The Arizona Cardinals are a team in trouble. At 3-4 going into their bye, they sit in third place in the NFC West, two games back from their London opponents, the Los Angeles Rams, but with games against their fellow division rivals, the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, up next, their playoff hopes could be over by the second week of November.
The result against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 6 was heartening – Carson Palmer only threw four incompletions for a passer rating of 139.4, and Adrian Peterson had his first 100-yard rushing game in nearly two years. But against the Rams at Twickenham on Sunday, when they suffered their first shutout loss since losing 58-0 to the Seahawks in Week 14 of the 2012 season, both those guys struggled and Palmer picked up a broken arm for his trouble that will see him miss at least the next eight weeks.
Backup QB problems
Palmer’s replacement under center was long-time backup Drew Stanton, who had followed head coach Bruce Arians from the Colts back in 2013. In less than two quarters, Palmer completed 10 of 18 pass attempts for 122 yards. For the rest of the game, Stanton completed 5 of 14 for 62 yards. The pair’s passer ratings added together (74.0) were still eclipsed by that of opposite number Jared Goff (75.8).
But despite Stanton’s struggles, the Cardinals seemed high on their backup after the game, with Arians saying, “We’ve played with Drew before. He has played and won a lot of games for us.”
Veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald took Palmer’s injury hard, saying, “That’s a real gut punch, to lose your best offensive player, your quarterback. We all know that’s a tough pill to swallow for us.” However, he was optimistic about the team moving forward with Stanton: “Drew has been here five years, and he’s acclimated with what coach Arians is going to ask him to do. We’re confident Drew can lead us and do the same things that Carson was able to do.”
Unfortunately for them, “what Carson was able to do” against the Rams was very little. The Los Angeles defense notched three sacks across the entire game, as well as interceptions off both Palmer and Stanton in the second quarter. The relentless pressure of the Rams front seven meant rushed decisions and incompletions, and holding onto the ball meant sacks.
Maybe Peterson isn’t back after all…
In the run game, Peterson managed just 21 yards on 11 carries, as the Rams defense managed to keep him bottled up early. Carson Palmer is one of the league’s pass masters at play action, but with the Cardinals unable to threaten the Rams on the ground, they were never able to put that plan into action. Unfortunately, they didn’t really have a plan B, and when the Rams took a 23-0 into the half, they almost abandoned the run game altogether, giving Peterson just three carries in the second half.
Adrian Peterson is the kind of runner that needs at least 20 carries a game in order to be productive, and being starved of the ball was the exact reason why he struggled in New Orleans and his final season in Minnesota.
But Arians was cagey about the reasons for his team’s difficulties on the ground: “We obviously weren’t blocking well enough and Adrian missed a few holes […] We had a great week of practice and we struggled to get a running game going and didn’t stick with it probably because it wasn’t working. The Rams did a heck of a job, but we just didn’t show up on third down. […] I think that’s the one statistic in the game that is glaring.”
Regardless of the reasons for the result, it puts Arians under a fair bit of pressure. Since reaching the NFC championship game in 2015, the Cardinals have a record of 10-11-1, and failure to reach the playoffs for a second year in a row could see the team’s front office opt to hit the reset button.
In the meantime, they still have the mini reset button of the bye week to fall back on, but if results don’t come soon, solutions will have to be found.
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