TEMPE, Ariz. — Move the ball. Sustain drives. Keep the offense on the field.
It’s been a failed strategy for the Arizona Cardinals in each of the past two weeks due in large part to the team’s inability to convert on third down.
Against Seattle, the Cardinals were a season-low 3-for-12 when facing third down. They were even worse against Atlanta, going 1-for-7; putting their success rate at 21 percent in the two games.
It’s no wonder the Cardinals lost both contests.
“We’re just not executing,” center Lyle Sendlein said.
Head coach Bruce Arians offered a more specific explanation for the recent third-down struggles when asked prior to practice on Wednesday.
“Protect a little better because we’ve got guys open and (quarterback Drew Stanton has) had to move off the spot in time,” he said. “It’s a shame because we’ve stayed in very manageable third downs. It’s not like it’s 3rd-and-12. It’s 3rd-and-6, 3rd-and-5, 3rd-and-4.”
Of the 19 times the Cardinals faced third down against Seattle and Atlanta, six yards or less was needed for a first down 10 times. Only twice did the Cardinals convert.
“That’s the thing that’s kind of surprising is we were in very manageable third downs,” said Stanton, who has completed just three of his 15 third-down pass attempts in the last two games. “We just had a tipped pass here, didn’t throw the ball accurately there, or a lot of different things. That’s just kind of what’s happened unfortunately the past couple of weeks. We just need to understand why it’s happening and move on.”
Third down had been a strength of the Cardinals.
During their six-game winning streak, the Cardinals converted almost half their third-down opportunities (46-for-93, 49 percent), excelling on both third-and-short and third-and-manageable nearly seven out of every 10 times (25-for-36, 69 percent).
Stanton called their mistakes on third down correctable, as did Sendlein, who added, “it’s about just doing your job. It’s one thing if the plays aren’t there to convert, but the plays are there — if it’s someone missing a block or a throw or a route. It seems to be like one guy on every play. We’re going to have to eliminate that.”
A healthy Larry Fitzgerald should help, as well.
The Cardinals’ leading receiver practiced Wednesday. A knee injury has kept Fitzgerald in street clothes the past two weeks; the first time he had missed back-to-back games since 2006.
“Any time you can get that experience back on the field and that passion, it’ll be very nice to have him back out there,” Stanton said.