Arizona Cardinals’ fight ‘unwavering’ despite losses piling up in 2023

Oct 30, 2023, 9:05 AM

Trey McBride celebrates...

Trey McBride #85 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates after a receiving touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at State Farm Stadium on October 29, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

GLENDALE — Again, the score didn’t read in favor of the Arizona Cardinals, nor did it really paint a clear picture as to what happened throughout most of Sunday afternoon.

Again, the offense struggled to find consistency, canceling out the good that the defense was putting on tape — this time against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens throughout most of 31-24 defeat in Week 8.

Again, turnovers, misreads and overthrows from quarterback Joshua Dobbs disrupted the flow of the offense.

Again, Arizona didn’t back down. And after being held out of the end zone from the second drive until the 6:45-mark in the fourth quarter and tallying 17 points after, that’s saying something.

“The fight of this team is unwavering and I feel a little pissed off because I haven’t done enough on my end to get the wins going,” Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon said postgame. “But these guys fight, they keep a good attitude, they stay connected and that’s what you’re looking for in your ball club. Now, it’s the coaches’ jobs to put them in better positions so we can start winning games.”

“One thing about this team is that we fight until the end and I’m proud of all the guys for how we finished,” Hollywood Brown added. “It’s good for us going forward.”

Arizona’s heart and overall grit has clearly compared to last year’s edition, though it wasn’t the only positive to catch the eye on Sunday:

The Trey trend

I wrote about how Cardinals second-year pro Trey McBride’s upped usage was something to watch last week and like clockwork, the tight end was again an important part of what worked well for the offense on Sunday.

He brings a big, athletic body to the table, is a willing blocker and has proven he can make dynamic plays at a position. He’s going to see a lot of reps in offensive coordinator Drew Petzing’s system, especially with Zach Ertz out.

Sunday presented the perfect example of what McBride can bring to the offense given the opportunity.

Catching 10 of 14 targets for 95 yards and a touchdown, McBride found himself atop the stat sheet for Arizona pass catchers when the dust settled.

It marks the third straight game that McBride has seen at least five targets as he gets more and more work as a receiver.

And with Ertz on injured reserve with a quad issue suffered in Week 7 on top of quarterback Joshua Dobbs and the rest of the offense’s trust in the young TE, expect McBride’s target share to fall somewhere in the 5-10 range for the near future.

“Trey was locked in from the start,” Dobbs said postgame. “Thought he did a great job of the contested catches, his touchdown, just fighting, pushing the pile into the end zone. To see him step up into that role, without Zach being out there, was huge. I know he’ll continue to grow, he’ll continue to make explosive catches.

“I’ve been saying it all year, it seems like, throw the ball to him, it’s plus-10 every single time. So, we’ll keep finding ways to get the ball in his hands. That’s definitely something I see as a quarterback, and I’ll continue to get the ball up in my playmakers’ hands.”

Just think: Five more yards and McBride would have been the first Cardinals tight end to hit the 100-yard mark since Rob Awalt (105) did so against the Dallas Cowboys in 1989.

Settled backfield

Just a few short weeks ago, Arizona’s run game was a volatile mess when it came to playing time post-James Conner injury.

One second, it looked like Emari Demercado was the guy. Another second, it seemed to be leaning toward Keaontay Ingram or even Damien Williams.

But in Sunday’s loss to Baltimore, one thing was clear: It’s Demercado’s backfield to lose until Conner is back healthy.

Demercado ran the rock 20 times for 78 yards and again was counted on in passing downs. His elusiveness and vision were on display.

Williams and Ingram meanwhile combined for four carries for 14 yards to go along with two catches for 11 yards.

“I feel good,” Demercado said postgame. “Just getting more and more comfortable with the more snaps and touches that I get. Just going out there and being able to play at the highest of my ability.”

Stills got it

Another week, another healthy dose of defensive lineman Dante Stills in the trenches.

The rookie is now up to 2.5 sacks on the season (tied for fourth on the team) after registering 1.5 on Sunday and continues to serve as a valuable rotation piece since seeing his usage tick up in Week 3.

“When you see a guy like Dante get two sacks against Lamar Jackson, first sack ever against Joe Burrow, you’re excited for him,” offensive lineman Paris Johnson said postgame. “It’s awesome.”

Stills is clearly settling in and opposing offenses may have to start taking a closer look at what the sixth-round brings to the Arizona defense.

First of many

Cardinals 2023 second-round pick BJ Ojulari has been making up for lost time since he arrived to training camp with a knee issue and placed on the physically unable to perform list.

Now healthy, the rookie is seeing more and more snaps come his way.

And if Ojulari’s first career sack on Sunday was any indication, the young pass rusher is handling the added workload just fine.

“It was an awesome rush using that move against an awesome left tackle,” Johnson said. “That’s as valid as it gets. I’m the most excited for those (Ojulari and Stills), because I feel like as a rookie D-lineman, you’re trying to find your flow, you’re trying to learn from the older guys.

“But at the same time, just talking to them, they know they’re not here to be anybody else. They’re here to be the best version of themselves. When Dante got that sack in the Bengals game, his game changed so much after that.”

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