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Cardinals offense as low as it can go

Howard Balzer Avatar
November 5, 2023

Sometimes numbers can be deceiving.

That wasn’t the case Sunday in Cleveland when it never looked like the Cardinals offense belonged on the same field as the Browns in a 27-0 defeat that put their record at 1-8.

Chalk this one up to three hours of our lives that we can’t get back.

Surely, we all knew there was a good chance this would be a very long afternoon for the offense.

Rookie quarterback Clayton Tune was starting the first game of his career and he was doing it without running backs James Conner and Emari Demercado, and fellow rookie wide receiver Michael Wilson.

Dennis Daley was the third left-guard starter of the season and by the end of the game, left tackle D.J. Humphries and right guard Will Hernandez were out of the game nursing injuries. Toss tight end Zach Ertz into the mix and the offense was missing seven players that started the season opener.

Call it a recipe for disaster and the Browns were more than willing to provide the ingredients.

The cumulative numbers from the game are difficult to digest, they are so pitiful.

Amazingly, it didn’t look that bad when the game started. After wide receiver Rondale Moore ran for two yards on the first play, Tune connected with tight end Trey McBride on a quick pass that gained 12 yards. Running back Keaontay Ingram followed that with an 11-yard run.

However, the next three plays set the stage for the bad meal we all had for the remainder of the game. Ingram ran for two yards, a second-down pass was batted down and a third-and-8 short pass to Hollywood Brown gained nothing.

Believe it or not, after those first three plays totaled 25 yards and two first downs, the Cardinals then had 45 yards the remainder of the game for 33 yards and five first downs, one of which came because of a Browns penalty. That’s a not a typo, and it’s an average of 0.73 yards per play. The total of 58 yards on 48 plays is a 1.2 average per play.

After that 11-yard run, Ingram had eight more attempts in the game for minus-three yards, while Tony Jones Jr. had two yards on three carries in the game.

Tune was under siege and was sacked seven times while completing 11-of-20 passes for 58 yards with two interceptions, a lost fumble on a sack and a 20.8 passer rating. With 41 yards lost on the sacks, the Cardinals had 17 net yards passing.

There were only two forays into Browns territory in the entire game with three plays run for no yards, including an an interception. On third down, the Cardinals were 1-for-12 and the lone success came late in the fourth quarter on third-and-1. Six of the third downs had at least 10 yards to go thanks to negative plays and penalties.

Those six totaled 92 yards (15.3 average) including yardage of 12, 14, 18 and 19 (two).

Want negative plays? Boy, we’ve got a bunch.

Of the 43 offensive plays, a whopping 12 were for minus yardage and 32 gained two yards or less. There were 12 for no gain including seven incompletions and the two interceptions. Five plays gained two yards and three went for one yard.

The NFL statistical gamebook lists the 10 longest plays for each team and most of the time, all are for at least 10 yards. However, the Cardinals had only four plays of 10 yards or more and six others were listed with two each for four, five and six yards. Their longest play was for 14 yards to Brown and that didn’t happen until the fourth quarter when the score was 20-0.

Finally, since defeating the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3, the Cardinals have lost six consecutive games by a combined score of 173-79 and have scored 10 or fewer points three times.

Is that enough to report? Probably so.

Coach Jonathan Gannon said, “You lose the takeaway battle, you lose the explosive-play battle, you get outgained by however many yards we got outgained by, you’re not going to win. That’s a good football team, but we didn’t play well enough in any phase today to win that game.”

Asked about the biggest issues on offense, Gannon didn’t mince words. “We couldn’t run it, we couldn’t protect, we couldn’t throw it. So a lot of things need to get cleaned up,” he said.

As for Tune’s emotions afterward, he said, “Frustrated, obviously. Disappointed. I wanted to go out and put a better showing out there and, obviously, win. So any time you lose, it’s frustrating. Disappointed. You have to keep your head up and learn from it, watch the tape. Just learn and get better from it.”

Gannon said, “He was positive. He was positive when adjustments were being made. Things like that. It’s a hard spot for him in his first game, on the road, in a tough environment, against a good defense. But he’ll learn from it and get better.”

For the second consecutive week, the defense played well enough to win.

There were two big plays to wide receiver Amari Cooper for 59 and 49 yards that led to 10 points. Those 108 yards accounted for 49.3 percent of quarterback Deshaun Watson’s 219 passing yards and 33.2 percent of the team’s 326 yards.

The Browns averaged only 4.6 yards per play thanks to a swarming run defense that limited Cleveland running backs Jerome Ford, Kareem Hunt and Pierre Strong Jr. to 91 yards on 37 attempts (2.5 per rush). Aside from the explosive plays, the Browns averaged 3.16 yards on their other 69 plays. They weren’t very good on third down (6-for-17), while possessing the ball for 36:25 to the Cardinals’ 23:35.

Gannon pointed out a tipped pass by defensive lineman Dante Stills that ended up as a touchdown (“kind of the ball bounced their way, so be it”), then said, “I think as a team you can’t win football games when you’re turning it over and you’re going out there on short fields. You’re behind the sticks all day. It’s just a tough way to go. I did think that they (the defense) hung in.”

Brown, who led the team with four receptions on eight targets for 24 yards, had a message for Tune afterward. He said, “I told him after the game, ‘Just be thankful for the opportunity.’ He’s going to learn from it. It’s his first start. He didn’t do everything bad. All 11 of us have got to do our jobs. But if you put it all into perspective, it’s really and truly a blessing to be here.”

Tune was grateful for that, saying, “Yeah. Like he said, it’s a blessing to be here. I’m blessed to wake up every day and do this. The way I look at it is God has given me the power and strength and put a lot of good people in my life to help me get to this point. Win or lose, good or bad, give God the praise and glory. I think Hollywood’s got a good perspective.”

Of course, perspective doesn’t win games, but no one expected the Cardinals to win many this season. But no one expected a performance like Sunday either although it’s not surprising considering Tune’s inexperience.

The overriding question this week will be the status of Kyler Murray. After a week of gamesmanship, will there be more in the coming days?

Murray’s 21-day window practice window expires Tuesday and he has to be activated by Wednesday or be shut down for the entire season.

No one expects that to happen. But will he return to the field next Sunday against the Falcons? He can be activated to the roster, but doesn’t have to play.

That’s one of the questions Gannon was asked after Sunday’s game and he said, “I’m not thinking about that right now.”

But he surely had to be on the trip home and as he tries to digest the tape tonight and tomorrow morning, also knowing that Conner is eligible to return from reserve/injured this week. However, will he be ready, along with Wilson and the injured offensive linemen?

That also leads to a certain level of uncertainty and another cogent question: If those players won’t be available next Sunday, which might not be known until later in the week, does it make sense to put Murray on the field for his debut and playing with what Tune had to endure Sunday?

Those will be the questions Gannon and Co. will be hoping to answer with the goal of playing at least a competitive game next week at State Farm Stadium.

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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