At long last, we finally got our first glimpse at the new-look Arizona Cardinals.
New general manager, new head coach and a slew of new players. The only thing that felt like years past was the result.
The Cardinals squandered an 11-point fourth-quarter lead and fell to the St. Louis Rams 27-24 at the Edward Jones Sunday. St. Louis kicker Greg Zuerlein booted four field goals, including a 48-yarder with :45 left that sealed the deal.
There was a lot to like from what the Cardinals displayed Sunday, but there was a lot not to like, too. Here are Six Points that stood out to me from Arizona’s season-opening loss.
1. Andre Roberts is legit – The fourth-year pro from The Citadel had eight catches for 97 yards, many of which were acrobatic grabs and most of them ended in vicious hits from a hungry St. Louis defense. With Roberts playing out of his mind, Michael Floyd supplying a highlight-reel catch to set up the Cards’ first touchdown and Larry Fitzgerald’s two-touchdown performance, this receiving corps has the potential to be one of if not the best in the National Football League.
2. It was really nice to see a competent quarterback under center – Much was made about the Cardinals’ acquisition of Carson Palmer in the offseason. Many still harbor ill will toward Palmer for his unceremonious exit from Cincinnati and his lackluster results in Oakland. But in his first game with the Cardinals, the former Heisman winner acquitted himself quite nicely. Palmer completed 26-of-40 for 327 yards and two touchdowns. The only setback was an interception early in the third quarter that led to a St. Louis field goal. When Palmer was given time, he made solid decisions, pushed the ball down the field and most importantly, was accurate with his throws. However…
3. There are still issues on the offensive line – Everyone on the line who performed well Sunday, please step forward. Not so fast there, Levi Brown. The veteran, who missed the 2012 season with a triceps injury, was used and abused by Rams’ defensive end Robert Quinn, who had three sacks on the day. The third caused a fumble which was recovered by St. Louis and led to a Zuerlein field goal that tied the game with just under 11 minutes to go. It seemed that whenever the Cardinals didn’t utilize a tight end or a running back to help Brown out, Quinn did whatever he wanted.
In the preseason, Brown was abused by San Diego’s Dwight Freeney, but everyone seemed to cut him slack because Freeney is a future Hall of Famer. Quinn is a third-year player, and a good one, but shouldn’t dominate a veteran left tackle the way he did. The Cardinals will face elite pass rushers almost every week this season, and unfortunately Brown is the best option at the position right now. That could make for a long season.
4. The defense was, in some cases, offensive – Rams’ QB Sam Bradford dropped back to pass 38 times in the game, and faced very little pressure. In fact, the Cardinals didn’t sack Bradford once. The tackling was atrocious for most of the contest and maybe most importantly, the Rams feasted on the absence of inside linebacker Daryl Washington, who was serving the first of a four-game suspension Sunday. Jared Cook had seven catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns (should have been three) largely because the Cardinals couldn’t match up with him.
5. The kicking game – The Cardinals were concerned with Jay Feely in the preseason, even going so far to bring in veteran Dan Carpenter for a camp battle. Carpenter failed to impress and was let go, handing the job to Feely. But the 13-year veteran didn’t exactly ingratiate himself to Bruce Arians and the coaching staff. First, Feely’s first two kickoffs were very shallow, one actually resembled a squib kick. And then, after the Rams tied the game at 10-10 with just :25 left in the first half, Arians opted to go into attack mode. Arizona actually got into field goal range, giving Feely a crack at a 50-harder on the half’s final play. He missed it wide-right and the Cardinals went into the half deadlocked instead of having a lead. It’s hard to get on a guy for missing a 50-yard field goal, but a) Feely has 15 career makes of 50-plus yards and b) he was kicking in a dome. I’m not convinced general manager Steve Keim won’t go out and look for someone to push Feely or possibly take his job.
6. The “Honey Badger” does care – Tyrann Mathieu came to Arizona with a reputation for being a ballhawk and we didn’t have to wait long to see the rookie’s unique skill set on display. In the first quarter, Bradford found Cook, who broke free for what appeared to be a 55-yard waltz to the end zone. But Mathieu showed unbelievable hustle and poked the ball free from Cook, who fumbled it into the end zone. Karlos Dansby made a great recovery, forcing the touchback, and just like that, Mathieu saved seven points. Get used to it — we’re going to see a lot more of that as the season rolls on.