Domino effect of Cardinals losing Kirk hurts Rosen most

Dec 10, 2018, 4:17 PM | Updated: 10:21 pm
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen (3) reacts after being sacked against the Detroit Lions du...
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen (3) reacts after being sacked against the Detroit Lions during the first half of NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Cardinals want Josh Rosen to be safe.

They also want their rookie quarterback to play out the final three games of the year to build him a library of experiences he can recall as he grows in his career.

Accomplishing both things are difficult enough, and it got that much harder when then-leading receiver Christian Kirk went down with a foot injury before Arizona’s 17-3 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

As for Rosen, Arizona isn’t expecting to shut him down behind a makeshift offensive line that held up fairly decently in pass protection, head coach Steve Wilks said.

“He can’t get enough (reps),” Wilks said of Rosen on Monday. “Really talking to (offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich), it’s so many different looks that he needs to see. In saying that, I think we have to do a great job from a protection standpoint, whether it’s moving the pocket, seven-man protection and those kinds of things to help Josh.

“Sitting him — I don’t think it’d be advantageous to do that.”

Problem is, protecting Rosen and opening up the offense seems to be pulling them in opposite directions.

Detroit didn’t need to complicate things to nearly shut out Arizona at State Farm Stadium.

Losing Kirk made the Cardinals’ most obvious target in the passing game veteran Larry Fitzgerald. So the Lions used bracket coverages against him to shut him out of the first half.

As Arizona leaned more on rookie receivers Trent Sherfield and Jalen Tolliver in the passing game, the run game went through David Johnson.

He rushed 15 times for just 49 yards as Detroit predictably keyed in on him.

“You could see that watching the film. A couple times they were overplaying David,” Wilks said. “You really didn’t realize how much you missed Christian until yesterday.”

Detroit apparently did before the game.

For Arizona, keeping Rosen safe meant lots of max-protection packages and heavy sets. Only occasionally did Leftwich go to an empty set with five wideouts, or get creative by moving Johnson out to receiver.

So the Lions loaded the box and didn’t worry about a speedy Kirk motioning across the field pre-snap or running jet sweeps to stretch the defense horizontally.

There was nobody to replicate that.

Add it all up and Fitzgerald was bracketed, Johnson was stuffed, the offense was predictable and Rosen was left trying to make lemonade out of kumquats.

He was hit eight times, sacked three times and went 26-of-41 for 240 yards and a pick-six when Lions corner Darius Slay baited him into throwing to Sherfield, who was planted at the first-down marker.

“Again, it falls back on us as coaches putting those guys in position to be successful,” Wilks said.

“What I’ve seen a lot is just really loading the box; what teams have done against us as far as inability to go down the field, as far as the deep ball and then the inconsistency running the ball. I think as coaches we will address that — being able to see that and … now trying to combat that as far as spreading things out to give ourselves a chance.”

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Domino effect of Cardinals losing Kirk hurts Rosen most