Two steps forward, one step back.
That’s the best way to describe the movement the Arizona Cardinals’ offense, and in particular its offensive line, took in Sunday’s 24-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
After reeling off a four-game streak in which Carson Palmer was able to throw eight touchdowns and two interceptions, while only being sacked 10 times, the Cardinals quickly reverted back to old habits that were thought to be firmly in the past.
Three plays into Sunday’s NFC affair, Eagles linebacker beat Cardinals left tackle Bradley Sowell off the line and promptly forced a fumble with a strip sack of Palmer. Philadelphia recovered at Arizona’s 22-yard-line and scored four plays later.
On the ensuing possession, Arizona drove out to its 40-yard line, before Palmer severely under threw Michael Floyd on a deep ball. The pass was picked off by Nate Allen and returned for 43 yards.
“The lack of consistency [was disappointing],” Cardinals offensive tackle Eric Winston said. “It’s plagued us a little bit all year. We were doing a lot of good things and then especially in the first half, we’d have one play that would blow it up — whether it was a penalty, a missed assignment or whatever it was. It would just kind of blow the drive up, and we’d end up stalling out.
“For us, we need to find that consistency to go ahead and finish off all the drives and not have that one play that all of sudden puts you in third and 10 when you were in second and five or something like that.”
Sunday, those plays were more often than not a sack or a turnover.
Arizona allowed five sacks for the first time since Week 7 and lost the turnover battle 3-0.
While part of that was a credit to Bill Davis’ game plan, Winston admitted that his side of the football just didn’t adjust to what the game was dictating in a timely enough manner.
“They’re good players, lets give them their due and lets tip our cap to them,’ said Winston. “Trent Cole has been playing a long time and playing at a high level for a long time. I thought they had a good scheme for us. With two weeks to get ready, they were getting after our protections a little bit. At the end of the day, we have to make some of those adjustments faster. We have to see those things coming. That just comes with the maturation process of being in this offense longer.
“In this league, the difference is so little. You can’t turn it over. We can’t put yourselves behind the eight ball on the road and think, ‘Oh, we will come back.’ We’ve had great second halves, and I think we had another good second half. But you can’t put yourself so far behind the eight-ball, that it’s really hard to claw out of it.”
The Cardinals have not had to deal with the bitter pill that is defeat in 46 days, but the veteran offensive lineman believes the long, five-hour flight back to the Valley should serve he and his teammates well when it comes to self evaluation.
“If there’s one thing to learn from this, we have to start fast and we can’t make a dumb mistake early,’ said Winston It wasn’t so much a dumb mistake, we just got beat. We can’t put ourselves behind the eight-ball and always expect to come back from it.
“The good thing about this team is everyone looks at themselves hard. And we’re all going to say, ‘What else could we have done? What else could I have done?’ We have 53 guys in this locker room that say, ‘What else can I do?’ If we do that and continue to do that, we’ll be fine.”
While the loss only drops Arizona to 7-5, it could ultimately be the straw that breaks its playoff dreams’ back. Philadelphia also moved to 7-5 and now owns the tiebreaker between the two teams.
Both still find themselves outside the playoff picture, though, as Carolina (9-3) and San Francisco (8-4) currently hold the final two spots in the NFC.