TEMPE, Ariz. - The Arizona Cardinals enter their off week with plenty of problems to fix, particularly on defense, that have contributed to the team’s current four-game skid.
The solution might not come with a brilliant new strategy. It might be between the ears.
In some ways, the first 11 games have gone even better than the Cardinals could have hoped when they hired young coach Kliff Kingsbury and drafted quarterback Kyler Murray with the No. 1 overall pick. Kingsbury has been innovative on offense, Murray has looked like a franchise player, and the team plays extremely hard.
The biggest problem is simple: Arizona isn’t winning.
“It’s the theme of our season,” Kingsbury said on Sunday. “It’s great effort, great passion, intensity, all these things, and not making enough plays in critical moments. Penalties obviously don’t help. Turnovers don’t help, but effort’s been there all season. We’ve got to find a way to get back from this (off week) to finish games.”
The latest setback was on Sunday after a 36-26 loss to the 49ers. The Cardinals jumped to a 16-0 lead but quickly lost that advantage. Then they rallied for a 26-23 lead in the fourth quarter before the defense fell apart in the final minutes.
The good news is the Cardinals (3-7-1) were once again competitive against one of the NFL’s best teams. The bad news is that, for all the good moments, it’s just another loss.
“I’m not going to use the word frustrating,” Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones said. “We just have to grow. If you are watching these games and look at the film, we are right there.”
Murray didn’t have huge numbers in the passing game but continues to make the right decisions at the right time. He completed 24 of 33 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns while also running for 67 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Another week, another huge performance from the opposing quarterback. This time, it was the 49ers Jimmy Garoppolo who threw for 424 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
The pass defense is among the worst in the league in just about every category and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has taken a lot of criticism. Kingsbury said on Monday that he was not considering replacing Joseph, so any improvement will come from the status quo.
The Cardinals have given up at least 21 points in all 11 games this season.
RB Kenyan Drake: He’s learned the offense in less than a month after coming to the Cardinals in a trade with the Dolphins and has consistently been the Cardinals’ most reliable option in the backfield. He had 16 carries for 67 yards against the 49ers and caught six passes, though they were only for a combined 13 yards.
Drake’s production has been crucial considering starter David Johnson has been ineffective and backup Chase Edmonds is still out with a hamstring injury.
Defensive coordinator Joseph. The Cardinals don’t have a lot of talent on his side of the ball, so it’s not all his fault. But Arizona continues to give up big plays and sometimes doesn’t play to its strength.
The team’s best pass rusher, Jones, got burned when he dropped back in coverage on the 49ers’ go-ahead, 25-yard touchdown with less than a minute left.
The Cardinals are relatively healthy. Kingsbury hopes Edmonds can come back after the off week and help the running back rotation on Dec. 1 against the Los Angeles Rams.
0: Kingsbury said that RB David Johnson had a great week of practice and was healthy, but he still had zero rushing yards against the 49ers. Johnson had some good games early in the season but has been almost nonexistent since coming back from an ankle injury.
The Cardinals are among the teams with the latest off week in the NFL. After 11 straight games, it’s time to rest, regroup and figure out a way to get a few wins down the stretch. There will be good opportunities during the first three weeks of December with three straight home games against the Rams, Steelers and Browns.