Bright lights. Big city. Sunday Night Football.
None of that mattered for the Arizona Cardinals, as they stumbled and sputtered against the Cincinnati Bengals, falling 19-13 on Sunday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.
It wasn’t the type of performance anyone in the Cardinals organization was expecting; especially knowing the first team units on offense and defense were going to play the entire first half and how effective they’ve been so far in the preseason.
The first team offense looked extremely sharp on their opening drives against the Texans and Vikings respectively, punching it in the end zone each time for touchdowns. Against the Bengals, that offensive crispness and output was nowhere to be found.
Quarterback Carson Palmer, despite receiving solid protection from his offensive line, looked out of sorts and not in sync with his receivers, especially on their opening possession. Palmer tried to connect with wide receiver Michael Floyd deep twice on the drive, but couldn’t make the connection.
The lack of synergy between Palmer and his receivers came to a head on their second drive. Palmer tried to hook up with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on a third-down pass play. Instead of extending the drive with a completion, Palmer completed a pass to Bengals defensive back Terence Newman, who took it 54 yards the other way for the pick six.
“It definitely wasn’t the execution we were looking for,” Palmer said. “We had a number of things that were just off.”
“We didn’t take advantage, and I didn’t do a good job of taking advantage of some of the looks we had,” Palmer said.
For the game, Palmer completed 7-of-19 passes for 92 yards and the one interception for a passer rating of 31.0.
The quarterback position is without question THE most criticized position on a football team. When the starting quarterback comes out with a less than stellar performance like Palmer did on Sunday night, lots of fingers of blame are aimed in his direction.
Head coach Bruce Arians disagrees with the notion that it was an off night for Palmer.
“We missed some things that we have not been missing,” Arians said. “We dropped the ball on him on third down, so it’s not all Carson.”
“Carson is going to take the blame and the heat for his quarterback rating, but there are two drops where [the receiver] was wide open and he puts it right on the money, so they go down as a poor quarterback rating.”
“I don’t put a lot of stock in that,” Arians said.
There were quite a few positives to be had in this game, despite the team’s meager start to the contest. The fact that the Cardinals went deep several times showed their commitment to stretching the field, something Arians is looking to do even more this season with the weapons he has in the fold.
Floyd was encouraged to see the offense take shots early on in the game and try to rev up that quick strike offense.
“Yeah, we are moving the ball, moving the ball fairly well,” Floyd said. “It’s always good when you see balls coming your way.”
“There is still stuff that we got to get done,” Floyd added. “We’ll look at this film and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes again.”
Two other positives taken from this game: the play of running back Andre Ellington and wide receiver John Brown. Ellington had 46 yards rushing on nine carries – an average of 5.1 yards per rush. Brown hauled in four balls for 56 yards and the team’s lone touchdown, his first NFL touchdown catch – a 30-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Drew Stanton.
Ellington was all for the extended playtime he and the first team got in the first half.
“It just gives us the opportunity to measure our team and see where we’re at offensively,” Ellington said. “We still have a lot of work to do, we’re not ready for the championship yet.”
Brown had to extend as far as the human body can extend to make that catch in the end zone, but it looked routine from this vantage point, as he pulled it in, sending the sellout crowd in a frenzy.
“Drew [Stanton] has a great arm, so it’s just that I timed it perfect,” Brown said. “When I saw it out there I knew I had to make a diving catch.”
The offensive line was also a bright spot, giving up only one sack the entire night. That’s encouraging considering the defense they went up against – a defense that features Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Robert Geathers.
Palmer felt his warrriors up front were up to the challenge and performed well.
“The pass protection was really good and that’s as good of a pass rush as you’ll see,” Palmer said. “It’s a very good front and they also brought a lot of pressures for a third preseason game.”
“I thought we reacted pretty well up front to some of the situations that they put us in,” Palmer said.
The Bengals’ offense put together three double-digit scoring drives. Granted, they all ended up with Cincinnati kicking field goals, but those nine points made the difference in the final score.
Linebacker Sam Acho started opposite Larry Foote at inside linebacker. He saw first hand the quality of talent the Bengals fielded offensively and was pleased with how the defense fared overall.
“Yeah, they are definitely a good team,” Acho said. “They have a lot of talent, a lot of talented players, but we matched up well.”
“We obviously did some stuff that we could’ve done better, but we matched up well against them,” Acho said.
The defense wasn’t able to force any sacks or turnovers, something Acho knows the defense will have to address on a short work week, as the Cardinals head to San Diego on Thursday to face the Chargers in the preseason finale.
When it comes down to it, yes it was a loss, but the main thing is the team suffered no major injuries, which is always a good thing to see, considering the rash of injuries the Bengals suffered throughout the game and the injuries we’ve seen across the league during the preseason.
The last thing you want to see is players getting hurt all over the field, especially with the San Diego Chargers coming to town on Sept. 8 for the season opener.
It’s not the end of the world to lose to the Bengals. Besides, there’s no time to dwell on it, because the Chargers will be waiting for them later this week and they’re not shedding any tears for the Cardinals.