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Hoping, wondering and knowing as the Cardinals try to rebound from another loss

Howard Balzer Avatar
September 28, 2022

Some things I hope, some I wonder about and others I just know as the Arizona Cardinals try to rebound from another loss…. 

I hope… 

The Cardinals figure out a way to get off to a good offensive start, so we don’t have to continue asking questions about it and getting the same answers.

The reality is there’s no magic wand that can be waved to solve it. It’s as simple as executing on third down and manageable situations or avoiding negative plays on first and second down so third down has a realistic chance at success.

The Cardinals had one first down in the first quarter Sunday on three possessions. Third-down failures came on third-and-2, third-and-8 and third-and-21 following a 15-yard sack on second down. On the next set of downs in the second quarter, another second-down sack led to third-and-14. In those four possessions, they had 22 yards on 13 plays and one first down.

In the first three games, the Cardinals have run 12 plays for 29 yards on their first offensive possession of the game.

In the first quarter of all three games, opponents have outscored the Cardinals 31-0, won the first-down battle, 27-5 and in total offense have run 52 plays for 413 yards compared to the Cardinals’ 26 plays for 95 yards.

When asked Monday if he believes there is a sense of urgency or lack thereof on the first possession, head coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “I wouldn’t say that; almost maybe the opposite. Trying too hard. Juiced up, jacked up, ‘Hey we’re gonna score a 14-point touchdown on this play.’ We gotta take it just one play at a time, focus and not try to do too much early.”

I wonder… 

If all the good things being said about Isaiah Simmons will result in getting him on the field more.

After he played 33 percent of the snaps Sunday, an increase over the 22 percent in Week 2, head coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “I thought he had another good outing. He’s continued to get more and more [snaps], improving in that role two weeks in a row and played at a really high level. I expect him to continue that trend.”

It’s clear Cardinals general manager Steve Keim believes Simmons should be on the field more.

Two days before the game against the Rams, during his weekly appearance on Arizona Sports 98.7, Keim said, “I just know this: The more and more you watch Isaiah play the better he gets. The more comfortable he gets. There are so many types of players out there; guys that are just productive players. The one thing you can say about Isaiah Simmons is every time he’s on the field or has opportunities to make plays, he makes big plays. And to me, that’s because of his physicality, his body type, his speed. Big-time players make big-time plays in games and to me he’s a big-time player.”

As for why he had so few snaps in Week 2 after the large percentage he had in Week 1 and last season, Keim said, “He was a guy at Clemson that sort of plays that unicorn position like we have, where he’s all over the place. And sometimes those guys, because of their lack of experience in certain areas, whether it’s in the box, their eyes or playing downhill, they just need some more experience in that area.”

He then offered this caveat with perhaps a message to the defensive coaches: “To me, put your best 11 out there. Put the guys out there who can make plays, and in my opinion, there’s no doubt that he’s earned the right to be out there some more.”

Last week, Simmons said, “It was definitely frustrating. The NFL’s really been like my first time not being out there 100 percent of the time, so it’s definitely difficult at times. But I always just keep in mind that my opportunity is going to come and when I do get in there, just make it evident that I should be in there.

“I believe the coaches are trying to make the choices that are best for the team, so I just got to go out there and show that I’m the best guy out there every time. That’s my mentality. Every time I’m on that field, show everybody that I’m the best player on the field.”

I know… 

The Cardinals aren’t the only team experiencing offensive issues in the early stages of the season, and it goes deeper than the compromised wide receivers room that has been bedeviled by injuries.

On Monday, Kingsbury was asked about the soft zone the Rams played and was mentioned by quarterback Kyler Murray after the game.

“When you play a team like the Rams, they’re so good at executing their plan that they really wait for you to screw it up on your end,” Kingsbury said. “Get a sack. Get you off schedule. Throw an interception, things of that nature. They keep it in front. They did a nice job. You saw the long drives; just held us to field goals on those and we gotta be precise and execute at a high level and take what they give you and not get tired of doing that. Then we can’t get behind like that because when you get one-dimensional and you’re chasing for the first three games, your menu gets cut in half and you can’t really dictate the terms of the game like you’d like to.”

When it was noted that scoring is down in the NFL and more defenses are using that bend-but-don’t-break philosophy, he said, “Keeping it in front, having great pass rushers, having a great front trying to slow down the run with five-, six-man boxes and then not giving up the big play; counting on an offense to screw it up. You saw the same thing in college really, how those numbers have come way down it seems [with] teams really just trying to keep it in front. But football’s really cyclical and it seems like that’s the trend.”

In Week 3 games just concluded Monday night, there were only two games where a team scored at least 30 points, and one was the Jaguars. Through Week 3, there have been only 10 teams that scored 30 or more in a game.

Last season, there were 29 after three weeks with 10 in Week 1 and 11 in Week 2.

The Cardinals averaged 4.5 yards per play Sunday, but they weren’t alone. In Green Bay’s 14-12 win over Tampa Bay, the Packers averaged 5.2 per play and the Bucs 4.8. Murray averaged 8.5 yards per completion, while Aaron Rodgers averaged 9.4 and Tom Brady 8.7.

Buffalo somehow outgained Miami 497-212, ran 90 plays to the Dolphins’ 39 and possessed the ball for 40:40, yet scored only 19 points in the loss and two points came on a safety.

It sounds like a cliché when Kingsbury said, “You gotta take what the defense is giving you and pick your spots. And I thought we had some shots to hit some things, [but] we just weren’t able to connect.”

Yet, it’s true. Coaches devise game plans based on their own personnel matched up against what the opponent does. Being reckless will usually lead to even more problems.

I hope… 

That it’s understood how consistent defensive end Zach Allen is playing. In the first three games, he has played 83, 84 and 83 percent of the defensive snaps. While not flashy, Allen is simply productive.

He has seven tackles (two solo) with one for loss to go with four quarterback hits and one pass defensed.

After the contract extension signed recently by safety Jalen Thompson, Allen and cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. are two others that are in the final year of their rookie contracts.

Keim said, “He just continues to improve. He’s a guy that’s a great worker, he’s a really intellectual player. Since we got J.J. obviously — a guy that he grew up idolizing — he’s just sort of been a sponge.

“To watch him daily work and follow J.J. around and to see him take his game to a new level has been really exciting.”

I wonder… 

If everyone realizes how valuable Chase Edmonds was to the offense. His departure has resulted in the coaches trying to figure out how to utilize Eno Benjamin and Darrel Williams in combination with James Conner.

The Cardinals played their most consistent offensive football of the Kingsbury era in the first eight games of the 2021 season when Conner and Edmonds had an impressive job-share. Edmonds played 59.9 percent of the snaps in those eight games and Conner 42.3.

However, after Edmonds was injured on the first snap of Week 9 against the 49ers and missed the next four games, Conner played 77, 82, 82, 91 and 96 percent, but he was then injured and missed two games in which Edmonds played 92 and 80 percent and was injured again.

There was only one game in the final nine of the regular season that they were both active in the same game.

When asked Monday about developing a rhythm among this year’s group, Kingsbury acknowledged, “It’s hard to replace Chase. He was so dialed in on the offense and his role. We really just had those two guys going and with Darrel, Eno, James, obviously, I think the way the games have gone they haven’t gotten to show what they can really do.

“It’s been pass, pass the first three games trying to catch up. So we gotta figure out their roles and what they’re gonna be as we move forward and are able to execute on offense.”

I know… 

That Kingsbury sometimes comes up with inventive ways to answer questions about potentially difficult subjects.

Monday, he was asked about the comment Kyler Murray made after the game about receivers “sleeping” on plays. Murray said, “I told guys you have to be awake when you play with me. No matter what the play is. I have free rein to do whatever, so when you sleep and you don’t think you’re getting the ball; you can’t play like that. Everybody has to be head up, in the game, locked in and we just have to be better. We will be, but it’s frustrating when you lose and you felt like you could have played better in the game.”

Kingsbury tried to deflect any potential criticism of players by saying, “When you throw it 60 times (actually 58), there’s a lot of room for error there. It gets kind of sideways; you’re almost trying to go 2-minute there, so I think a lot of that has to do with just the amount of plays and the way we’re pushing tempo in trying to catch up.

“He can throw it from any angle anywhere. He’s great at moving and I get what he’s saying, but I think some of those were just the amount of plays that we were running there at the end.”

However, when wide receiver Greg Dortch was asked Tuesday about what Murray said, he responded, “He’s basically just saying, I mean, sometimes you call plays and guys have deeper routes, like posts and normally you kinda don’t get to. He’s just telling those guys to just stay alive because with Kyler, man, he could roll out and scramble and chuck one deep.

“If you’re not running your route fully, and he throws it, it looks bad. Our receivers coach [Shawn Jefferson] tells us every play is designed to get the ball to one of us, so run full speed and every time a play’s called, you always think that your number’s going to get called.”

That was the case on third-and-9 in the third quarter from the Rams’ 31-yard line with the score 13-6. Murray attempted a pass to wide receiver Andy Isabella near the end zone, but Isabella slowed down, not knowing the ball was coming his way.

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com

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