arizona–when he’s been on the field. This well-covered issue
popped up again on
Sunday when Beanie left the game late in the first half with a knee injury
and was replaced by
Alfonso Smith.
Smith was o.k.–running for 14 yards and a touchdown on five carries, but
there needs to be
better options as insurance for Wells if (or more accurately, when) he gets
nicked up. To the
Cardinals’ defense, they did try with Chester Taylor, but apparently that’s
been a total whiff. Taylor was inactive for the Steelers game, and hasn’t
played since Week 3 when he started against Seattle.


The good and the bad of LaRod Stephens-Howling – It
was great to see the big-play ability of “The Hyphen” return to the
Cardinals offense when LSH took a short pass over the middle from Kolb,
busted it to the outside, relied on some great downfield blocking and
scored on a 73-yard touchdown that brought the Cardinals to within 3 at
17-14 early in the third quarter. That was the good.

The bad happened on kickoff returns. Stephens-Howling averaged 21.6
yards per return on Sunday, but it was his longest return of the game that
was his most costly. After the Steelers had pushed their lead to 24-14,
Shaun Suisham deposited the kickoff eight yards deep into the Cardinals’
end zone. Stephens-Howling opted to bring it out, and returned it to the
Arizona 24-yard line, a respectable return of 32 yards.

But, on the play, Nick Eason was called for a holding penalty at the 14-yard
line. The half-the-distance penalty that was marched off gave the
Cardinals a first and ten at their own seven-yard line. The very next play
turned into the safety that completely changed the complexion of the ball

If LSH would have just downed the ball, even if everything else unfolded
identically (meaning Woodley sacking Kolb), the Cardinals would still have
been faced with a 2nd down and long inside their own 20. Stephens-
Howling’s decision to bring the ball out set off a chain of events that sunk
the Cardinals.

I know he’s got great play-making ability, but when the kick is eight yards
deep in the end zone, LSH is better off taking a knee.


Pittsburgh West – We’ll never know an official
breakdown of who was rooting for whom on Sunday, but it seemed to me
that the majority of fans in attendance in Glendale was wearing black and
yellow and waving Terrible Towels.

The Steelers have a rabid nationwide fan base and the Cardinals have a
less-than-rabid local fan base. Couple that with a 1-4 start, and the recipe
was set for a “home” game for Big Ben and the Steelers on Sunday.

It’s disappointing as a longtime Phoenician and Cardinals fan, but I guess
four decades of success and six Super Bowl rings are pretty good reasons
why there’s so many Steelers fans every time they come to town.