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baker on ir for cardinals; injuries hit d-line

Howard Balzer Avatar
September 20, 2023

After the Cardinals loss to the Giants Sunday, one in which they led 20-0 at halftime and 28-7 with 9:34 remaining in the third quarter, linebacker Victor Dimukeje said Monday he believed “we came out a little flat in the second half.”

Both linebacker Kyzir White and safety Jalen Thompson thought the defense “let off the gas.” White said, “We have to keep our foot on the gas like we did in the first half and just keep playing hard.”

Of course, we all know what happens in our cars if we put our foot on the pedal and there’s no gas left in the tank.

There were some observations that the defense ran out of gas especially as the Giants mounted drive after drive that resulted in points.

The reality is that the defense was playing without four players that started in Week 1, including safety Budda Baker, who was inactive after suffering a hamstring injury in practice two days before the game.

Also inactive were starting nose tackle Leki Fotu, who suffered a shoulder injury early in the opener against Washington, while starting defensive end L.J. Collier was placed on reserve/injured the day before the game because of a biceps injury also suffered against the Commanders. Then, defensive end Carlos Watkins also injured his biceps after playing only 10 snaps against the Giants.

Inside linebacker Josh Woods was also inactive after playing 55 percent of the snaps in Week 1. Krys Barnes, who played 27 percent against Washington, started with Woods out and played 82 percent against the Giants.

Rookie linemen Dante Stills was active after being inactive in Week 1 as was Eric Banks, who was elevated from the practice squad Saturday.

That resulted in end Jonathan Ledbetter and nose tackle Kevin Strong Jr. both playing 50 of the 68 snaps (74 percent). Ledbetter played 58 percent against Washington and Strong 44 percent. Stills was at 26 percent and Banks 22. Collier had played 52 percent against Washington.

Coach Jonathan Gannon said of Ledbetter and Strong, “Their play counts were a little high for my liking, but that’s the hand that you were dealt with (Watkins) getting hurt. I thought those guys battled. They played hard. Banks and Stills, that was their first game to be up and playing. I thought they did a pretty good job. ‘Led’ played well, but that hurts the depth when guys start getting injured.”

“Up front, you do want to rotate those guys,” defensive coordinator Nick Rallis said Tuesday. “I thought Kevin and Ledbetter, they got a little high with their reps and you have to be able to change that throughout the game and adjust whether that’s by packages or how you’re rotating them. So I have to do a better job of communicating that and getting the reps a little bit even.”

With Baker down, safeties K’Von Wallace and Andre Chachere also played an increased number of snaps. Wallace, acquired on waivers from the Eagles Aug. 30, played every snap against the Giants after playing 70 percent in Week 1. Chachere played three snaps in Week 1 after being elevated from the practice squad, but missed only five snaps against Washington after being signed directly to the roster from the practice squad after Baker’s injury.

Gannon said Monday Chachere will continue to have a larger role with Baker now on reserve/injured and having to miss at least four games before being able to practice and play.

“I thought Andre stepped up and played well,” Gannon said. “He had a couple of tackles and a couple of PBUs (pass breakups). He’s smart as they come; that’s why he’s here. We’ll continue to evaluate who we think are the best people to put out there in different packages and things like that. On pretty short notice there with Budda getting hurt on Friday, he came in and played extremely well.”

In three seasons with the Eagles, Wallace played 45 games, started seven and had 550 snaps on defense. In the first two games, he’s played 118. Chachere, also with the Eagles, played 23 games with one start and had 128 defensive snaps. He now has 66 this season.

The Cardinals added another safety Monday, signing Qwuantrezz Knight off the 49ers practice squad. As a rookie free agent in 2022, he spent the entire season on San Francisco’s practice squad. They also signed safety Joey Blount to the practice squad. As a rookie free agent with the Seahawks last season, Blount played 11 games and was inactive for four before ending the season on reserve/injured. He played 175 snaps on special teams and was waived with an injury settlement by Seattle on Aug. 31.

It’s notable that cornerback Antonio Hamilton Sr. has played a total of eight snaps on defense in the first two games and cornerback Christian Matthew has played none.

Rallis said the second-half performance against the Giants was not a “stamina issue” and when asked about the comments from White and Thompson, he said, “I actually had the position coaches look at the difference in the effort from the first half to the second half and there really wasn’t a huge dropoff because we chart all those things. I think it comes down to just executing better. People want to use the word momentum, right, and I think momentum is a thing if you think it’s a thing. But ultimately if you’re trained to not say, ‘OK, hey, we gave up this big play,’ if I’m trained to correct a problem and move on to the next play that it’s not going to have a snowball effect.

“So if anything, we have to make sure that momentum is not a thing for us. It’s always, it doesn’t matter what happened in the past, I’m not thinking about the future, I’m right in the present and what do I have to do on this play from a schematic standpoint, technique standpoint, all of that.”

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish

That’s the clear theme from the losses to the Commanders and Giants on both offense and defense although last Sunday was more glaring.

Gannon said it’s all about the “continuation of good football. The momentum here and there; I don’t really buy into all that. I buy into execution, coaching and playing well. That’s what we’ve got to do better at for four quarters because we’ve shown that we can do it for a period of time. We’ve just got to make sure we do it for 60 minutes.”

The Cardinals, of course, aren’t the only team that struggles to play four good quarters. It’s a league thing that also hits good teams and speaks of how close is the competition. In Week 2, there were 12 games decided by one score or less after eight in Week 1. There have also been 24 games where the score was within one score in the fourth quarter.

The average margin of victory in the first two weeks has been 9.50 after it was 9.70 in 2022, the lowest for a full season since 1932 (9.13).

“They’ve got a say too,” Gannon said of the team’s opponents. “That’s what I always kind of say is they’re paid as we are. They made some plays that we didn’t make, truthfully. We’ve got to clean up some things and it starts with the coaches first. Make sure our guys are detailed out, understand exactly what we’re trying to get out of it and everything that we’re trying to do, and coach and play a little bit better.”

It’s also worth considering that what often happens with less talented teams is that after playing well for a half, the better team simply takes care of their business and plays better.

Meanwhile, when asked what the Giants did in the second half, Gannon said, “I think they tightened up a little bit. They changed a couple of coverage structures. I’m sure if you talk to (quarterback) Josh (Dobbs), he wants a couple of plays back. We had the one good drive that we responded real well. We got the two-point conversion. I think there were a couple of negative yardage plays and we cleaned some of that up I felt, but we still went backwards a little bit.

“Again, they have a say too, but we’ve got to clean some of those things up. Some things on technique, some things on scheme and some things on fundamentals, but that gets you behind the sticks a little bit. It’s just hard in today’s NFL.”

Coordinator Drew Petzing also stressed making plays when asked about the falloff in the offense late in the game.

“I think it comes down to execution and it certainly comes down to play-calling,” Petzing said. “I got to get those guys in position to make plays at the end of the game. We need to lock in and feel confident that we can execute in critical situations. I certainly have that confidence in the players. I want them to have it themselves. But that’s something certainly we’re going to look at because it got us there the first two weeks of the season. For whatever reason there down the stretch we didn’t execute the way we wanted to.

“One of the quotes – and this is true in critical situations; sometimes it’s true with teams in the red zone – I’ve heard over the years in coaching: ‘Heightened awareness, not anxiety.’ Like as you get into critical situations, yes, you need to be more aware, you need to be more locked in, but it shouldn’t come with anxiousness or anxiety and that’s a natural feeling as a human like you get in big moments in anything in your life. There’s that feeling of butterflies and we have to collectively, coaches included, just kinda settle down and understand that those situations are going to arise and make sure we’re prepared to handle them a little bit better than we did on Sunday.”

When it was noted that running back James Conner was productive for most of the game, but then five of his last six carries went nowhere, Petzing said, “Anytime you get stopped at or near the line of scrimmage you put yourself in some second- or third-and-longs and it can be a harder game. Against that defense or really any defense, those are the situations we’re going to try to stay out of. And for the most of that game we did, and then got into those at the end of the game.”

On defense, the Giants had unusual success on first down in the second half. Not only did they have 22 first-down plays for 245 yards, but nine were for 221 yards (24.6 average) with all for at least 14 yards and all, of course, resulted in first downs.

Said Rallis, “It wasn’t just getting first downs. They were getting chunks early in the drive and that’s never good. It was like some of those drives, two or three plays, bang, they were in the high red zone. That’s explosives; you can’t give up explosives. That’s the most disappointing thing.”

Asked what the experience is like while it’s happening and hoping to figure out how to stem the tide, he said, “There’s always a little bit of balance of you don’t know, ‘Are we getting out-schemed, or out-executed’ and usually it’s going to be some sort of combination of everything and that can be the hardest part to put your finger on. Where are we falling out, what do we need to do to adjust. You rely on the staff for that. You rely on the guys upstairs seeing where are we giving up big plays and this next drive, this is what we need to get to. Obviously, whatever I decided to get to, it wasn’t working.”

We still have to always be reminded that this is early in the process of essentially a new team with a first-time head coach as well as first-time offensive and defensive coordinators. Rallis is convinced it will only get better.

He said, “The cool thing was yesterday from the coaches to the players, it was complete ownership. It wasn’t thinking about could have been; coulda, shoulda, woulda. It was how do I have to do my job better so we can learn how to finish that game. Don’t look at it as a ‘woe is me’ type of experience or situation. Look at it as a learning experience to where when you get in that situation you have to finish that game. Hopefully, we’ve learned our lesson for what we have to do to capitalize and come away with a win.”

Snap chat

For the second consecutive week, wide receiver/return specialist Greg Dortch didn’t play any offensive snaps.

Was it players ahead of him on the depth chart or the packages being deployed?

Petzing said, “Little bit of both. Could depend. You get in a 75-, 80-play game and you’re on the ball a lot, he’s going to be in there. I fully trust him. I thought he did a great job this preseason of learning the offense, going out there and playing at a high level. But every game comes up different. So whether it’s the packages or the personnel that we want to utilize that game, you haven’t seen him out there maybe as much as you may moving forward.”

The Cardinals had 62 offensive snaps in Week 1 and 65 in Week 2.

The reality is that Dortch saw most of his action on offense last season when wide receiver Rondale Moore was out. Moore was inactive for five games, on reserve/injured for four and played only two snaps in the Nov. 21 game against the 49ers in Mexico City when he was injured early and didn’t play again for the rest of the season. And that was a different offense than the one this season. Moore played 68 and 65 percent of the snaps the first two games.

Here are the snap counts for both last season:

Game 1: Moore inactive, Dortch 59 snaps/91 percent

Game 2: Moore inactive, Dortch 62/71

Game 3: Moore inactive, Dortch 67/81

Game 4: Moore 65/86, Dortch 27/36

Game 5: Moore 63/91, Dortch 2/3

Game 6: Moore 70/99, Dortch 4/6

Game 7: Moore 59/89, Dortch 35/53

Game 8: Moore 77/99, Dortch 20/26

Game 9: Mooer 57/90, Dortch 5/8

Game 10: Moore 66/97, Dortch 2/3

Game 11: Moore 2/3, Dortch 66/93

Game 12: Moore and Dortch inactive (injury)

Game 13: Moore inactive, Dortch 4/5

Game 14: Moore IR, Dortch 6/9

Game 15: Moore IR, Dortch 58/76

Game 16: Moore IR, Dortch 60/81

Game 17: Moore IR, Dortch 36/69

Wide receiver Michael Wilson played 90 percent of the snaps in Week 1, but only 43 percent against the Giants. Asked why, Gannon said, “I just think a little bit of the game plan and how we decided to attack them, but he played extremely well. He had the one big third down. He blocked extremely well, so he’ll be a part of what we do.”

Rallis liked what he saw from Stills in his first game action. “He’s grown just being assignment-sound,” Rallis said. “He’s a guy that we can rely on out there in the run game and in the pass game. He has the tools to become a really good player. He knows he has to continue to make strides, but I’m excited. He’s got to step into a big role right now and I believe he’s gonna continue to get better week in and week out.”

Charting the snaps (snaps/percentage; starters in bold)

*Indicates player that did not play from scrimmage, but participated on special teams

OFFENSE (65 snaps, 17 players)

Quarterbacks: Joshua Dobbs (65/100)

Did not play: Clayton Tune

Reserve/physically unable to perform: Kyler Murray

Running backs: James Conner (47/72), Keaontay Ingram (10/15), Emari Demercado (8/12), FB Jesse Luketa (1/2)

Wide receivers: Marquise Brown (61/94), Rondale Moore (42/65), Michael Wilson (28/43), Zach Pascal (23/35)

Did not play: *Greg Dortch

Tight ends: Zach Ertz (44/68), Trey McBride (33/51), Geoff Swaim (28/43)

Inactive: Elijah Higgins

Offensive linemen: LT D.J. Humphries (65/100), LG Elijah Wilkinson (65/100), C Hjalte Froholdt (65/100), RG Will Hernandez (65/100), RT Paris Johnson Jr. (65/100)

Did not play: *C/G Trystan Colon, C/G *Keith Ismael, T Kelvin Beachum

Inactive: T Carter O’Donnell, T/G Ilm Manning

Reserve/injured, eligible to return: G Dennis Daley

DEFENSE (68 snaps, 19 players)

Defensive linemen: DE Jonathan Ledbetter (50/74), NT Kevin Strong Jr. (50/74), DE Dante Stills(18/26), DE Eric Banks (15/22), DE Carlos Watkins (10/15; injured)

Inactive: NT Leki Fotu (injured)

Reserve/injured, eligible to return: DE L.J. Collier

Linebackers: ILB Kyzir White (68/100), ILB Krys Barnes (56/82), OLB Zaven Collins (39/57), OLB Dennis Gardeck (31/46), OLB Cameron Thomas (27/40), OLB Victor Dimukeje (22/32),OLB Jesse Luketa (14/21), OLB BJ Ojulari (13/19)

Did not play: ILB *Ezekiel Turner, *ILB Owen Pappoe

Inactive: ILB Josh Woods (injured)

Reserve/injured, eligible to return: OLB Myjai Sanders

Defensive backs: S Jalen Thompson (68/100), S K’Von Wallace (68/100), CB Marco Wilson (67/99), CB Kei’Trel Clark (66/97), S Andre Chachere (63/93), CB Antonio Hamilton Sr. (3/4)

Did not play: CB *Christian Matthew, CB *Kris Boyd, CB Quavian White

Inactive: S Budda Baker (injured), CB Starling Thomas V

Reserve/non-football injury, eligible to return: CB Garrett Williams

SPECIAL TEAMS (28 snaps, 35 players)

LB Ezekiel Turner (22/79), LB Jesse Luketa (22/79), CB Christian Matthew (22/79), CB Antonio Hamilton Sr. (19/68), LB Victor Dimukeje (18/64), WR Zach Pascal (17/61), CB Kris Boyd (17/61), LB Owen Pappoe (17/61), K Matt Prater (11/39), TE Geoff Swaim (11/39), RS Greg Dortch (9/32), LB Krys Barnes (9/32), LB Dennis Gardeck (9/32), P Nolan Cooney (8/29), LS Aaron Brewer (8/29), RB Emari Demercado (8/29), LB Cameron Thomas (7/25), DE Jonathan Ledbetter (6/21), CB Marco Wilson (6/21), S K’Von Wallace (6/21), S Andre Chachere (6/21), G Elijah Wilkinson (5/18), C Hjalte Froholdt (5/18), G Will Hernandez (5/18), T Paris Johnson Jr. (5/18), C/G Trystan Colon (5/18), C/G Keith Ismael (5/18), TE Trey McBride (5/18), DL Eric Banks (5/18), LB BJ Ojulari (5/18), DE Carlos Watkins (1/4), NT Kevin Strong Jr. (1/4), LB Kyzir White (1/4), CB Kei’Trel Clark (1/4), S Jalen Thompson (1/4)

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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