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Offense predictably sputters in cardinals loss to washington

Howard Balzer Avatar
September 10, 2023

Well, someone has to say it, so I will: The Cardinals would have had a better chance to win what turned out to be Sunday’s 20-16 loss to Washington if Colt McCoy was still their quarterback.

The defense, with six sacks, one of which resulted in a touchdown scored by linebacker Cameron Thomas after linebacker Dennis Gardeck’s sack, surely played good enough to win even with the three bonehead penalties for 67 yards that led to the Commanders’ first touchdown.

The group limited the Commanders to 248 yards on 65 plays (3.8 average) and added six tackles for loss in the running game. Nose tackle Kevin Strong Jr. deflected a pass that linebacker Zaven Collins intercepted and Collins also recovered a fumble that was forced by linebacker Victor Dimukeje, who was on the field a lot more than most expected.

The three takeaways in the first half helped the Cardinals forge a 13-10 lead, but there were no more in the second half and the offense, led by quarterback Joshua Dobbs, couldn’t get out of its own way.

Despite hearing the consistent accolades from coaches and players about his smarts and knowledge of the system since Dobbs was acquired in an Aug. 24 trade, four days before McCoy was released, this isn’t a knock on him.

He simply shouldn’t have been put in the position he was, starting in Week 1 with five practices and barely knowing his teammates’ names. It can’t be ignored that in six previous NFL seasons, he had played in only eight games, starting two and attempting 85 career passes.

Coordinator Drew Petzing simply had no choice but to implement a game plan that reflected what Dobbs was capable of. And that wasn’t much.

Yes, on their first scoring drive, there was a nice 31-yard completion to wide receiver Rondale Moore. He had only two other catches for two yards and the next longest pass play was to rookie receiver Michael Wilson for 15 yards and he had one other catch for four yards. On the play following the pass to Moore that started at the 12-yard line, Dobb skied a pass to tight end Zach Ertz, who jumped, got the top of his hands on it, but failed to make the catch.

While Ertz said he probably should have made the catch and added, “I expect myself to make that play, whether it was catchable or not,” the reality is that a winning NFL quarterback has to throw a better pass, especially to a 6-foot-5 tight end.

Most notable is that aside from that play to Moore, Dobbs passed for only 101 yards in the game. Overall, he was 20-for-31 for 132 yards, which was 6.3 yards per completion and 4.4 yards per attempt. Seventeen of his 30 targets were to tight ends and running backs with Ertz averaging 3.5 yards on his six receptions and running back James Conner averaging 1.6 yards on his five. Those 11 receptions totaled 29 yards.

Six of his completions were for 10 or more yards. The other 14 completions totaled 41 yards.

The Cardinals gained 210 yards for the game and averaged 3.6 yards on their 58 offensive plays. In the second half, they produced 93 yards on 33 plays (2.8 per play).

After an 11-play, 56-yard drive on the first possession of the second half that included four first downs and led to a 37-yard Matt Prater field goal and a 16-10 lead, the offense went totally dormant.

It started at the end of the scoring drive when three plays netted minus-one yard after they had advanced to the 18-yard line.

Dobbs said, “We left a lot of opportunities out there. We moved the ball in spurts, but we just got to do better situationally, in the red zone, specifically. You work so hard to get down there, you got to get seven points.”

In the game, the Cardinals failed to score touchdowns on two red-zone trips while the Commanders were 2-for-5.

After those final points of the game, five possessions ended with two punts, two fumbles by Dobbs (one on the center/quarterback exchange) and one fourth-and-10 incompletion with 1:10 remaining in the game. Those five possessions produced a woeful 35 yards on 23 plays and two “totaled” minus-yardage on the three-and-outs.

The negative yardage plays were staggering as the Commanders registered 11 tackles for loss and three sacks.

That’s 14 plays (24.1 percent) of their 58 total and they “totaled” minus-46 yards. There were six for minus-15 in the first half and eight for minus-31 in the second half, mostly because two sacks were for 18 lost yards.

Seven running plays netted minus-16 yards and aside from the sacks, four pass completions went for minus-eight.

At one point, running back Keaontay Ingram had four consecutive runs for minus yardage (10) and there were five consecutive plays of for minus-18 yards over two possessions in the third and fourth quarter.

Conner, who rushed for 62 yards on 14 attempts, had two rushes of minus-1 yard each and three receptions for minus-five yards total. The screen game, which does take time to practice, was an issue.

Dobbs said afterward he “100 percent” expects to be the starter in the home opener against the Giants next Sunday and that was essentially confirmed when the media schedule for the week listed Dobbs talking on Wednesday.

He also said, “I think a huge jump is in store. Just getting out there, getting in the flow of a game, getting in the flow with the guys and the rhythm. Timing and rhythm in the games is always different than practice sometimes. Just getting out there to play ball can definitely (provide) a huge jump and I expect to make a huge jump, especially situationally.”

We’ll see. One thing is certain: starting rookie Clayton Tune likely won’t be considered unless Dobbs doesn’t make a jump, much less a huge one. In the next few games.

Dobbs also referenced “especially with the turnovers.”

Yes, especially the turnovers. It can’t be overlooked that Dobbs had a critical sack/fumble in the final game of the 2022 season playing for the Titans against the Jaguars with the winner winning the AFC South.

Tennessee led 16-13 with 3:01 remaining in the game when, on a third-and-6 play that began at his own 35-yard line, Dobbs was sacked, fumbled and linebacker Josh Allen recovered and returned it 37 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

Dobbs also had an interception in that game and another fumble that he recovered, giving him five fumbles and four turnovers in two consecutive games that his team coincidentally lost by identical 20-16 scores.

In today’s game, the botched snap was officially credited as an aborted snap, followed by Dobbs recovering and then fumbling.

He did say, “I just got to stay in there; that’s on me. Wet ball, so for us as quarterback, you have to secure every single exchange. That’s on me. That’s something we worked on specifically. A wet ball in practice knowing the weather for the game. In that situation, I got to secure the snap and give the ball to the running back.”

To be fair, this loss and the offensive performance, doesn’t fall only on Dobbs’ shoulders.

There were those defensive penalties in the early Commanders touchdown drive and the obviously amped defense had four penalties for 97 yards when the game was only 15 minutes old.

One was for roughing the passer by defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter in the Washington possession following the touchdown, and in the scoring drive two for lowering the head to make forcible contact by linebacker Kyzir White and safety Jalen Thompson and a 37-yard pass-interference flag on cornerback Marco Wilson.

Coach Jonathan Gannon and his defensive assistants have repeatedly talked about wanting players to be “violent,” but they can’t cost the team yards with obvious infractions.

Gannon said afterward, “We want to be violent and aggressive, but we gotta get that cleaned up because we kind of shot ourselves in the foot that one drive, but that falls on me. We’ve got to be smarter.”

Coaches routinely fall on the sword when talking to the media, but it’s not on him. It’s squarely on players to play smart.

Importantly, there were no more defensive penalties for the remainder of the game. The remaining five consisted of one holding call on left tackle D.J. Humphries, one false start on tight end Trey McBride for a slight twitch that didn’t compare to the multitude of false starts that weren’t called on Chiefs tackle Jawaan Taylor Thursday night, a 15-yarder on  rookie right tackle Paris Johnson Jr. for pulling a player from the pile on the final Dobbs fumble and two for being illegally downfield on a pass play by center Hjalte Froholdt and right guard Will Hernandez.

The latter was especially critical coming after Washington’s first three-and-out of the game in the fourth quarter. The Commanders were leading 17-16 with 4:44 to play. The Cardinals had made two first downs and had first-and-10 at their own 45.

Dobbs completed a short pass to tight end Geoff Swaim, who then ran 16 yards to the Commanders 39-yard line. However, Hernandez was a good four yards past the line of scrimmage and the flag flew.

The next play was the botched snap and Johnson penalty that moved the ball to the Arizona 22-yard line and four plays later the final points of the game came on Joey Slye’s 33-yard field goal.

When asked his assessment of Dobbs, Gannon said, “I thought he did good. He operated; we had a couple of good drives there. He took care of the ball. The last two are unfortunate, but that’s going to happen.”

But that can’t happen with games on the line. Gannon often talks about always making decisions that are best for the team and giving the team its best chance to win.

Yes, it’s only one game, but it raises the question of whether they did that with the quarterback choice.

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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