Rapid Reactions: Cardinals underwhelm in season-opening loss
It’s hard to imagine a worse start to the Steve Wilks era in Arizona than how the season opener went for the Cardinals on Sunday.
Wilks’ team was thoroughly dominated in a 24-6 loss to the Washington Redskins.
Here are the rapid reactions from the 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station staff.
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta
You’d think it would be unfathomable for a team playing its first game under a new head coach in a sold-out stadium with what seemed to be a beatable opponent in town to come out flat, uninspired and unprepared.
Well, that inkling is unfathomable no more.
That’s exactly what the Cardinals put forth Sunday in Steve Wilks’ NFL coaching debut in a 24-6 loss to the Washington Redskins at State Farm Stadium.
Sam Bradford, also making his Arizona debut, looked tentative and reluctant to throw the ball down the field. If you’re the Cardinals, you’ll take the dink-and-dunk offense from a quarterback if he’s accurate – and that was certainly Bradford’s reputation when he got to town. He wasn’t accurate Sunday, completing 20-of-34 passes for only 153 yards and a pick.
David Johnson showed glimpses of what he’s capable of, but the Cardinals were inept on offense for the first three quarters of the game. Larry Fitzgerald was himself, but the preseason concern about the rest of the receiving corps was warranted – the rest of them combined for one catch and four yards.
Defensively, the Cardinals’ line got pushed around and yielded 182 rushing yards. A lack of playmaking ability at linebacker (also a preseason concern) was evident, and Jamar Taylor, this year’s candidate to fill the gap opposite of Patrick Peterson at corner, committed three penalties.
Yeah, it was ugly.
The old saying is “you never get a second chance to make a first impression,” and that opportunity was thoroughly squandered by Wilks, his staff and Bradford. In reality, it’s only one game, but you’d have to comb over this one pretty hard to come up with anything resembling a positive.
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo
Aside from some devastating season-ending injury, you’d have a hard time conceiving of a more lackluster season opener for the Cardinals. They got thumped in a way that the final score doesn’t even come close to reflecting.
Rapid fire takeaways from the 24-6 loss to Washington:
The first half numbers were astonishingly bad. 22-2 in first downs. 44-14 in plays run. 261-36 in total yards. That it was only a three-touchdown deficit was miraculous. All of this coming against a team that many thought was roughly the Cardinals equal. Some of the locals were surprised this offseason to see that national pundits weren’t giving the Cards enough credit. Today, with the first half in particular, it appeared the national experts knew exactly what they were talking about.
The defense was routinely gashed. The Cardinals played a lot of nickel coverage throughout the preseason. After watching the Washington offense clear out the Cards they way they did the initial concern is the Cards are just too small with that personnel. Or perhaps the defensive line, with all their nagging injuries, needs to get healthy in a hurry. Robert Nkemdiche got his first NFL sack, but Washington ran for 182 yards for the game on 42 carries. Just the kind of run-oriented offense the Cards were hoping to inflict on opponents. Running backs Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson combined for 294 yards from scrimmage. Was Peterson motivated by playing a former team? Who cares. It was up to the Cards to stop him and they routinely failed.
Sam Bradford’s legendary accuracy was neither legendary or accurate. A 58.8 completion percentage for the game, which is a far cry from the “ball never hits the ground” version of Bradford we saw throughout camp. Balls were routinely off target. And the wide receiver problem is still very much a problem. The only wideout not named Larry Fitzgerald to have a catch was Christian Kirk and he just had one catch for four yards. Too early to call for Josh Rosen but a couple more like this and there will be no reason not to play the rookie. I had assumed all along that as long as Bradford was healthy, he’d be good. Sunday proved me wrong for at least one game.
Luke Lapinski, co-host of The Rundown and reporter
At the end of the day, it’s just one game. Steve Wilks stressed that the Cardinals can’t let one loss define them, and Sam Bradford pointed out that they can’t get so caught up in this result that they let it beat them twice. There’s something to that.
On the other hand, you only get 16 of these. This isn’t baseball where you can throw a few away here and there. And it was a home game against – on paper, at least – one of Arizona’s few “easier” opponents. If things get better this season, they’re going to look back and wonder why this game went so bad so quickly. And they’re going to want it back.
It’s not just that the Cardinals lost, it’s the way they lost. Three legitimate concerns entering the season played out in pretty disturbing fashion on Sunday. For one, this really isn’t a team that’s built to come from behind. Sure, everyone’s going to have games where they find themselves down seven to ten points in the first half. But this just isn’t a roster that’s constructed in a way where they can spot the opponent two touchdowns and then get into a shootout. They need to control the line of scrimmage and win with defense and a heavy dose of David Johnson. If they can do that, they can have some success. But they didn’t do that at all today.
Beyond that, there were whispers well before this game that stopping the run could be an issue in 2018. The secondary looks decent, and Arizona has one of the best pass rushers in football in Chandler Jones. But containing opposing running backs might very well be a problem. Washington ran for 182 yards today. Oh, and Todd Gurley’s up next week.
Finally, there’s the issue of who’s going to make plays in the passing game beyond Larry Fitzgerald. That’s an undeniable concern that’s exaggerated when the Cards fall behind. In a game where they had to throw a lot, Arizona wide receivers not named Fitz managed one catch for four yards. That’s not going to get it done.
Kevin Zimmerman, reporter and editor
The question of the day: Which is more concerning, the offense or the defense? Washington quickly figured out how to stuff out David Johnson. The receivers outside of Larry Fitzgerald didn’t give quarterback Sam Bradford much of a reason to look their way. And when he did, inaccuracy plagued the quarterback who was touted as quite the accurate passer.
But the defense — the unit expected to produce with familiar returning faces and a defensive head coach — might be the bigger worry. A new-look Washington attack used Adrian Peterson as a battering ram but mixed that cleverly with Chris Thompson, who via run and pass stretched the Cardinals side-to-side. Arizona’s line didn’t get much push, but its linebackers and safeties couldn’t fill the gaps on the outside, either.
Throw in nine penalties, seven of which gave Washington a first down, and Arizona ticked few boxes when it came to playing to an identity or first-year coach Steve Wilks’ expectations.
Jordan Byrd, host of Arizona Sports Saturday and producer of Burns & Gambo
I was fully expecting a culture shock when it came to the Cardinals offense this season, but that was ridiculous. The defense deserves their share of the blame for poor tackling and few quarterback pressures, but this loss is on the offense. What I expected to be a methodical, time-consuming unit turned out to be nothing more than David Johnson runs and five-yard passes. The Cardinals said they didn’t show much of their offense during the preseason and if this is what they will look like the rest of the year, I can understand why they wanted to hide it.
Kellan Olson, reporter and editor
The Redskins did exactly what Wilks wants the Cardinals to do. They dominated the game early on the ground to dictate the tempo and the defense held strong.
Washington quarterback Alex Smith wasn’t asked to do much at all, but controlled and managed the game well, as usual. The story was Washington’s rushing attack, an area of the game where the Cardinals could have offered some resistance, but the Redskins finished with 182 yards on the ground. On the other side, superstar David Johnson was limited to nine carries and 37 yards, but who can blame him with how the offense played as a whole.
Some will say the defense was the most concerning, but the Cardinals just paid Sam Bradford $20 million and how lost the veteran quarterback looked at times was unacceptable. He finished with a quarterback rating of 57.6 in his debut. Yikes.