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Another cardinals close loss after tale of two halves

Howard Balzer Avatar
September 17, 2023

In a tale of two halves Sunday at State Farm Stadium, what was witnessed in the first half was a performance no one expected to see from the Cardinals followed by exactly what most have believed this season would look like in a 31-28 win by the New York Giants.

Never mind that the home team led 20-0 at halftime and then 28-7 with 9:34 remaining in the third quarter. The Giants outscored the Cardinals 31-8 in the second half, getting points every time they had the ball with four touchdowns and the game-winning field goal after reaching the red zone on each possession.

Quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who predicted growth and a jump in his performance after last week’s loss to Washington, was a revelation in the first half, completing 12-of-16 passes for 146 yards and a passer rating of 102.6. He came back to earth in the second half with 9-for-15 passing for 82 yards.

Most crucial was that after the Cardinals answered a Giants touchdown in the third quarter with one of their own, the offense sputtered, especially in the fourth quarter where any semblance of a drive could have run time off the clock and secured the win. That also would have kept the defense off the field.

However, in the first three possessions of the fourth quarter, the Cardinals ran only 3:33 off the clock with 13 yards on eight plays and three false starts.

As Dobbs pointedly said, “As we all saw, it is about finishing. We have to finish. Ball in our hands in a tight game and we have to give ourselves a shot, a chance to finish by executing, playing the same way we played throughout the game. We know the games are going to get tight; that’s how the NFL is.

“It doesn’t matter how well you play in the first half and how poorly the other team plays in the first half. Games are going to be tight. Games are going to go down to the final minute, so you have to lock in for 60 minutes and finish. That would be our next step of growth of finishing in the fourth quarter.”

In each of the first two games, the Cardinals led entering the final quarter. However, at Washington in Week 1, they totaled 29 yards on 16 plays in three possessions and Dobbs was 5-for-7 for only 15 yards.

Added to the 8-for-13 Sunday (not including the three meaningless plays in the final 19 seconds after the Giants took the lead), the Cardinals have run 24 fourth-quarter plays for 42 yards. Dobbs was 2-for-4 for 10 yards Sunday, so he is 7-for-11 for 25 yards.

It was inexplicable to hear coach Jonathan Gannon say afterward, “I thought the offense played well. We ran it. Dobbs I thought threw some good balls in there. Guys were getting open and catching it. We even had one good drive there in the second half, got some of the momentum back and then we couldn’t get off the field, but I thought they played really well. They scored 28 points against a pretty good defense there. That’s a good day.”

He then doubled down when asked about the ground game.

“It was good,” he said. “I thought James (Conner) was; that’s why he’s who he is. The offensive line did a good job I thought. They had a good plan. I thought we executed well. The run game looked good today.”

Surely, there is some truth in what Gannon said. However, how could he pleased by what happened late in the game?

Conner did rush for 106 yards on 23 carries, but he also had six runs for minus-yardage and three that gained one yard. His runs of 10, 21 and 22 yards fueled the touchdown drive that provided the 28-7 lead in the third quarter, but after the 21-yard dash, his final six rushes totaled three yards.

Aside from the 53 yards in that drive, his other 20 carries in the game also went for 53 yards.

In the second half last week, the Cardinals had 93 yards and managed only 138 against the Giants, which includes a 19-yard pass play to wide receiver Michael Wilson that ended with nine seconds remaining in the game.

It is true that the Cardinals weren’t able to stop any Giants drive in the second half. However, they still got the ball after each score and glaringly weren’t able to respond after the first touchdown.

As for the defense, undoubtedly the unit was affected by the absence of four players that started in Week 1: Safety Budda Baker, who suffered a hamstring injury in practice Friday, along with inside linebacker Josh Woods, defensive end L.J. Collier and nose tackle Leki Fotu, who were all injured in the loss to the Commanders.

Collier was placed on reserve/injured with a biceps injury Saturday, which Gannon said after the game is “a pretty long injury.”

Then, defensive end Carlos Watkins left the game Sunday in the first half, also with a biceps injury. That left Jonathan Ledbetter, Kevin Strong Jr., rookie Dante Stills and Eric Banks (elevated from the practice squad Saturday) as the only healthy defensive linemen available.

There were numerous personnel packages with only two defensive linemen deployed and some with none.

The severity of Baker’s injury is unknown and his absence can’t be sugar-coated.

“Missed him a lot,” said fellow safety Jalen Thompson. “That’s our defensive captain right there. It’s always good having him on the field. As a leader, he makes sure we are all set and all good. It was a big loss to not have Budda out there, but it’s next man up. We have to keep going and keep going hard.”

The defense fell victim to the Giants’ second-half onslaught after they gained only 81 yards on 26 plays in the first half and had five first downs. The Cardinals had 16 first downs in the first half, but by the end of the game had 24 to New York’s 26.

The Cardinals won the time-of-possession battle in the first half 19:09 to 10:51, but it also flipped in the second half as the gassed defense was on the field for 18:32 and the offense for 11:38.

Incredibly, the Giants gained 358 yards on 43 plays in the second half (8.33 per play) as quarterback Daniel Jones toyed with the Cardinals.

He was 9-for-16 for 62 yards in the first half, had a passer rating of 39.2 and gained one yard on one rush. In the final two quarters, he was 17-for-21 for 259 yards and two touchdowns while adding 58 yards and a touchdown on eight runs. For the game he totaled 379 scrimmage yards with 321 passing and 59 rushing, and had a 103.5 passer rating.

The barrage began on the first play of the second half with a 58-yard pass play to wide receiver Jalin Hyatt, a 2023 third-round pick who beat cornerback Marco Wilson, and it never let up.

Gannon said, “I feel like we gave up some explosives there and really couldn’t get them to third down enough. Obviously, we didn’t get any stops. If you get outscored 31-8 in the half, typically you’re not going to win the game.”

The Giants had four explosive plays in the second half totaling 143 yards with a 31-yarder to Hyatt, one of 29 yards to wide receiver Darius Slayton and one for 25 to tight end Darren Waller.

As for not getting to third down enough, that’s because 245 of their 358 second-half yards (68.4 percent) came on 22 first-down plays for 245 yards (11.14 per play). Jones carved up the Cardinals defense with 216 of those 245 yards on 12-of-15 passing. That was after the Giants had 10 first-down plays for 34 yards in the first half with Jones completing 2-of-5 passes for 16 yards.

The Cardinals offense was better on first down than their 24-for-74 production against the Commanders, but it also fell off in the second half.

In the first two quarters, the Cardinals had 16 first-down plays for 111 yards (6.94 per play) and Dobbs was 4-for-6 for 43 yards. In the second half (again, not including the late 19-yard play to Wilson), they gained 46 yards on 10 plays and only 16 yards on five plays after their lone second-half score. Dobbs was 2-for-4 for 26 yards in the second half.

Aside from Conner’s 21-yard first-down run on the scoring drive, five running plays managed minus-1 yard in the second half.

While the defense was thought to be understandably gassed in the second half, Thompson and linebacker Kyzir White mentioned the word in a different context.

“I kind of just think we let off the gas a little bit,” Thompson said, “and against NFL teams in general, you can’t do that at all. I feel like that’s what it is with that.”

White agreed. He said, “As a defense we just let off the gas. (Not) calling (anyone) personally, but the 11 guys out there, I feel like we got relaxed a little bit. We have to keep our foot on the gas like we did in the first half and just keep playing hard. I feel like that was the biggest difference.

“I think when you get up 20-0, there might be a natural instinct of ‘we got them,’ but it’s the National Football League. Just like we scored 20 in a half, they can go out and score 20 in a half. We definitely played with a lot of energy in the first half, but the second half was unacceptable and not good enough. I put that on me as a leader on this defense to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Meanwhile, Dobbs was asked about his comments during the week about looking forward to “slinging” the ball around in a dome and “having fun.”

Asked how fun the first half was and then how frustrating it became in the second half, he said, “It was fun when it was working. In here, the ball goes exactly where you want it to. There’s no wind, no chance of rain, no anything. It feels 75 and sunny in a dome every Sunday. It felt good.

“(But) we have to stay ahead of the chains. If we stay ahead of the chains, we keep the defense on their heels and we’re able to keep doing what we’re doing. So we will do that, we plan on doing that and it’ll be exciting for another opportunity to show up.”

The Cardinals failed to convert their final three third downs of the game to finish 4-for-10, and they needed 11, 14 and 16 yards.

The opportunity Dobbs referred to will come next Sunday at home, where the Cardinals have now lost five consecutive games and 13 of their last 14, against the Cowboys, who have dismantled the Giants and Jets by a combined 71-10 in the first two games.

After that is a road trip to San Francisco, which defeated the Cardinals 76-23 in the two games last season.

The first two losses this season were by four and three points, respectively, but the challenge will be significant achieving that in the next two weeks.

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: Also, become a DIEHARD and use the promo code HOWARD

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