Oh boy, what a letdown to start the season for Arizona in their opening game of Cardinals vs. Redskins. Losing 24-6 in the home opener against Washington is bad enough but there weren’t even many positives for the fans to latch on to. This was not a pretty game to watch but let’s take a look back to find the main takeaways for the Cardinals’ season opener.
Running Backs Running Wild
For a defense that many touted as one of the league’s best this season, they couldn’t stop anyone, especially not Washington’s runners. Adrian Peterson, signed off the street, ran for 96 yards and a touchdown, and caught two passes for 70 yards. This is a guy known for not being a weapon in the passing game. The other runner, backup Chris Thompson, ran for 65 yards on only five carries and hauled in another 63 receiving yards and a touchdown. That’s 294 yards given up to just the running backs.
The defense had a few bright spots but they were few and far between. Chandler Jones, Robert Nkemdiche and Patrick Peterson all collected a sack each, including Jones forcing a fumble. It doesn’t get easier in week two, as the Los Angeles Rams are coming to town with Todd Gurley. If Arizona is going to stop the reigning Offensive Player of the Year, they’ll have to toughen up against the opposing backfield.
That headline joke is still better than the Cardinals’ offense was in week one. Sam Bradford couldn’t match last year’s opening-game heroics, throwing for only 153 yards and an interception and a fumble with no scores. Larry Fitzgerald had half of those yards while running backs David Johnson and Chase Edmonds combining for 54 more. Rookie Christian Kirk had one catch for four yards.
The offensive line looked as bad as ever, all progress made in August seemingly lost. Johnson couldn’t even crack 40 rushing yards, though he did score the team’s only touchdown on the ground. They only handed it to him nine times. That’s unacceptable. Having one of the most dynamic players in the league isn’t nearly as useful if he isn’t given the chance to make a difference. If this team wants to compete against the Rams’ team of all-stars, a lot has to change in the play design and calling.
Though the focus is on Arizona, it’s important to note that Washington looked like a much better team than expected. Peterson is a great compliment to Thompson in the backfield and Alex Smith can dink and dunk his way down the field whenever he wants. We didn’t see much out of the wideouts but between the running backs and Jordan Reed, there wasn’t as much need for them to shine. Between the new additions and a big-time defense, the NFC East has a surprise contender in its midst.
Areas to Improve
Starting 0-2 is not an option if this Cardinals team wants to make a run at the playoffs. We haven’t seen much reason for hope, however. There are three main areas this team must improve upon if they stand any chance.
The first is quarterback play. Sam Bradford did not get it done. He had some uncharacteristically bad throws and decisions. Two turnovers against no scores and under 200 yards won’t work for any team in the league. One more week of this and Bradford will be the highest-paid backup in the NFL. Fans badly want to see Josh Rosen but not like this. Not like this.
The second, to no one’s surprise, is the offensive line. This week brings Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers so if there aren’t massive jumps in quality play, it won’t be pretty. The pass protection, in particular, was abysmal, though we really didn’t see many running plays to judge it’s effectiveness. No matter who is behind center, if they’re running for their lives each play they cannot be successful.
Finally, the play calling. The only receiver able to find any room was Fitzgerald. In any game where the quarterback is being harassed, the run game can be a team’s best friend. One of the best athletes in the sport was only given a chance to carry the ball nine times. That removes the effectiveness of the play-action pass, which is the other best friend of a porous offensive line. Given the offense’s failure to do much of anything, the defense really wasn’t that bad. It may be a case of growing pains, many teams struggle in their first real game together, however, the play calling must improve to cover up the deficiencies in the unit.