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The Trenches and Playoffs

There’s a reason why the Arizona Cardinals are 0-3 in the division and 6-1 against all others: The line of scrimmage. The NFC West will expose you if you struggle to run the ball or stop the run. The division also has some of the best pass rushers in the game who collectively force many OL coaches to strap on the diaper and pop the Immodium AD. Playing outside the division is a different animal, one not nearly as physical or predatorily populated.

And that’s where the Cardinals need to continue to improve and transform their roster. Cardinals GM, Steve Keim, has done a remarkable job in his first year. He understands the game of football from the inside out. As a former OL at North Carolina State, Keim knew he needed to get bigger, stronger and beefier at the point-of-attack, and that trend will continue.

The Cardinals’ defensive line is excellent and their linebackers incredibly active. Their front seven is as physical and dominant as there is in the division. Darnell Docket, Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Alameda Ta’amu, John Abraham, Matt Shaugnessy, Karlos Darnsby and Daryl Washington dare you to run the ball.

Although the Cards are a competitive team overall, they have a long way to go before they can stand and slug it out with San Francisco and Seattle or protect their Q from being harried by a St. Louis pass rush.

They need more from their OL. If the Cards are going to make a move in the playoff push, their OL is going to have to become more physical in a hurry. And that just doesn’t happen overnight.

And this is why Steve Keim drafted Jonathan Cooper and Earl Watford. Although neither of these rookies have made an impact this year — Cooper is on IR and Watford needs seasoning — it was an an acknowledgment by Keim that this team needs to get stronger, tougher and more physical up front.

The proof of this truth was on display against the Jaguars in Jacksonville. The Cardinals tried to run the ball, rushing it 24 times, but Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Ellington got hammered at the point-of-attack over and over and over again. Yes, the Jaguars were stacking the box at times in run-down situations, but when defensive lineman are blowing up tandem blocks in the trenches and penetrating, making plays at the line-of-scrimmage, blocking the free-hitter in the box is NOT the problem. Considering the fact the Jags are the league’s worst rush defense and didn’t have their best run stopper, MLB Paul Pozlusny, this was a huge disappointment.

This is why I am not very bullish on the Cards playoff chances. Unless the protection improves even more than it has, the Cards are No. 17 in sacks/attempt allowed, and Carson Palmer continues to throw the ball like he did against Jacksonville, the Cards must be a three-dimensional offensive football team where running it, throwing it and using play-action is the DNA of BA’s offense. The Cardinals are going to have to be balanced offensively if they wish to beat teams like Indy, St. Louis, Seattle and San Francisco.

The Cardinals are a competitive team and their defense and special teams make them a threat to beat anybody in the league on a given Sunday, but unless their OL morphs into a pack of street fighters soon, they’re capable of losing to anybody on a given Sunday.