Sunday night against the Carolina Panthers, the Arizona Cardinals got bullied on both sides of the ball. The same problem that popped up in losses to Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Seattle were on display last night. On offense and defense, the Panthers were the more physical team. The bad news is that there’s no quick or easy fix — and the soft team was good enough to win 14 games including in the playoffs.
I said last week that the Cardinals defense is built from the outside in. The problem they’ve created is that teams who build from the inside out — like the teams that beat the Cards this year — match up with the Cards where they’re weakest. The interior triangle of Rodney Gunter, Deone Bucannon and Kevin Minter are not good enough to stop a power run game or pressure the passer consistently.
On the offensive side of the football, Carson Palmer turned back into a pumpkin. With three consecutive disappointing performances to end the year, the challenge is how to take the offense off Palmer’s shoulders. The hope for 2016 is that David Johnson and the offensive line in which the Cardinals have invested so much will be able to take control.
David Johnson, RB – The rookie running back was the lone bright spot for the Arizona Cardinals offense in this game. After a very slow start, Johnson managed to crawl his way back to 4.0 YPC on the game and he collected all 9 of his targets for an additional 68 yards. Johnson needs to avoid whatever second-year curse has nipped Andre Ellington.
Darren Fells, TE – The former basketball star is such a unique presence on the NFL field. Fells had a drop and a touchdown catch on the same series. Fells has managed to keep Troy Niklas buried on the depth chart, but a healthy season would be a great benefit next year.
Tony Jefferson, S – It certainly seemed like the Carolina game plan revolved around going away from Tony Jefferson of all people. Jefferson is one of the better players at being tough and enforcing the “no-fly zone” in the middle of the field.
Carson Palmer, QB – No one contributed more directly to the Arizona Cardinals loss than Carson Palmer. No one did less to make up for their inadequacies than Carson Palmer. Arizona’s first four possessions went punt-punt-punt-fumble. Ryan Lindley’s first quarter in the playoffs last year went punt-punt-punt-touchdown.
James Bettcher, DC – Cam Newton does present unique challenges to defensive coordinators, without question. That said, what was the objective of the rookie defensive coordinator’s game plan? Carolina scored on each of their first three series.
Harold Goodwin, OC – Goodwin is primarily responsible for coordinating and designing the running game for the Arizona Cardinals. It’s a mystery why Goodwin and Arians decided that the best way to attack the fastest linebacking corps in the NFL is with runs that started moving parallel to the sideline.