All that optimism surrounding the Arizona Cardinals following two straight wins to start the season has evaporated in a hurry.
The Cardinals are 2-2 after falling 31-21 to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, and the final score didn’t convey how thoroughly they were beaten. Arizona dropped into a 14-0 hole early and trailed by a substantial margin for much of the afternoon.
“Coaching-wise, playing-wise, it was a bad performance,” second-year coach Kliff Kingsbury said.
Though the frustration was palpable following Sunday’s loss, there was also a little room for levity. The Cardinals have been humbled, but it’s far from a hopeless situation.
“We’ve lost two in a row, we’re 2-2 in the first quarter of the season,” linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “We’re still in a situation where we control our destiny. It’s still super early. The message has to be ‘Go back to the drawing board, learn from our mistakes, focus on the details and come out and execute.’ Simple as that.”
On offense, it’s clear the Cardinals’ passing game needs some tweaks. Kingsbury favors a short-yardage, quick-strike approach but the Panthers had that covered on Sunday. Kyler Murray completed 24 of 31 passes, but managed just 133 passing yards. He threw three touchdown passes but two of them were late in the game when the Cardinals were scrambling just to stay close.
“I think we have to have a better plan, starting with me,” Kingsbury said. “And then we just have to execute when throws are there to be hit. Whether it’s running the proper depth or taking the proper footwork on your drop, we just all have to be on the same page and take what we’re working on in practice to go to the game.”
Murray agreed that the Cardinals played poorly, but he’s still confident.
“I’m not a big panicker,” Murray said. “I just think we’ve got to get back to work, we got to be better. That’s really all it is. No time to panic, just be better.”
Murray’s running ability continues to give defenses trouble. The quarterback had six carries for 78 yards against Carolina, including a 48-yard run. He has 265 yards rushing through four games, which puts him on pace for a 1,000-yard season. He’s also averaging more than eight yards per carry.
The secondary isn’t the same without safety Budda Baker. The Pro Bowler missed Sunday’s game after having surgery on his thumb and the Cardinals hope he can return next week against the Jets. The Cardinals also hope to get two of their other safeties — Jalen Thompson (ankle) and Chris Banjo (hamstring) — back soon.
CB Patrick Peterson, whose interception was one of a few defensive highlights. It was the three-time All-Pro’s first interception of the season and the defense could use a few more before the season’s over.
LB Chandler Jones. It’s easy to rip on the secondary for Sunday’s poor performance but the Cardinals also finished with zero sacks. Jones isn’t solely to blame, but he’s the leader of the group and needs to be disruptive.
RB Kenyan Drake and OL Justin Pugh both left the Panthers game with injuries. Kingsbury said following the game that he didn’t think either one was “anything major” and remained optimistic about their status on Monday.
5 — Larry Fitzgerald, one of the most productive receivers in NFL history, has a total of 5 yards receiving over the past two games. It’s fair to wonder if this is the beginning of the end for Larry Legend.
The Cardinals have a favorable road matchup against the winless New York Jets on Sunday but they have to play much better. They must improve their vertical passing game and get some semblance of a pass rush. They also have to avoid silly mistakes: The Panthers scored one touchdown when the Cardinals had just 10 men on the field on defense.
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