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Keim: Cardinals defense a head-scratcher, Murray has growing pains

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Kerrith Whyte (40) is tackled by Arizona Cardinals strong safety Jalen Thompson (34)during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Finding distinctions between six defeats in a row isn’t easy for the Arizona Cardinals.

They show up the same way in the loss column.

Even though Arizona took the Pittsburgh Steelers into crunch time and lost 23-17 last Sunday, general manager Steve Keim found it hard to differentiate that game from a 34-7 beatdown against the Los Angeles Rams a week prior.

“Obviously the losses are hard to take,” Keim told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “Unfortunately, there’s a number of things that continue to haunt us, particularly on defense that is sort of a head-scratcher.”

The Cardinals defense did force and recover a fumble last week, but it got just four hits on undrafted rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges.

Arizona totaled one pass defensed, and that was by outside linebacker Chandler Jones as Hodges picked the young secondary apart by going 16-of-19 for 152 yards and a touchdown.

Pittsburgh rushed for 140 yards and four yards a pop in a grind of a game, and it’s important to remember Arizona’s special teams unit gave up a touchdown on a punt return in the first quarter. Still, it wasn’t hard for Keim to nitpick the defense despite it statistically looking alright for the Cardinals.

“I thought we did an OK job stopping the run,” the GM said. “Where I was really concerned was just the consistency tackling, just getting guys to the ground. The amount of leaky yards after contact, those sort of things, that bothers me. Challenging routes, knocking balls down, whether it’s PBUs, interceptions, we got to get better in that area.”

For the year, the Cardinals have just 14 takeaways and are third-worst with just six interceptions through a 3-9-1 start.

Rough patch for Murray

Keim hasn’t been shy about calling out players in the past.

Over the past month, he has been honest in criticizing running back David Johnson. And so before the Cardinals face the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, he wasn’t avoiding talking about a two-week rough patch for rookie quarterback Kyler Murray.

The No. 1 overall pick has gone 39-for-64 (61%) with two touchdowns to four interceptions in the last two outings.

He’s also taken 11 sacks.

“There’s times where we get stalled or again, execution has been sort of spotty,” Keim said. “I don’t think there’s any question that if you really look at the big picture, I think Kyler has certainly exceeded expectations for most as a rookie but, you know, there are times he has some growing pains. He’s going to have to get through those things.”

Extra points

— While Johnson said this week he has been disappointed in his reduced role with the Cardinals, his impact was noticed in the loss to Pittsburgh. The running back got three carries for 19 yards and added two receptions for 34 more, 24 of which came on a late touchdown grab.

“I thought last week he bounced back and played pretty well against the Steelers,” Keim said. “Thought he started to look like the old David and I guess the next couple weeks we want to see him continue to fight and compete. That’s the way he’s shown up to practice and I don’t expect anything to change there.”

Asked if Johnson’s status for 2020 is up for discussion, Keim said “those are the kind of conversations that certainly will be held internally.”

“I’m not going to have them on the radio,” he added, “but I will say this: We’ll do a deep dive into this roster and look at every guy … identifying the core players moving forward and making sure we can build around them.”

Keim added he does not have social media and did not take anything from Johnson’s curious tweet this week.

— Since Larry Fitzgerald retirement talk has ramped up with the Browns’ visit marking the last home game of Arizona’s 2019 season, Keim said he would love to have the all-time great back for 2020.

— Keim was asked for his thoughts on Cleveland defensive coordinator and former Cardinals coach Steve Wilks, who makes his return to State Farm Stadium on Sunday: “Steve Wilks is a good man. Have a lot of respect for him, enjoyed his time here in terms of our relationship. Certainly wish him and his family the best.”

Phillips Law Group

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