Columnist Kent Somers takes a look at what we learned in the Cardinals’ 24-6 season-opening loss to the Redskins on Sunday:
All preseason, the Cardinals’ passing game was short, quick and pretty boring. That didn’t change in the season opener. The Cardinals didn’t look far downfield until they were way behind. Sam Bradford had 8 passing yards in the first quarter and just 11 at halftime. His longest completion in the first half was 4 yards. He finally hit Larry Fitzgerald for 27 yards in the third quarter, but the Cardinals were trailing by 21 points at the time. Clearly, the Cardinals are trying to keep Bradford healthy by using a shorter passing game. The problem with that was evident Sunday. In an age when offenses spread the field with threats, the Cardinals seemed to be operating in a 15-yard square box. It was boring, but worse, inefficient. To fix their problems, the Cardinals need to start with third-down efficiency. They converted just 1 of 8 and that one didn’t come until the third quarter. Bradford is known as one of the more accurate quarterbacks in the NFL, but that wasn’t the case Sunday. He isn’t getting much help from receivers not named Larry Fitzgerald. Only one receiver other than Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, caught a pass. And Kirk had just one reception for 4 yards. Maybe video review will show something different, but from the press box, it didn’t appear that there were many open receivers.
Coach Steve Wilks’ background is defense. And his coordinator, Al Holcomb, was in charge of Carolina’s great linebacking corps. But both were out-coached on Sunday by Washington coach Jay Gruden and his staff. Gruden incorporated an array of runs, ranging from zones, to fly sweeps to options. All of them worked. Wilks blamed the Cardinals’ problems on poor technique and mental errors, but this problem also was apparent at times in the preseason, especially against the Saints. The Cardinals’ base defense on Sunday included three safeties: Tre Boston, Antoine Bethea and Budda Baker. That makes for a faster unit, but size and strength are sacrificed. Wilks said his teams have been able to stop the run in the past with similar-sized players, but it’s something to watch going forward.
Washington quarterback Alex Smith was masterful in executing Gruden’s offense, and his mobility gave the Cardinals problems. Gruden also did a nice job scheming favorable matchups, including running back Chris Thompson beating linebacker Deone Bucannon for a 13-yard receiving touchdown in the second quarter. Cardinals defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche recorded the first sack of his career, and Baker and linebacker Josh Bynes each had 11 tackles. Cardinals defensive backs were called for five penalties.That has to be cleaned up, as coaches like to say.
It’s obvious these units are better under Jeff Rodgers than they were the last five years under Amos Jones. Punter Andy Lee consistently flipped field position, averaging 52.6 yards gross and 46.2 net. That’s an elite level. Kirk had a 44-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. The coverage teams did a decent job.