Cardinals’ lackluster finish to regular season summed up in 2 areas

Jan 14, 2022, 2:03 PM
(L-R) Head coach Kliff Kingsbury and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph of the Arizona Cardinals re...
(L-R) Head coach Kliff Kingsbury and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph of the Arizona Cardinals react during the second half of the NFL game at State Farm Stadium on October 28, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. The Packers defeated the Cardinals 24-21. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

TEMPE — Once the cream of the crop at the midway point of the season, the Arizona Cardinals came crashing down to earth with a glaring 1-4 finish.

Now with a Wild Card matchup against the Los Angeles Rams slated for Monday night, the Cardinals must remedy their past transgressions.

When it comes down to it, there are two problem areas that stand out the most: Negative plays on offense and big plays on defense.

Whether it was the plethora of penalties or defenses getting to quarterback Kyler Murray, Arizona did itself no favors over the last five games.

Of the team’s 38 penalties over that span, 21 came from the offensive side of the ball, mostly off of false starts and holding calls.

Pairing those with Murray’s 12 sacks taken and it is hard for any offense to really find any sort of momentum. Up against a stout Rams defense, the Cardinals can’t afford to give an inch due to self-inflicted mistakes.

“It’s just a matter of focus and doing things right consistently,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Wednesday. “That’s an area going into the playoffs that we have to get better at.”

On the other side of the football, giving up plays of at least 20 yards has been the defense’s kryptonite by a mile.

After a stingy two months of limiting big shots, the Cardinals defense has become prone to game-changing moments and not in a good way.

Over the final five games of the regular season, starting with none other than the Rams in Week 14, Arizona’s defense gave up 27 big plays of 20 or more yards. Seven of those resulted in touchdowns.

In the team’s season finale loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the Cardinals were gashed to the tune of nine plays of at least 20 yards, highlighted by a trio of long touchdowns.

Only Arizona’s win over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17 saw the defense give up no more than five big plays (three).

“Obviously, playing defense in this league is difficult but if you don’t play with great detail, if you make too many mistakes during the game, it can look how it looked on Sunday,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Friday. “That game shouldn’t have been 38 points but it ended up being that way because it’s too many critical areas in the fourth quarter and the trying times.

“Playing with more detail, playing clean, not giving up big plays. We have to get back to playing clean football, coaching better, playing better and that’s the key. When our defense does those things well, we’re a hard out for offenses. But if we play 55 snaps of good football and play three or four snaps of bad football, it can mean 21 points. That’s the stress of playing defense against good people.”

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