It might be time to start worrying about the Arizona Cardinals. They may have peaked a little too soon.
Kyler Murray’s MVP chatter has subsided. The offense, without stud receiver DeAndre Hopkins, is pedestrian at best. It’s fair to wonder about how good this offensive line really is, especially on days where Murray is merely mortal. They have lacked some energy and verve in recent weeks. And the defense tends to rely on the turnover or big play, which haven’t come with nearly as much regularity these days.
Sunday’s stinker in Detroit brought all of the recent concerns to light, and one could ask some significant questions about the direction of this offense, and the ability of a young team with an inexperienced coaching staff – especially when it comes to the playoffs – to handle the suddenly heightened expectations created by their 7-0 start. Something has clearly been off, all around, the past few weeks and I can’t help but wonder if the Cardinals aren’t doubting themselves a bit, too, in terms of being a real Super Bowl contender.
I’m wondering if we’ve already seen the best of them. Arizona is 3-4 in its last seven games. And sinking.
Murray has been quite streaky since coming back from a month off with an ankle injury; frankly the offense achieved some sustained highs during his absence that they have had a difficult time reaching since his return. Hopkins is absolutely essential to everything they do, and with him out at least into the playoffs, this staff had better figure something out, and fast. A team that ran its offense through its receivers – using that and Murray’s legs to set everything else up – now has just one receiving TD from a receiver in the last seven games??? The Cardinals had all of 85 yards in the first half against a porous Detroit defense, and their 17-0 deficit felt much deeper than that, despite the Lions‘ predilection to blow any and every lead possible. At 17-3, with a chance to drive midway through the third quarter, Murray threw a pick; Detroit immediately scored off it in precisely the kind of momentum change that Arizona rode during its winning streak.
Consider as well, the Lions had allowed a TD or field goal on all 43 red-zone possessions up until the end of the second quarter, when the Cardinals were stopped on fourth-and-goal. Running out of ideas, perhaps? Arizona had three trips inside of the 10, and settled for two field goals after that initial turnover on downs. Maybe running out of steam? This offense didn’t look cunning or ruthless or confident.
Regardless, it may be the case, as it has become for the Chiefs and the Cowboys, that this defense will have to carry the Cardinals as far as they can go. I’m not sure that’s close to where many may have predicted at the midpoint of the season. But I’m not liking the looks of this group.
Steelers stay alive despite utterly broken offense
The Steelers offense is broken. Beyond repair. And yet their season survives.
They haven’t been able to muster any attack in the first half of a game for over a month. They have been outscored in the first half of their last six games by a staggering margin of 91-19. They don’t have a pulse or a heartbeat, they look lost and lethargic and opponents are swarming their offensive line and torpedoing the run game with abandon. Ben Roethlisberger can’t do much, but he’s not even the biggest problem.
Pittsburgh, playing at home with the season on the line, mustered all of 35 net yards on its first four drives, on 14 plays. Do the math. That’s yucky. The Titans held the ball for 10:17 on their scoring drive to bleed the clock in the second quarter; the Steelers held the ball for 8:41 the entire half. The Steelers converted their first third down with six minutes left in the third quarter. It’s untenable and, it seems, unfixable. At least on the fly with just three weeks left, and yet somehow they beat the Titans, 19-13.
It took another Herculean defensive effort to force this comeback; the offense was barely along for the ride. Four takeaways did the trick. Late in the game the Steelers forced turnovers on successive possessions and the offense mustered not a single first down. Kicker Chris Boswell pretty much is the offense these days. Yet somehow the Steelers are still alive. TJ Watt keeps fighting for sacks and chasing history, and Mike Tomlin keeps staving off his first losing season, somehow.
Pittsburgh had just 12 first downs in the game and just 168 yards of offense and went 2-for-11 on third down and had the ball for just 20:52, and won. They had 35 net yards rushing … and won. Winning the turnover margin, 4-0, was the difference. Hard template to duplicate week in and week out, but enough to give them hopes of reaching the postseason, still, in Big Ben’s last ride.
More insider notes from Week 15
- Dak Prescott still is in a funk. The Cowboys can couch it however they like, but it’s not good and he’s missing on easy throws and simple screens and they are no longer a big play offense …
- The Houston Texans may not have a player on the roster who registers even 500 yards from scrimmage this season, despite a 17-game season. Crazy. But Davis Mills continues to look each week like a quarterback who might stick around for a while. The kid battles and makes plays under duress and if nothing else might be a quality long-term backup …
- Still looking for evidence that Joe Judge is indeed qualified to be an NFL head coach. Baffling game management week after week, coupled with bizarre word-salad press conferences. I’ll believe that he is absolutely safe when we see him at the combine. He hasn’t captured the imagination of anyone, and owner John Mara should keep an open mind about where his team stands and who could actually get it where they need to go. They ain’t close.
- The Dolphins came out sloppy after their bye week, but showed plenty of guile in the second half. Tua Tagovialoa ran the ball with authority – yes, ran it at people – and fired that team up. They pulled away from the Jets late to keep their improbable playoff hopes alive. That defense is legit. They won a game with COVID taking away some of their key players. And I suspect they fall short of their goal but are a tough out from here on out …
- Thought the Jaguars might be good for a win, and a decent showing, with Urban Meyer finally gone. Not so much. Getting swept by the Texans is a rough way to go, but it does but them in great position to nab the first-overall pick for a second straight year.