Budda Baker: Cardinals just ‘plays away’ from being very, very good
The Arizona Cardinals’ three losses came by 10 points or less through the first half of the NFL season.
In each of those defeats, there are easily a handful of plays on both sides of the football that had a hand in the results.
Whether it’s been a costly penalty, a missed kick or a blown assignment, they’re there and they loom over Arizona’s full potential as a team.
If any of those type of plays flip in the Cardinals’ direction in those outings, it’s possible their record looks a whole lot different.
Those missed chances haven’t fallen on blind eyes, either.
“For us, the first half went alright, 5-3, which is a good start for us. Especially me personally.” Budda Baker said via Zoom on Tuesday. “Been here for four years and this is the best start we’ve had. But then again, there’s definitely, we feel like, plays that have been left out in the first half of the season. If we can make those plays then we’ll be a very, very good football team.”
“As long as we can just play a full game together as a team, we’re going to be a tough bunch to stop,” the safety added. “This past week, the defense didn’t make the plays to win the game. The offense put a lot of points on the board for us and it was the defense’s chance to make stops.”
In the team’s loss to the Dolphins, the defense surrendered 27 points to rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Miami. Tagovailoa tossed two touchdowns in the win and was sacked just three times.
The Cardinals’ offense did about all it could in the defeat, with quarterback Kyler Murray accounting for 389 yards and four total touchdowns. Unfortunately, Murray’s big night was squandered due to a missed 49-yard field goal by Zane Gonzalez and a costly fumble from the signal caller that resulted in a Dolphins touchdown.
Despite those plays in question for Baker, the Cardinals still sit second in the NFC West by just a game. Even with a rash of injuries in the secondary, the Cardinals remain firmly in the playoff picture.
And from first glance, they could be at or near full strength for the first time all season.
Safety Jalen Thompson made his return to the gridiron in the team’s loss to the Dolphins on Sunday. The safety had been out with an ankle injury suffered in Week 1. He played just two snaps before going down in the season opener. Safeties Chris Banjo and Baker were also on the shelf at some point in the season but have since made it back to full health. Cornerback Byron Murphy was out last week after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list but could return as early as this Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.
Thompson recorded three tackles and a pass deflection on the statsheet, but his presence was surely felt by Baker on Sunday.
“I loved it,” Baker said of Thompson’s return on Sunday. “He did a lot of things for us. You saw him in the slot covering wide receivers, covering tight ends, blitzing at times as well. Kinda just took the stress off of me a little bit.
“Just having that good balance to where both of us aren’t tired and both of us are playing very good football. It was definitely good to have him on the field. … He knocked off a lot of the cobwebs and now for sure JT is ready to be even better this next week.”
The Cardinals enter the second half of the season still hungry to find that complete game that Baker talked about Tuesday.
With more time actually playing together, the miscues from the previous losses — and even wins — should be few and far between as the team gets everyone back on the field.
“Literally the ones haven’t played together fully because there’s been situations — like first game of the year when [Thompson] was injured and then I get injured and then Byron gets COVID and Dre gets injured,” Baker said. “Especially for the DB corps, none of us have had plenty of games together, so that takes a part of its course.
“Overall as a team and as a defensive side, we always think about: the standard’s the standard. As those guys are gone … we still have to hold ourselves to a higher accountability because these players are very good players.”