Cardinals’ performance in Detroit leads to more questions than answers

Dec 19, 2021, 3:25 PM | Updated: 7:28 pm
(AP Photo/Jose Juarez)...
(AP Photo/Jose Juarez)
(AP Photo/Jose Juarez)

Roughly how many times did you hear it over the last six days?

“The Lions play hard.”

Translation: the Detroit Lions are an awful, awful football team. That was proven over 13 weeks, during which the hard-playing Detroit Lions won exactly one game. That’s coach/player speak for “they are terrible and we’re really not trying to say anything bad about them or anything resembling the truth that could end up on a bulletin board somewhere.”

Yet, that same hard-playing one-win Lions team barely had to break a sweat to put away the Arizona Cardinals 30-12 at Ford Field on Sunday.

All factors considered, I believe the Cardinals played the worst first half of football they’ve played since they moved to the Valley 33 years ago.

Detroit got the first possession and played keep-away from the Cardinals for almost nine minutes, but had to settle for a field goal. Likely having the “we’re gonna get our brains kicked in” mentality, Detroit head coach Dan Campbell called for an onside kick that the Cardinals recovered and took over at the Detroit 41-yard line. They did nothing with the opportunity, as one of those drive-stalling penalties (a holding penalty on D.J. Humphries) we saw last season popped up and pushed the offense backward. Andy Lee punted the ball away and listless feelings set in.

Then the Lions marched 93 yards on eight plays with Cardinal-killer Jared Goff hitting Amon-Ra St. Brown on a 37-yard touchdown pass. Uh-oh.

After another three-and-out, the Cardinals buckled down defensively and forced a Detroit punt, and looked like they finally got their legs underneath them on their third possession. Kyler Murray marched them down the field and facing a 1st-and-goal at the Detroit six-yard line, things got wonky again. The Cardinals floundered on their first three plays and went for it on fourth down, with Murray’s pass to Antoine Wesley getting knocked away at the goal line. Adding to the perplexing nature of the proceedings, James Conner, who scored 14 red-zone touchdowns this season, didn’t get a touch.

It was 10-0 Detroit at that point, and there were 32 minutes of game action left, but the game felt completely out of reach. That’s because it was.

Goff drove the Lions down the field again and added a touchdown pass to Josh Reynolds right before halftime. Trailing 17-0, the second half was just 30 minutes of stat-padding and hoping nobody got hurt…against the worst team in football.

That’s not to say there weren’t questions that popped up in the final 30 minutes. Here are some of them:

– Why go for it on 4th-and-goal at the 3-yard line in the first half when you’re trailing by only 10, but then kick a field goal on 4th-and-goal at the 3-yard line trailing by 17 in the third quarter?

– Why on that same possession while in the red zone, was Conner not in the game?

– On what planet is a 3rd-down fade pass in the corner of the end zone to A.J. Green ever the right play call?

– Down 17-3 in a game you’ve been clearly outplayed, why is it a good idea to run down the field and pose for cameras when you force a turnover?

– Why did Green not come back for the ball or even feel bothered to try and tackle Amani Oruwariye on Murray’s pick on the ensuing drive?

– Why do the snap issues in the shotgun continue? Murray had to recover ANOTHER snap that came to him when he was not ready and audibling at the line? I know Max Garcia was in for Rodney Hudson, who is on the Covid-reserve list, but this has been an issue all season. The amazing part is the Cardinals haven’t lost any of them.

– Why would you go for a two-point conversion trailing 27-12, when an extra point would bring you within 14 points (two TDs, two extra points) when failing on the conversion attempt (which they did) would necessitate a made two-point conversion?

Those are just the game-related questions. There are many more high-level questions about the Cardinals after Week 15:

– Is Kyler Murray inspiring enough as a leader/star QB for this team? Many Twitter users pointed out several instances of Murray’s negative body language when things don’t go smoothly.

– Can this team defend the run? It’s been an issue all year, so much so that it’s kind of shocking they’re still 10-4. Craig Reynolds (Go ahead, google ‘who is Craig Reynolds,’ I’ll wait) gashed them for 112 yards on 26 carries. And what kind of yardage totals will Indianapolis’ MVP candidate Jonathan Taylor rack up on Christmas Day?

And the most important one, and one that seems to be gaining attention:

– Are we just witnessing another late-season fade by a team coached by Kliff Kingsbury? His Texas Tech teams went 7-19 during his tenure in games played Nov. 1 or later. His Cardinals teams have now gone 5-8 in games Dec. 1 or later. More importantly, over the last two years, Kingsbury’s teams are 0-4 when a playoff spot could be grabbed with a victory. That’s concerning. The NFL is very much a “prove it” league and that seems to be a phrase lobbed Kingsbury’s way these days. The pressure will not decrease over the last three weeks for the Cardinals and the noise will only get louder with each misstep.

With Covid-19 numbers spiking and the virus affecting the sports world, many people feel like it’s 2020 all over again.

Frustrated Cardinals fans who watched a playoff berth go unclaimed a year ago feel that way too.

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Cardinals’ performance in Detroit leads to more questions than answers