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Rapid Reactions: Room to improve following Cardinals’ loss to Steelers

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) is hit by Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Terrell Edmunds during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The Arizona Cardinals could not over come the first three-interception game by rookie quarterback Kyler Murray in Week 14 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Arizona dug out of a 10-point deficit after the first quarter to tie things up, but mistakes plagued the Cardinals throughout as they were unable to claim a lead.

Special teams provided a second-half spark as Chase Edmonds executed a fourth down conversion on a direct snap fake punt and the punt return team forced a Steelers fumble on a fake punt attempt a few drives later.

But an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown by Steelers returner Diontae Johnson in the first quarter leaves room for improvement in the special teams department as well.

Here are the rapid reactions from the 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station staff:

Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta

Give the Cardinals credit for one thing — they didn’t resemble zombies Sunday like they did last week against the Rams, so the threat of that lingering hangover of the undead won’t be a story line this week.

But in a way, that might make this week’s 23-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers more frustrating.

The defense played better overall, yielding only 275 yards, but a lot of that had to do with Pittsburgh staying conservative on offense with reserve Devlin “Duck” Hodges at the controls. The Cards’ D still makes things way too comfortable for opposing quarterbacks. Even Hodges, making his third pro start, completed 84 percent of his passes. Tackling continues to be a huge issue as well, and it was advertised by Patrick Peterson’s “bro hug” approach on Steelers receiver Diontae Johnson in the third quarter. On a first down at the Cardinals’ 16-yard line, Hodges threw a bubble screen to Johnson that was read perfectly by Peterson, who applied said hug for what would have been a two-yard loss. Instead Peterson didn’t wrap up and Johnson got a first down to the Arizona 2-yard line. Two plays later, Hodges hit Johnson on a touchdown pass that put the Steelers up 20-10.

For all the frustration the defense has caused this season (and there’s been a lot), the offense has looked less-than-pedestrian the last three weeks. Kyler Murray threw three interceptions (two in the red zone and two on fourth down) and continues to be maybe the easiest quarterback to bring down in recent NFL memory. Seeing the rookie sacked by a one-armed defensive effort is becoming all too common.

Over the last three games, Arizona has averaged 233 yards per game. Last year’s historically bad offense averaged 241.6 yards per contest.

Yeah, kind of alarming, isn’t it?

Kevin Zimmerman, ArizonaSports.com reporter and editor

There seemed to be a little bit more life to the Arizona Cardinals this week than last, when the Los Angeles Rams blew them out of State Farm Stadium. But there’s not much reason to be more optimistic about an Arizona team that was gifted multiple opportunities to steal one.

Kyler Murray appeared out of sorts for the second game in a row, taking sacks and not knowing when to pull the ball and take off. Two interceptions deep into Pittsburgh territory hurt, especially because the second came with enough of an open field in front of him to run for a first down, which would have given the Cardinals a fresh set of downs inside the Steelers’ 5-yard line.

The defense even might’ve been able to get away with a bad final possession had Arizona’s special teams unit not given up an 85-yard punt return score in the first quarter to rookie Diontae Johnson. As Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks put it, that was as bad as a team loss — as in everyone is to blame — as you can imagine.

Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo

A Cardinals team that had garnered largely positive reviews for their effort and competitiveness throughout the season is now teetering on the verge of a walk-off nine game losing streak to end the season. A stadium that looked like a beehive filled with Steeler fans didn’t help matters.

New problems have emerged for the Cardinals and for me they focus on Kyler Murray. It was not his finest day and that is certainly a terrible trend to end the season. His third quarter interception ended a promising drive as Pittsburgh turned the mistake into a touchdown and a 20-10 lead. The Cards next drive eventually led to a 4th-and-2 inside the five-yard line, but Murray’s inexplicable decision to throw into the end zone and bypass a clear first down had he just run it was another poor decision. We’re not accustomed to seeing too many of those. Maybe we were just spoiled by his play early in the season, but the rookie quarterback has looked very, well, rookie-like the last two games.

Speaking of rookies, Byron Murphy’s struggles have surged to the top of the list of concerns. Be it penalties or being targeted by opposing quarterbacks, the rookie cornerback has been exposed as of late.

And Kliff Kinsgsbury’s inexperience continues to show. I like a coach willing to take chances but going for it on that fourth quarter 4th down seemed needless when a field goal keeps the game within one score with plenty of time still on the clock.

Can this team win a game before the end of the season? The answer may very well lie in next week’s game vs. the Browns at home. Lose that one and it’s possible that what will standout about the 2019 season was the losing streak to end it.

John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo

This the what you should expect from the 2019 Arizona Cardinals. A competitive game filled with some crucial mistakes and in the end another loss.

Reality is that this team is just not ready to win yet. They are not a good football team. Not right now, at least. But they could be next year as there are definitely some positive signs going forward, but also some major flaws that will have to be addressed if they are to take a big leap in 2020.

The effort was there this week and that’s a positive – meaning last week’s game was more of an outlier and possibly just a bad matchup. So in some ways Arizona redeemed itself by playing hard, which they didn’t appear to do last week vs. the Rams. And giving themselves a chance to win is basically all we are asking for right now.

If you would have told me going into this game that the Cardinals would have the ball at their own 25 with 1:42 left and a touchdown and extra point away from knocking off the Steelers, I would have taken it. And you would have too. Arizona shot itself in the foot too many times today – mainly Kyler Murray with a second-straight subpar performance. Murray turned the ball over with Arizona at the Pittsburgh 26-yard line and then again at the Steelers’ 6-yard line. Crucial mistakes that took points off the board and ultimately cost the Cardinals the chance to walk out of State Farm Stadium with a neutral site win.

Yes there were that many Steelers’ fans in the building. Walking in I thought there would be maybe 15,000 but no way, that stadium was half filled with the opposing teams fans.

The Cardinals special teams had a major gaffe allowing a 85-yard punt return for a TD – no Amos Jones is not still coaching here in Arizona.

Tough game because they could have won. I’m not saying should have, but could have. But this is all part of the learning process and maybe at this time next year they are winning these games instead of losing them.


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