Rapid reactions: Cardinals keep it close in Week 1 loss to Commanders

Sep 10, 2023, 2:25 PM | Updated: 7:27 pm

Cardinals TE Trey McBride runs with the football...

Trey McBride #85 of the Arizona Cardinals catches a pass during the second quarter Washington Commanders at FedExField on September 10, 2023 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

The Arizona Cardinals were on the wrong side of the scoreboard when the dust settled in a 20-16 loss to the Washington Commanders on Sunday.

That’ll happen when the offense is held to just three field goals all afternoon.

Despite the ineffectiveness from that side of the football, the Cardinals were in the game from start to finish in head coach Jonathan Gannon’s head-coaching debut thanks to strong six-sack, three-turnover showing from the defense.

Arizona Sports’ hosts, reporters and editors share their thoughts on the Cardinals’ Week 1 loss:

John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: My initial thought was that the Cardinals offense with James Conner, Hollywood Brown and Zach Ertz would be able to move the chains and get points on the board and that the defense would get torched every Sunday. I failed to take into account just how bad the Cardinals quarterback play would be. Joshua Dobbs was awful — three fumbles, two of which were lost. He led his team to zero touchdowns. One giveaway gave Washington the ball at the Cardinals’ 29-yard line and the Commanders turned that into seven points and another gave them the ball at the Arizona 22 yard-line and they turned that into a field goal.

Dobbs looked at Ertz 10 times out of all his pass attempts — so no real shots down the field. He had one pass play over 15 yards and that was mostly Rondale Moore. The Cardinals defense was impressive with constant pressure, getting six sacks from five different players and scoring with off that Cameron Thomas fumble return following a Dennis Gardeck sack. The big question for Gannon now is: Who is behind center next week vs the Giants?

The first look at Dobbs was not just bad — it was a disaster. Maybe he needs more time in the system or maybe he is what he is. Clayton Tune saw QB1 reps during training camp and he had a week to watch and learn. My guess is they go back to Dobbs, but if he can’t move this offense next week, the leash needs to be short.

Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: During the seemingly endless lead-up to the first game of the Gannon coaching era for the Cardinals, many in the media and fanbase expressed their goals for this year’s team: play hard, be competitive and ultimately lose to help bolster the rebuilding process through the 2024 draft.

Well, individuals with those goals are probably pretty satisfied with Sunday’s 20-16 loss to the Commanders. The Cardinals competed in D.C.

We’ll start with the good. The defense. There was the drive in the first quarter that saw the defense rack up 67 yards of penalties as the Commanders took advantage and scored to take a 7-0 lead. Other than that, I thought the D of coordinator Nick Rallis was a very pleasant surprise. They racked up six sacks, forced three turnovers and played with ferocity throughout. Zaven Collins got a pick. Kyzir White flew around the football field. Newcomer K’Von Wallace stood out (and probably should’ve had a pick-six). Dennis Gardeck had two sacks, one of which led to the team’s only touchdown by Cameron Thomas. All-in-all, a very good performance.

Now the bad: the Cardinals’ offense was atrocious. It should’ve been expected, right? Joshua Dobbs started (the worst-kept preseason secret in recent memory) and looked exactly like a marginal career backup playing his first game with a team he’s been a part of for a little more than two weeks. The offensive line was average at best, but at a crucial juncture of the game (late-third, early-fourth quarter) it got absolutely manhandled by the Washington defensive front. Those two disastrous possessions were the biggest differences in the game, in my opinion.

Tyler Drake, Cardinals reporter and co-host of the Cardinals Corner podcast: Let’s start this off with two words I didn’t expect to say from a defensive standpoint:

Pleasantly surprised.

Sure, the offense is very much a work in progress with Joshua Dobbs leaving a lot to be desired at QB and penalties need cleaned up across the board, but the defense gives me hope.

Kyzir White has to know when to lay off the hit stick, but undoubtedly set the tone with his helmet-to-helmet shot in the first quarter.

The defense responded with six sacks and a trio of turnovers, two of which were caused by outside linebacker Zaven Collins.

Speaking of Collins, his move to the outside looked seamless on Sunday behind an interception, fumble recovery and pass defensed.

It was Dennis Gardeck, though, that led the charge for Arizona’s defense with a pair of sacks and a forced fumble that was returned for Arizona’s only touchdown of the afternoon.

Unfortunately, the last part of the above sentence usually doesn’t translate to many wins. Dobbs turned in more fumbles (two) than touchdowns (zero) on Sunday and that simply cannot happen if you want a chance at picking up the W.

Entering the season, the defense was viewed as Arizona’s weak link. After Week 1’s showing, I’m not so sure on that.

Kevin Zimmerman, lead editor: Having watched the Cardinals, Arizona State Sun Devils and Arizona Wildcats all lose this weekend, congrats to all the head coaches for not being the reason their teams didn’t perform well!

Sure, the Cardinals flashed back to last season with an early drive where penalties allowed the Commanders to score first, but otherwise there were at least promising things. Safety play was generally solid with K’Von Wallace showing up to explain why Isaiah Simmons was sent to the Giants. The pass-rush group showed some personality.

On offense, it’s certainly bad that Joshua Dobbs has seven fumbles over three NFL career starts. He operated the offense pretty darn well but that doesn’t matter if you’re coughing it up.

Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: One of the things that bears your attention in a year when expectations are so low; do the Cardinals play hard? I watched the game Sunday morning, so did you. The numbers and statistics will reinforce everything we witnessed with our eyes. But does that tell the whole story? Underneath an offense that offered next to nothing and a defense that drastically overperformed relative to expectations, something else happened. The Cardinals did indeed play hard for their new coaching staff. This shouldn’t be a surprise for week one — it is the opener after all — but for a team with such low expectations it was fair to wonder just how much fight there would be.

As it turns out, plenty. And at times, too much. A staggering 97 penalty yards in the first half was whittled down to 25 in the second half.

And man did the defense ball out. Five different players with six sacks which, for now, answers the pass rush questions. Dennis Gardeck played angry and danced like a madman. Victor Dimukeje showed up and Zaven Collins was frequently referred to as a “budding superstar” (wouldn’t that be a nice development). K’Von Wallace was all over the place.

Maybe you weren’t surprised by their collective effort but I don’t mind saying that I was.

But their own offensive ineptitude was too much to overcome. By my math, the Cards offense gained 30 yards on 23 plays after the 37 yard Matt Prater field goal gave them the 16-10 lead. Too many negative plays, not nearly enough big plays and too many times Montez Sweat and company flexed all over the Cards.

Joshua Dobbs did nothing to validate the notion that he should have been handed this job with such little prep time. One more performance like this may force Jonathan Gannon to “Name that Tune.” It’s likely to be that kind of a grind until Kyler comes back. In the end, the outcome was perfectly predictable but the process had more to like than I expected.

Luke Lapinski, co-host of Wolf & Luke: To me this season is more about finding players you can build around for next year and beyond than it is about anything else. And some guys got off to a good start Sunday.

Zaven Collins doesn’t have to be the “burgeoning superstar” that they kept calling him on the TV broadcast, but the early returns on him trying a new position are pretty good. And remember Jonathan Gannon and Nick Rallis have had success getting the most out of former Cardinals draft picks at the linebacker position before. That was an encouraging Week 1 for Collins.

Cameron Thomas had a day to remember, Kyzir White was everywhere (that penalty was brutal though), K’Von Wallace looks like a pretty solid pickup and Dennis Gardeck isn’t Myles Garrett or T.J. Watt but he makes plays.

The defense overall looked good. And that’s big to me because I really want the Cardinals to build a monster defense over the next couple years and focus on winning that way. Then just add Kyler Murray or Caleb Williams to the offense and you’re going to be in pretty good shape.

All that said, this was a winnable game. Turns out Sam Howell isn’t the next Tom Brady as some people were making him out to be, and if the Cardinals got any offense in this one they’d be 1-0. It was tough to watch that second half without counting down the days to Murray’s return date. Whenever that is.

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