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Cardinals aim to convert short-yardage situations, finish drives

Arizona Cardinals running back Chris Johnson, center, is tackled by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aaron Lynch (59) and linebacker NaVorro Bowman (53) during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Thursday evening, in movie theaters all across America, viewers will finally get their chance to see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

In the official trailer for the film, which has been out for months now, there is a scene in which Kylo Ren, the assumed principle bad guy, says, “Nothing will stand in my way. I will finish what you started,” as the camera pans to Darth Vader’s charred mask.

Moving from a galaxy far, far away to the NFL, here in Arizona the Cardinals would like for their short yardage offense to awaken; they would like to finish drives that they have started.

Though the Cardinals are second in the NFL in third-down percentage and first in total yards, if there is one chink in their armor it is that, especially lately, they have struggled to convert in what would appear to be easily-convertable situations.

In last Thursday’s 23-20 win over the Minnesota Vikings, the Cardinals turned a first-and-goal at the Minnesota nine into a field goal after gaining zero yards, turned a first-and-goal from the Vikings two into a field goal after losing three yards and were forced to punt when Kerwynn Williams was unable to pick up one yard late when Arizona was trying to protect a 20-13 lead.

For all Arizona’s offense does well, those are areas in which they know they could be better.

“Well, you look at what you’re doing,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said of where he starts when trying to fix the problem. “Why were you unsuccessful? Why were you successful before? Was it the plays? Was it the mismatch? Was there a mismatch, or did we just not block it very well? Then, you go from there and you try to do something better, or different.”

The truth is there is no single reason for why the Cardinals have often failed to gain the necessary yardage in situations like that. Sometimes the running back danced a little too much or missed a hole. Other times, the blocking wasn’t right.

Goodwin pointed out how opposing defenses will rarely play the Cardinals straight up, meaning his offense will have to be good athletes and block the right people every single down.

“Just went back and kind of looked at some film, saw the tendencies that we had and tried to change some things up a little bit,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said of his approach to solving the woes. “But for the most part, it’s still man vs. man and we’ve got to win those matchups.”

More often than not, this season, the Cardinals have won their matchups, otherwise they would not be 11-2 with a chance to clinch the NFC West — and maybe one of the NFC’s top two seeds — with a win in Philadelphia this weekend.

But there have been times this season when a single first down would have iced a game without any drama, and the difference between scoring a touchdown and having to settle for a field goal is obvious. If an inability to grind out tough yards has not hurt the Cardinals yet, no one is oblivious to the fact that it could.

Left guard Mike Iupati credited the Vikings for playing good defense in short-yardage situations last week, adding “luckily we won that game.”

Had the Cardinals not won the game, no doubt more attention would be paid to a failure Iupati said the line takes personally.

“Because it’s third-and-one, or third and short,” he said. “You have to convert, but stuff happens. You can’t win them all.”

The frustrating thing for the Cardinals is that their offense seems to have everything in place. The quarterback is playing at an MVP level, there are three receivers who could reach 1,000 yards and their rushing offense is ranked 10th in the NFL. It all leads to a confidence that the team can improve.

“It’s about the nuances with us,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “He’s always talking about finishing drives and sustaining, and we haven’t done a good job of that lately of converting third downs and putting touchdowns on the board as opposed to field goals.

“If we want to be a team that’s going to play deep into the playoffs we have got to address that right now so we’re clicking on all cylinders when we get to that point.”

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