The 5: Defining moments in the first half of the Cardinals’ season
A few words that might explain the first half of the Arizona Cardinals’ season: Painful, mistake-prone, ugly, depressing, disappointing, bad and inexplicable.
Nobody saw a 3-4-1 start for Arizona with losses to a Tom Brady-less Patriots team, the always-mediocre Rams and a then-one-win Panthers squad in Week 8. There was also that tie with the Seahawks.
All-in-all, it’s been weird.
Bruce Arians’ team hits a bye week with injuries, holes and inconsistencies lingering. Within the surprising failures, there has been some good as well. Looking back on the first eight games of the year, here are five plays that said a lot about the year as a whole. Call them the five defining plays of the year.
The botched snap
It wasn’t a quirk. It became a trend. And it was certainly telling. Rookie long snapper Kam Canaday’s bad snap, Drew Butler’s hold and kicker Chandler Catanzaro’s missed field goal in the final seconds against the New England Patriots in Week 1’s 23-21 Arizona loss was foreshadowing. Of the three, only Catanzaro remains on the Cardinals’ roster. He too hasn’t recovered completely, having missed an overtime field goal in Week 7 against the Seahawks that would have given Arizona a win instead of a tie. From snaps and kicks to coverages and punts, the special teams unit has been poor for the Cards, all around.
The defensive backfield has fought health issues with Tyvon Branch’s trip to the injured reserve and Tyrann Mathieu’s shoulder injury that interrupted an up-and-down year. But the No Fly Zone began the year feeling good everywhere but the cornerback spot opposite Patrick Peterson. While rookie Brandon Williams started the year and quickly got cooked in the Patriots game to open, it was Marcus Cooper, acquired in an offseason trade with the Kansas City Chiefs, who took opportunity by the horns. He did so in a Week 2, 40-7 Arizona win against Tampa Bay. Cooper’s two interceptions, including a 60-yard pick-six, earned him ownership of the cornerback job. As of the bye, Cooper and the cornerback position is far from the team’s biggest problem.
Peterson and Arians can’t believe it
Yeah, yeah. We’ve already covered the Cardinals’ special team woes of the year. Chandler Catanzaro’s chip-shot that clanged off the goalpost against the Seahawks didn’t make much sense, and the reactions along Arizona’s sideline summed it up. What said it all? Bruce Arians’ arms going from made-field-goal to tossing the playbook on the ground. Patrick Peterson’s sad face and clinging to defensive coordinator James Bettcher. The disbelief can be applied to the team’s entire first half of the season, as well.
David Johnson’s great leap
Hey, David Johnson is still really, really good. The Cardinals have that going for them. The second-year running back has 705 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on the ground with 4.5 yards per carry and just one lost fumble. He’s second on the team with 407 receiving yards. In all, 12 plays have been for 20 or more yards. So which one play tells us the whole tale? Mr. Jump Cut (could that be a nickname for the nicknameless star?) did it all when he jumped over the Panthers’ Robert McClain and then sidestepped Luke Kuechly for a big gain against Carolina.
Losing a gimme call
Since the preseason, the Cardinals haven’t produced the most inspiring record when it comes to using the NFL’s replay review rules. Bruce Arians has thrown flags when he shouldn’t have and held off when there have been clear poor calls. Between all of those mistakes, a decision by the referees burned Arizona early on in its first visit to Carolina since the NFC Championship loss. Carson Palmer’s forward pass was ruled a fumble and the Panthers’ Thomas Davis returned it for the first score of a game that got away from the Cardinals early on. Arizona would lose 30-20, and later the NFL would admit it 1) got the play wrong and 2) didn’t have the replay system operational to fix the mistake. Arians couldn’t have done much about that, but it became the prime example of replay burning the Cardinals this season.