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Howard Balzer Avatar
October 15, 2023

When Jonathan Gannon was asked last week about the return of quarterback Kyler Murray, he answered the same way he has for a long time and added, “Kinda sound like a broken record.”

Truthfully, that comment sounds an awful lot like the coach’s team that is now 1-5 after Sunday’s 26-9 loss to the Rams.

The pattern that repeats itself most every week is manifested in many ways, but it can be summed up with this stark reality: We all knew this wasn’t a very talented roster even before injuries began affecting mostly the defense in the first five games.

Gannon said afterward, “We gotta coach and play better for four quarters. We show spurts, but we’re not consistent enough throughout 60 minutes to win a game, so that’s what we’ll get back to work on.”

If it was that easy.

Defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter, who returned after missing two games because of a finger injury, told the team website, “It was pretty frustrating, I’m not going to lie. Since we started the season, that’s been our downfall. We play tough in the first half and I don’t think we have put together a complete game on defense or offense. If we put a whole game together, we have a damn good football team. I say that every week.”

Everyone has to try and believe that because no coach or player can admit they’re not as good as other teams. The reality says something different, which we all have to come to grips with and not delude ourselves into thinking this team is something it isn’t.

The defense is a try-hard group that gives all it can give every week. But it’s simply not good enough to hang with teams through four quarters.

We are also seeing clearly why quarterback Joshua Dobbs was a backup for his first six seasons in the NFL and had started only two games at the end of last season with the Titans. Yes, he’s smart. And yes, we have fun with the whole rocket scientist thing. But more that that is needed to win games in the NFL and not just compete hard.

In a game for the NFC South title in Week 18 of 2022, Dobbs fumbled on a sack late in the fourth quarter and it was returned by Jaguars linebacker Josh Allen for the game-winning touchdown.

This season, he has lost fumbles on sacks in three losses, including Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

Most concerning is a lack of accuracy that has been glaring on many downfield throws throughout the season, often overthrowing receivers. Against the Rams in the second quarter, a pass to Hollywood Brown was caught, but the ball was out of bounds. On the first possession of the game, he had Brown for a probable touchdown on third-and-8, but it was underthrown and knocked away by cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.

On a critical juncture Sunday after the Rams had gone from a 9-6 halftime deficit to leading 16-9, he completed passes for 13 and six yards to tight end Trey McBride and then hit Brown down the middle for a 22-yard gain that ended the third quarter on the Rams’ 12-yard line.

Alas, that led to the fourth quarter, where the Cardinals consistently disappear.

On the first play, Dobbs threw behind tight end Zach Ertz, who reached for the ball, only to deflect it into the hands of linebacker Christian Rozeboom for an interception. The Cardinals had three trips to the red zone in the game, but managed only two field goals. Meanwhile, the Rams got to the red zone five times and scored 23 of their 26 points on two touchdowns and three field goals.

Said Dobbs, also sounding like a broken record, “We have to finish in the red zone. That’s what the game comes down to. It’s tough. It stinks, especially when you control the game in the first half.”

Most important, after the interception, it set the stage for another dispiriting drive that resulted in a 23-9 lead for the Rams.

As he did on the opening possession of the second half, running back Kyren Williams shredded the Cardinals sagging defense. After having four yards on two carries in the first half, quarterback Matthew Stafford handed the ball to Williams four straight times to open the third quarter, and he gained 47 yards. He added another five and on third-and-9, Stafford hit wide receiver Cooper Kupp for a 13-yard touchdown.

On that third-quarter drive that covered 86 yards and produced the 16-9 lead, Williams rushed four times for 45 yards including a 31-yard scamper.

Then, after the interception, Williams had seven carries for 55 yards including a 27-yard run and a 5-yard touchdown on which he carried two or three defenders for the final three or four yards. The 12-play, 88-yard drive that bled 6:35 off the clock was continued on another Stafford to Kupp hookup on third-and-9 from their own 26-yard line that went for 21 yards.

How was this game similar to many other games? Let’s count the ways:

–The Cardinals were outscored 20-0 in the second half and 10-0 in the fourth quarter. In their five losses, they have yet to score a point in the final 15 minutes while their opponents have totaled 61. In the last three games after defeating Dallas, the Cardinals have lost by 19, 14 and 17 points.

–After having only 123 yards at halftime, a total buttressed by plays of 15, 37 and 49 yards to Kupp for 101 yards, the Rams had 259 in the second half. Williams had 158 of those yards. They ran 20 plays in the first half, had four first downs and failed on five third-down plays. In the final two quarters, they ran 35 plays for 259 yards, had 13 first downs and were 4-for-7 on third down.

In Week 2, the Giants had 358 yards in the second half, followed by the Cowboys with 263, the 49ers with 191 and the Bengals with 211. Those four teams had 1,630 yards with 1,023 (62.8 percent) coming in the second half.

–Kupp had 148 yards on seven receptions and had three catches of at least 20 yards. His 49-yard catch came on a play that began at the 25-yard line with 43 seconds remaining in the first half after the Cardinals took a 9-3 lead. He beat rookie cornerback Kei’Trel Clark, who had no safety help.

Last week, Bengals wideout Ja’Marr Chase had 15 receptions for 192 yards and one play, a 63-yard touchdown, of at least 20 yards. The week before, Brandon Aiyuk of the 49ers totaled 148 yards on six receptions with four plays of 20 or more yards.

Add it up, and those three receivers had 28 receptions for 488 yards (17.4 average) and eight plays of at least 20 yards. Those eight plays totaled 291 yards, which is 59.6 percent of their total yards.

–Dobbs was 21-for-41 for 235 yards, but 70 of those yards came on the final possession of the game. In the last two games, he is 36-for-73 (49.3 percent) with passer ratings of 57.6 and 58.5. He’s also been responsible for five turnovers on three interceptions and two lost fumbles.

–Ah, let’s not forget those long late-game drives, and we’re not talking about the golf course.

As noted, the Rams’ drive was 12 plays, 88 yards and lasted 6:35. It increased their lead from 16-9 to 23-9 with 8:19 remaining in the game.

The Bengals went 83 yards (gaining 82) on 15 plays and the drive lasted 8:55 increasing their lead from 24-20 to 31-20 with 7:48 remaining in the game.

The 49ers ran 14 plays for 77 yards (gained 76) in 7:14 for the final points of the game, increasing their lead from 28-16 to 35-16.

The eye-opening total is 41 plays, 248 yards (246 gained) for 22:44 clock time.

Players talked about fixing things, but that’s often a cliché. After all, a broken record is, well, a broken record.

Gannon sounded like it again with several answers after the game.

He said, “We all got to pick up our feelings a little bit and go compete tomorrow.”

When asked his message to the team, Gannon said, “Come back and compete tomorrow.”

Finally, asked what he tells Clark, who had some rough moments in addition to the Kupp play, the coach said, “Keep your head up, come back and compete tomorrow.”

This team’s players do compete and that’s a credit to Gannon and his coaches. They just need a lot more better ones.

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

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