Going back to the 2014 NFC Wild Card Game, road games at Carolina have been a house of horrors for the Arizona Cardinals. Sunday’s 31-21 loss was the fifth straight time the Panthers have beat up the Cardinals, including two crushing playoff defeats. We break down what went wrong in Week 4 in our weekly list of five big takeaways from the weekend in sports.
Murray’s habit of starting a game slowly reared its ugly head when he badly overthrew a wide open Larry Fitzgerald on the third play of the game. That incompletion was a harbinger for the first half in which Murray went 13/18 for 54 yards (three yards per attempt). Combine that with only 40 yards rushing in the first two quarters and you have a 21-7 Panthers halftime lead.
Big takeaway: There was very little to build on for the second half and Murray wasn’t much more productive after halftime, finishing the game with 133 passing yards. Over the past two games, he seems to have forgotten his legs are the single biggest offensive weapon the Cardinals have in the arsenal. His 48-yard run in the 3rd quarter was the most explosive play the Cardinals have had on offense since Andy Isabella and Christian Kirk each caught long passes in Week 2. Murray needs to set the tone early in games or the Cardinals will be in for a long afternoon.
The Cardinals were able to get good pressure on Carolina quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on one play that resulted in an overthrown pass picked off by Patrick Peterson. That was the one good play the Cardinals defense made on Sunday. One. The rest of the game, Bridgewater had plenty of time to sit in the pocket and pick apart the Cardinals secondary to the tune of 276 yards passing and a stunning 18-yard touchdown run. The Cardinals had no pass rush, recorded zero sacks and largely did not bother Bridgewater all game.
Big Takeaway: The Cardinals were missing safety Budda Baker (thumb surgery) and linebacker Devon Kennard (inactive with a calf injury) but they could’ve adjusted the play-calling scheme for more blitzing. On the Peterson interception, the defense had a well designed zone blitz and got pressure on the quarterback, forcing him to throw a bad ball. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph seemed to shy away from the blitz the rest of the game, and helped the Panthers to convert 7-for-11 on third downs. That spells doom for any defense, especially one missing two of its best players.
Running back Kenyan Drake ran for 9 yards on the first play of the game, a nifty off-right tackle burst with a great pulling guard block from Justin Pugh. The play worked and then Kliff Kingsbury went away from it. Drake only had 12 more carries the rest of the game for 26 more yards. A lot of those runs were wide sweeps trying to get to the outside, but blown up because wide receivers can’t block very well. Beyond that, Murray’s 4.2 yards per pass attempt shows the offense was terribly inept despite scoring 21 points.
Big Takeaway: Kliff Kingsbury got two wins in the first two weeks by dialing up this horizontal play-calling, but opponents the last two weeks have figured out how to stop it. That’s not good considering it was the Lions and Panthers that shut them down. Murray needs to look downfield to his future Hall of Famer receivers (DeAndre Hopkins and Fitzgerald) and he needs to take off and run, using those legs that led the team to victories in the first two weeks.
Oh, the dreaded 10 a.m. start time. Sure it’s great for fans watching here at home in Arizona, but far too often it gets made into an excuse for the players after a miserable loss. Cardinals radio broadcaster Ron Wolfley argued the body clock was thrown off, despite the team practicing at 8 a.m. all week in preparation. The 10 a.m. kickoff problem only ever seems to be an issue with the team from Arizona, and not anywhere else. The Seattle Seahawks played early in Miami on Sunday and won. The San Francisco 49ers are 2-0 this season in early games on the east coast. The L.A. Rams are 1-1 in that time slot and the loss to Buffalo was largely due to a bad pass interference call that kept the Bills alive.
Big Takeaway: This early kick time is sure to be an annoying storyline going into the Week 5 matchup at the New York Jets. The Cardinals have lost two straight games to bad teams, but the Jets are perhaps the worst of the worst and might be without starting quarterback Sam Darnold (shoulder). There are no excuses if they lose that game.
Speaking of early kickoff times, who’s ready for 10 a.m. ASU football?! Yes, the Sun Devils have that early TV time slot in Week 1 at USC on November 7. The rest of the kickoff times are still to be determined, but we have a schedule for Pac-12 football, which kicks off in a little more than a month – making November and December pretty great for college football fans here in the Valley.
Big Takeaway: Early kickoff times have been long overdue for the Pac-12 conference. Far too often their games have finished in the late hours of a Saturday night, after fans have already watched football for 12+ hours and are ready to pass out. TV networks have reportedly been asking for the Pac-12 to fill earlier time slots for some time, and now with the inability of the Pac-12 Network to broadcast games this season, the plan has come to fruition. We’re hoping this works and sticks for the future.