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Memo to Cardinals fans: Don’t invite coach Jonathan Gannon to help with any predictions on NFL results. That was evident after Sunday’s 20-10 loss to the Seahawks.
With quarterback Joshua Dobbs at the helm, the offense totaled 249 yards on 63 plays (4.0 average) and converted only 5-of-15 on third down. Teams win at an alarming clip when they have a plus-three turnover margin, but the Cardinals managed to find a way not to do that in Seattle.
As for Gannon the prognosticator, yes, we know that all league club personnel, including players and coaches are prohibited from wagering on anything involving NFL games. However, that didn’t stop Gannon from going out on a proverbial limb last week when he was asked if the return of quarterback Kyler Murray to the practice field would affect Dobbs.
“Not at all,” Gannon quickly said. He probably should have stopped there. Instead, he added, “He’s going to go out and play real well versus Seattle. I know that.”
When asked why he believed that, Gannon said, “The type of person he is and his response to what we all have to do as a team to improve to win some games.”
Let’s be honest: good people that know what has to be done to improve are plentiful in the ultra-competitive NFL. It doesn’t mean they are capable of doing it. Truthfully, quarterbacks that have three consecutive games like Dobbs has had would find themselves on the bench. Which, of course, is where he will be when Murray is deemed ready to play.
This is not meant as a slam at Dobbs, who is doing the best he can. It’s the Cardinals that put him in this position by acquiring him in an Aug. 24 trade, releasing Colt McCoy four days later and then installing Dobbs as the starter with five practices and a few walkthroughs under his belt.
McCoy is miles above Dobbs in accuracy, but he doesn’t have Dobbs’ mobility, which is the best part of his game. But, it’s not enough to generate victories. In fairness, the Cardinals probably believed they needed an escape artist at the position, knowing they were entering the season with rookie Paris Johnson Jr. at right tackle and two inexperience starters, Elijah Wilkinson and Hjalte Froholdt, at left guard and center, respectively.
Wilkinson had been sharing snaps with Trystan Colon and Dennis Daley in the first six games and then missed Sunday because of a neck injury with Colon being the starter. Oddly, Colon played the entire game and Daley never got off the bench even on special teams.
Dobbs was sacked four times and hit on another eight passes, but his issues with accuracy have been there throughout the season as he has often missed high, low or behind receivers, especially when throwing on the run. Questions about his ball placement and accuracy were frequently noted in 2017 pre-draft analysis.
Early in Sunday’s game, he was 2-for-9 for 11 yards and six of the first seven were high or low with one striking linebacker Darrell Taylor close to the elbow.
In the last three games, Dobbs has completed 55-of-106 passes (51.9 percent) for 547 yards with an average of 9.9 yards per completion and 5.2 per attempt. His passer ratings have been 58.5, 57.6 and Sunday’s 68.5, which would have been significantly lower had a second-quarter interception not been negated by a roughing the passer penalty.
Against Seattle, he was 19-for-33 for 146 yards (7.7 per completion and 4.4 per attempt). In the final possession, down 10 points, he was 3-for-4 for 40 yards, meaning he was 16-for-29 for 106 yards prior to it being a two-score game with 2:17 to play.
For the season, he has now completed 62.0 percent of his passes for 9.6 per completion and 5.9 per attempt.
Not capitalizing on takeaways has been critical.
Last week, after a fumbled punt caused by safety Joey Blount was recovered by cornerback Bobby Price at the Rams’ 17-yard line with the score 3-3 in the second quarter, Dobbs completed 1-of-3 passes for three yards and they settled for a 32-yard Matt Prater field goal.
It was more of the same Sunday, although we’ll give the offense a pass after rookie Garrett Williams, in his first NFL game, intercepted Geno Smith at the 1-yard line in the second quarter.
There will be no hall passes for the other two takeaways.
With the Seahawks leading 7-0 in the first quarter, Blount forced another fumble on a punt return and it was recovered by linebacker Dennis Gardeck at the 30-yard line. The first two plays totaled four yards. On third-and-6, a short pass to running back Emari Demercado was fumbled forward with Hollywood Brown recovering one yard short of a first down.
However, a replay review went against the Cardinals and the pass was ruled incomplete despite it appearing there was no conclusive evidence of the initial call being wrong. It went in the books as three plays for four yards. Prater followed with a 44-yard field goal.
Then, early in the fourth quarter, Smith fumbled the snap from center and defensive lineman Kevin Strong recovered at the Seattle 34-yard line. The Cardinals trailed 17-10 with 14:04 remaining in the game.
Dobbs hit a quick pass over the middle to tight end Trey McBride, who hurdled one player and gained 19 yards to the 15-yard line. However, Froholdt skied a snap over Dobbs’ head, losing 14 yards. Dobbs gained seven and McBride six before Prater hit a knuckleball wide left for a 34-yard miss. On the sideline, a livid Prater couldn’t have been pleased that, as seen on the Fox broadcast, new holder Blake Gillikin placed the ball that appeared to be moving with the laces back and to the left.
As Dobbs said, “We weren’t able to capitalize. Looked at that last week and looked at that this week, and those opportunities are slim, and when the defense gives us a short field, we got to execute and take advantage of it. Last week we only got a field goal out of it; this week we only got a field goal out of it; didn’t get any points out of one them. So it’s frustrating. That’s something as an offense, when we get those opportunities we got to go down, execute, take advantage of the short fields, and score, and that’s what the game comes down to.”
The last real chance came on a possession that began at the 33-yard line and advanced thanks to an illegal contract penalty on third-and-13 that negated a sack and a 12-yard run by Demercado on third-and-7 to midfield. However, on third-and-9, Dobbs threw high and behind tight end Zach Ertz.
Setting up to punt, Gillikin ran to the left and backup quarterback Clayton Tune took the snap. The Seahawks were ready and Tune threw to wide receiver Michael Wilson, who was not the first option on the play, for a four-yard gain when nine were needed. Wilson had no chance to gain extra yardage.
Said Gannon, “Credit to them. They made the play. You’ve got to live with those decisions. I like the call and ultimately that’s on me. We didn’t get it done.”
The Seahawks then ran eight plays with none more than seven yards, but got into position for the 48-yard field goal by Jason Myers that resulted in the final score. With 3:30 to play, Smith connected with rookie wide receiver Jake Bobo, an undrafted free agent, for five yards on third-and-5. With DK Metcalf inactive, Bobo was targeted five times and totaled 61 yards on four receptions, including a 31-yarder and an 18-yard touchdown that gave Seatle a 14-10 lead in the second quarter.
The touchdown play was initially ruled incomplete, but a replay review determined that Bobo got his second foot (toe) in bounds despite there being no replay on TV showing a view down the sideline. Somehow, the officials ruled it was clear and conclusive that his toe came down before the remainder of his foot, which was out of bounds.
As for Dobbs, Gannon said, “They do a good job covering up windows. They got some length out there; they can rush. It’s a good defense. Thought we probably left a couple plays out there, and when we watch the tape, we’ll see that.”
“There (are) opportunities for me to improve,” Dobbs said, “and it starts with me, especially on offense with how I start and how I find those completions and get the ball out of my hand, and then that will resonate throughout the entire offense.”
That’s surely true on third down. Overall, the Cardinals’ 15 third-down plays totaled a mere 52 yards. Three runs went for 19, but Dobbs was only 4-for-10 for 40 yards and 11 came on their next-to-last play of the game on third-and-22. The 10 not converted totaled only 10 yards and they didn’t have a lot of plays with long yards to go. On the nine fails aside from the final attempt, there were three that had 12, 14 and 17 yards to go. But the other six totaled what should have been a manageable 33 yards.
It simply wasn’t to be.
In addition, the Cardinals were 1-for-5 on third down in the fourth quarter where they have now been outscored 64-0.
The lackluster offense only ramps up the anticipation for Murray’s return.
While there likely will be rust in his game and no one should expect too much right off the bat, it’s hard to imagine it won’t be a whole lot better than what we are currently watching.
–Kelvin Beachum played the first offensive snaps of his season after left tackle D.J. Humphries was ejected in the second quarter. After a play was over and a scrum ensued, Seahawks linebacker Jordyn Brooks had his complete hand on Humphries’ face, who moved to push his arm away. In between Brooks and Humphries, a much shorter official was trying to break things up and Humphries hit the official on the head. Contact with an official results in an automatic ejection, but there should be leeway in situations like this.
Last season, right guard Will Hernandez was ejected during a game against Carolina when he was moving toward a scrum and trying to protect running back James Conner, when he bumped an official he didn’t realize was there. When the league reviewed the play, Hernandez was not fined, which should be the case here when the league sees an Associated Press photo of what Brooks did and that Humphries likely couldn’t see the official while focusing on Brooks.
–Last week against the Rams, Keaontay Ingram led the team’s running backs with 10 carries for 40 yards, followed by Damien Williams with 8-for-36 and Demercado with 1-for-2. After coaches lauded both Ingram and Williams this past week, Ingram had no attempts and Williams 1-for-2, while Demercado was 13-for-58. Gannon said it went that way because of “the matchups and how we decided to structure the game plan.”
–With Garrett Williams activated from the non-football injury list and Starling Thomas V starting the game with Antonio Hamilton Sr. inactive because of a groin injury, rookie cornerback Kei’Trel Clark never got on the field. Gannon said of Williams, “I thought (he) covered pretty good; had a couple tackles in there. Good to see his first snaps, however many he played, first time playing football in a long time. Just a credit to him. He got himself ready to play and stepped up and played quality snaps for us, and probably played winning football. I’ve got to watch the tape, but he did well.”
Williams said, “I’m glad I got the first pick out of the way. But a lot of stuff to improve on going forward. The pre-snap stuff; lining up faster, communicating better with guys. I feel like, especially early in the first half, I was kind of throwing off the defense by not lining up fast enough, making guys have to kind of help me get in line, stuff like that. But that’s stuff we can fix as time goes on.”
–Safety Budda Baker was activated from reserve/injured Saturday and tied for the team with six tackles and had one tackle for loss.
“Thought he looked good,” Gannon said. “Coming back from the injury that he had as quick as he did, I mean, he’s a warrior, man, and it’s good to have him out there. Made some good plays in there today, but he definitely helps us out as a team and a unit.”
Back where he grew up and played at the University of Washington, Baker said, “For me it was very important. Being in my hometown, it was very special to me. I usually do a routine to go see my big brother who is resting in peace. So usually land in Seattle then go see him and come for the game the next day. It’s very special for me.”
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