The vibes in Arizona Cardinals land have shifted dramatically after two straight losses, just as they did after two straight wins to open the season.
The Cardinals were dominated in all aspects of Sunday’s 31-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers, a scoreline that does not suggest how out of the game Arizona was throughout.
There is plenty to choose from in terms of what went wrong the most, from all across the offense to the same for the defense.
Here’s what Arizona Sports’ hosts, reporters and editors picked in a rather disappointing loss.
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo
This was an utter disaster. Didn’t show up to play. Weren’t prepared to play. Physically dominated. Mentally dominated. Going to be hard to hear anyone in this organization say they believe the team was ready. They couldn’t block, tackle, rush the passer, break a tackle, defend a pass, get off the field. Last week they just got beat by a team that had some talent. This week they failed to answer the wakeup call and their east coast alarm clocks. Everything and I mean everything this team accomplished by winning the first two games is gone! Like, forget they ever happened. Any good feeling about this team has been wiped out. They just got their asses handed to them. It was embarrassing. They were humiliated. Carolina punched them in the mouth and then punched them in the mouth and then punched them in the mouth again. Over and over. Did they quit? Maybe. After Arizona closed within 28-14 the Panthers went on a – get this – 15-play, 73-yard drive that took up eight minutes and 30 seconds.
Carolina picked on everyone! Haason Reddick, Jordan Hicks, Byron Murphy Jr., Patrick Peterson, Deointe Thompson, Curtis Riley, De’Vondre Campbell, Dre Kirkpatrick — basically the entire defense. Carolina rushed for 169 yards at almost 5 yards per carry and the had 72 plays to the Cardinals’ 55. And look at these scoring drives for the Panthers — 13 plays for 66 yards, nine plays for 80 yards, 10 plays for 75 yards, eight plays for 74 yards and 15 plays for 73 yards. They went through the Cardinals defense like a hot knife to butter. They held the ball for 13 minutes more than Arizona did. Hey Vance – what the hell happened? For a guy whose job this year is and should be on the line, this performance doesn’t make anyone feel good about the Cards DC.
Kyler Murray threw for 133 yards. Yes, that is for the entire game. After a week in which he had one catch for zero yards, Larry Fitzgerald had two catches for four yards. Kenyan Drake: 13 carries for 35 yards. And a pass rush that had been good at registering sacks got zero.
So what did we learn – not much. Maybe that Budda Baker is the most indispensable player on this team. And that me and Burnsy are likely going to owe Keyshawn Johnson — the TV one — some serious charity money.
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo
It’s hard — not impossible — but hard to decide what was the most atrocious part of Sunday’s loss to Carolina. It’s close but I’ll take the defense and a long list of missed tackles, third down conversions allowed and blown assignments. I thought the FOX television team was going to drain the batteries on the telestrator with all the times they circled Curtis Riley and his lack of coverage. Twelve men on the field (again) only to be followed by 10 men on one touchdown. Scoring drives that covered 66, 80, 75, 74 and 73 yards. It’s not the kind of performance that gets coordinators fired but certainly the kind that plants those seeds for the future. It’s guaranteed to make Vance Joseph squirm in his seat for the five-hour plane ride home and beyond. I get it; they’re banged up at safety and certainly that explains some of the busted coverages but it should not serve as a get-out-of-jail-free card. The 444 yards, 7-for-11 on third downs allowed and 37 minutes in time of possession are more than just missing Budda and Jalen Thompson.
Meanwhile, while small portion sizes might be a great way to lose weight it won’t get the job done for a functioning NFL offense. Kyler Murray threw the ball 31 times for an astounding 133 yards. After he sailed that pass to Fitz on the first possession, was he fighting himself? Like a pitcher who has the yips? I don’t know if we’ll ever know for sure but there seemed to be a real aversion to throwing the ball down the field. Cardinals running backs rushed for 51 yards on 17 carries and I’m pretty sure in the last week I’ve seen more Larry Fitzgerald commercials than I did targets in a game.
That the phrase “5-0” came out of my mouth seems like lunacy at this point. The more challenging portion of the schedule looms and likely the Cardinals are going to lose ground in the division. Add it up and there is a drawing board to get back to with Kingsbury and Joseph’s name on it.
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta
It’s starting to feel like 2018 all over again with the Arizona Cardinals. I mean, the optics are a bit better, but the results are the same. Another flat performance from the start doomed the Cardinals in a 31-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers, who were without their best player, Christian McCaffrey.
This never felt like a 10-point game. In fact, the Cardinals never felt like they were in it. After punting on the first possession, the Panthers took the ball and marched right down the field on a 13-play, 66-yard drive that took 5:39 off the clock. Carolina went up two touchdowns on its second possession — a 9-play, 80-yard drive. That was a great snapshot of what would transpire for the rest of the day. No urgency. No explosion. No energy. No chance.
And to make things worse, head coach Kliff Kingsbury has no variation in his answers from week-to-week when questioned by media following the game.
“We had a lack of urgency in play calling.”
“We, as coaches, need to do a better job.”
“We’ve got to put players in a better position to be successful.”
It’s all getting quite Wilksian.
Maybe that’s the strategy — being as vague as possible while you desperately search for answers to what’s ailing your team. I mean, it doesn’t get more vague than giving the dictionary definition of coaching as an item on your to-do list. It didn’t work for Steve Wilks. It won’t work for Kingsbury either unless we start seeing what was promised: an innovative offensive mind who can create mismatches with his playmakers. Kyler Murray threw for 133 yards on 24 completions. That’s the lowest yardage total for a quarterback with that many completions in the last 50 years (sorry you’ve been removed from the record books, Shane Matthews).
Against Detroit, the short passing game was explained as “taking what the defense is giving us.” Well, that’s not exactly working. Sometimes you have to take what you want, or at least attempt to. That’s not happening. We’re 20 games into the Kingsbury coaching tenure, and we’re still waiting for that “wow” game. The Cardinals have scored more than 30 points in a game only three times in that span. They’ve had 500 or more yards once. They’ve had under 300 seven times, including Sunday. I said in January of 2019 that Steve Keim bought himself at least two years by firing Wilks, hiring Kingsbury and choosing Murray first overall just a year after investing a top-ten pick in Josh Rosen. Kingsbury’s offense is playing like it’s time to start asking whether or not that two-year clock in starting to tick a little louder.
Luke Lapinski, host of The Rundown with Luke Lapinski
It’s not just the loss, it’s how they lost. The game’s already over and I’m not even sure it ever really started for the Cardinals. Their big plays – Patrick Peterson’s interception and Kyler Murray’s 48-yard run in the third quarter – were few and far between. And they dug themselves such a big hole early that those plays proved to be nothing more than flickers of false hope anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, the Cardinals have squandered a tremendous opportunity here over the last two weeks. So the loss itself certainly matters here too. I’m not downplaying that at all. The bar gets raised when you begin the season 2-0 and your quarterback is getting MVP buzz. If the playoffs are the goal, losing to Detroit and Carolina now means you need to beat teams like Seattle or Buffalo or the Rams later to make up for it.
That’s not impossible… unless they play the way they did today. The Panthers didn’t even have Christian McCaffrey, and they ran right through the Cardinals defense with Mike Davis and Reggie Bonnafon anyway. I’m sure they’re both nice guys and all, but you need to be able to tackle them if you’re serious about being a contender in football’s toughest division.
We all knew the defense would miss Budda Baker, but this was extreme. The whole unit looked out of sync all day, giving up five scoring drives of 66 yards or more. As frustrating as last week’s loss to the Lions was, at least the defense was getting off the field on third downs. Today, Carolina want 7-for-11 on third, ran 17 more plays than the Cardinals overall and outgained them with 444 yards of total offense to Arizona’s 262. Not good.
On the bright side, Murray looked better than last week. He wasn’t great – in fact, he was pretty shaky on the first drive – but he managed to toss three touchdowns without being intercepted. He also broke off that 48-yard run and finished the day with a 116.7 quarterback rating. He only threw for 133 yards, though, and the offense still just doesn’t look right yet. Murray took a couple pretty bad hits in this one, Kenyan Drake was invisible for long stretches and Larry Fitzgerald has four yards over the last two weeks. There’s work to be done here. The good news is the Jets are up next.
Tyler Drake, editor and reporter for ArizonaSports.com
The word of the day: Yikes.
The Cardinals looked behind in the intensity factor from the start and it showed quickly. Two quick touchdowns from Teddy B. and a 1-2 Carolina Panthers team put a kabash on what was supposed to be a bounce-back game for Kliff Kingsbury and Co.
The wide-open look that sailed over the head of Larry Fitzgerald sums up the loss for me in a nutshell. They just couldn’t hit their marks when it counted most. Instead of moving to 3-1 on the season, the Cardinals are back to .500 after making the 2-2 Christian McCaffrey-less Panthers look like an offensive juggernaut with backup Mike Davis in the backfield.
The team’s running game, outside of two impressive runs from Kyler Murray, was a long, long way away from being effective. And to add to the woes, Kenyan Drake and Justin Pugh didn’t finish the game after leaving with apparent injuries. If they want to regain that same offensive success they did when Drake was brought over from Miami last season, the Cardinals need to get back to their running ways with the RB.
Next up is the New York Jets, the same team that couldn’t get past an injury-ridden 49ers team or Brett Rypien and the Broncos. If they can’t capitalize against the 0-4 Jets, there’s some serious cause for concern.
Kellan Olson, editor and reporter for ArizonaSports.com
All the smart people above me are going to hit on the totality of went wrong, and all I’ll note on that front is that there were a lot of signs this was still not a good football team in the two wins. Those red flags appeared to be worthwhile. Anyway, with that out of the way, I’m gonna take the time here to, like Vince, not gloss over Kyler Murray and the offense.
No matter what does or doesn’t happen for this team in every facet outside of quarterback play, they should still be in games if Murray is as good in Year 2 as I and many other people thought he would be. As in, a top 10-15 quarterback in the league, maybe even better. This upcoming statement is an unfair claim and it’s not an attempt to shift the blame on Murray, but even with how poorly the Cardinals were all over the place against the Panthers and Detroit Lions, they win both of those games if Murray is great in them. I thought he was going to be great, and expected much more out of Kliff Kingsbury’s offense with a suitable arsenal of weapons and a year of getting the rhythm of the NFL down.
That game felt o-v-e-r at halftime, and it was, but Arizona was only down 21-7. That should never be the case with a team whose roster, coaching staff and so on is built around the supposed identity of having a high-powered offense. Kingsbury’s playcalling and Murray have a whole lot to improve on still before they earn that label, and Arizona is going nowhere until they do.