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The Setup
Both teams were coming off a bye. Cards were 3 & 0. Broncos were one late-game loss from being 3 & 0.
Game figured to be a "dual of brains" between Peyton Manning and the Cardinal coaching staff (since BA and Tom Moore were early Manning mentors). It was unclear if Carson Palmer would be ready enough to play and concerns about the readiness of Logan Thomas should Drew Stanton go down. Question going into Sunday was whether or not the Cards were a legit undefeated team.

The Lede
Manning Outpaces Cards.

The Bottom Line:
The Cardinals hung close to the Broncos for three quarters before injuries and exploitation of weakness in the Cardinal secondary enabled Peyton Manning and the Denver offense to pull away from a 24 - 20 third quarter lead to breeze to an easy 41 - 20 win.

Early in the third quarter Von Miller blew around Bobbie Massie to bring down Drew Stanton who was forced to leave the game with concussion-type symptoms. With the exception of one unbelievable play, Logan Thomas appeared to be way in over his head, and any remaining wind was sucked right out of the Cardinal offensive sails. With the Card offense unable to hold onto the ball for any length of time (the team was forced to punt 11 times), the defense eventually wore down, while we watched player after defensive player limp off the field due to injury.

Coupled with our inability to move the ball after Stanton's departure was what appeared to be a chronic flaw in the Cardinal defensive scheme that remained uncorrected throughout the duration of the game: The Cards would go with across-the-board man-coverage, Manning would pick it up presnap and then repeatedly hit a receiver as he outran Cromartie or other defenders on slant routes. (We couldn't stop it/we didn't seem to try).

Cards should have gone into the locker room at halftime down 14 - 13, but Cromartie (who had arguably the worst game of his career) allowed D Thomas to get behind him for an 86-yard TD with just 1:48 left till halftime. So instead of being down a point, we were down by 8. Later on, that incredible Thomas-to-Ellington pass, catch & run down the right sideline for 81-yards helped narrow the Denver lead to 4-points (24 - 20) at the end of the 3rd quarter. But it was here that the valiant Cardinal defense simply ran out of gas - with game-ending injuries to Calais Campbell, Patrick Peterson and other injuries of varying severity to Rashad Johnson and others - allowed the Denver offense to post 17 more points on the board in the 4Q.

Game Recap

1st Quarter
  • Cards received. TB on the KO. Cards moved to the Denver 9 in seven plays, but (impeded by a false start penalty on Carlson) was unable to punchi it in. Catanzaro's 33-yard FG attempt was good. Cards 3 - Broncos 0.

  • TB on the KO. Manning sliced and diced his way to the Cardinal 7 where, on the 12th play of the drive, he hit J Thomas in the end zone for a TD. Manning completed 7 of 10 passes during the drive. Key plays were completions to D Thomas (for +19 and +24 yards). Broncos 7 - Cards 3.

  • TB on the KO. Cardinals countered with a 10 play drive of our own which stalled at the Bronco 30, with Catanzaro good from 48-yards. Key plays of the drive were completions to Fitz for +33 and +15. Broncos 7 - Cards 6.

  • TB on the KO. Broncs held to 3 & out. Cards ran off one play from their own 16 to end the quarter. 1st Quarter Score: Broncos 7 - Cards6.

2nd Quarter
  • Cards were held to 3 & out and Zastudill's piunt was returned to the Denver 40. On the second play from scrimmage, Powers jumped in front of Welker to intercept Manning'pass. Card ball on their own 45. After Stanton hit Ellington for +15, the Cardinals were stopped cold (Miller - who should have been flagged for a face-mask - blew around Massie and sacked Stanton for a 10-yard loss. Cards had to punt. Touchback. Completions to Sanders for +13 and +30 and a +14-yarder to Welker set up a 31-yard catch and run by D Thomas for a Bronco TD. Broncos 14 - Cards 6.

  • TB on the KO. Three & out. Punt was returned 11 yards to the Denver 38. On the third play of the series, Manning threw a screen-left for Ball but it was tipped and intercepted by Calais Campbell who returned it to the Bronco 5-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Ellington took it right up the gut, but cut to his right at the LOS and hit the next gap over for a Cardinal TD. XP was good- one point ball game. Broncos 14 - Cards 13.

  • TB on the KO. A holding call helped force the Broncos to go 3 & out. Punt was fair caught at the Cardinal 33-yard line. 2:30 till halftime. 3 & out. Punt was fair caught at the Denver 14. On the first play from scrimmage, Manning hit D Thomas (who got behind Cromartie) for an 86-yard TD. Broncos 21 - Cards 13.

  • TB on the KO. 1:37 still left. Cards again went 3 & out. Three plays later - halftime. First Half Score: Broncos 21 - Cards 13

3rd Quarter
  • Denver received. TB on the KO. Another long TD completion from Manning to D Thomas (this one for +77 yards) was nullfied by offsetting chop-blocking and defensive holding penalties. The chop-block caused Calais Campbell (meniscus) to leave the game and possibly be out longer than 4 more games. Broncos punted. It was returned to the Cardinal 24. Stanton was held to 3 & out. The NFL play by play log doesn't show it, but somewhere around the 12:18 mark, on 3rd down, Stanton got hit for the second time by Miller and had to leave the game. Punt was fair caught at the Denver 30. A 20-yard completion to Sanders helped set up a 44-yard McManus FG. Broncos 24 - Cards 13.

  • TB on the KO. Logan Thomas in for Stanton. 3 & out (after taking a minus-8 yard sack). Punt returned to the Denver 48. A +16-yard run by Hillman helped set up a 53-yard FG attempt by McManus that was wide left. Cards took over on their own 43, but went 3 & out. (Our defense is barely getting enough time to get off the field before they're back on it again). But they hung in there and forced Denver to go 3 & Out. One the first play from scrimmage, Thomas threaded the needle to Ellington (who was sandwiched between 2 DB's on the right sideline). Ellington somehow was able to duck his head, catch the ball and tiptoe past his defenders down the sideline and then outrun them for an 81-yard TD. (We're still very much "in it"). Broncos 24 - Cards 20.

  • TB on the KO. Denver managed to move to the Cardinal 32 (off completions to J Thomas for +25 and Tamme for +17) to end the quarter. Third Quarter Score: Broncos 24 - Cards 20.

4th Quarter
  • Niners had to settle for a 41-yard McManus "bank shot" FG. Broncos 27 - Cards 20.

  • TB on the KO. Cards held to 3 & out. Completions of +28 yards (D Thomas) and +20 yards (Welker) helped set up a +12-yard TD pass to J Thomas. (It's somewhere around this point in the game where Campbell got chop blocked and had to leave the game due to a meniscus injury). Broncos 34 - Cards 20.

  • TB on the KO. Cards again held to 3 & out. Punt returned to the Cardinal 46. (6:40 to play). Manning hit D Thomas for +20 yards (vs. Peterson (who had to leave the game due to an ankle problem). On the 5th play of the Denver possession, J Thompson (deep in the shotgun) ran up the middle for an +8-yard TD. Denver 41 - Cards 20.

  • 4:33 left. TB on the KO. Three & Outsville. Punt/Penalty gave Denver the ball on their own 32 with 3:28 left, and they ran out the clock. Final Score: Denver 41 - Cards 20.

Game Stats
Most telling stat of the game were the 11 times we had to punt (vs. 4 for the Broncos). That plus that single lonely Logan Thomas completion and Ellington's 2.0 ypc rush average. The Cardinal defense could only do so much).

  • Passing Efficiency: Stanton was 11 for 26, 118 yards, no TD's and no interceptions. Thomas was (ughh!) 1 for 8 and 81 yards (all from the one Ellington TD play). Otherwise he was "0-fer."

  • Run Game: Cards ran the ball 19 times for 37 yards. Ellington carried 16 times for 32 yards and a TD.

  • Receiving: Ellington led all Cardinal receivers with 4 catches for 112 yards (including the one for 81 yards) and a TD. Fitz was second with three grabs. Cardinal receivers were responsible for a whopping 6 total catches.
  • Defense: Broncos ran for 92 net yards (on 28 carries) and 476 net passing yards. 4 TD and 2 interceptions.

  • Cardinal Run/Pass Ratio: 19 runs/34 passes.

  • Sacks: Cardinal QB's were sacked 3 times. (We got to Manning once.

  • Leading Cardinal Tacklers: Safeties had a busy day - Powers led the team with 7 tackles followed by Bucannon (6), R Johnson (6), T Jefferson (5) and Foote (5).

  • Field Goals: Catanzaro was 2 for 2.

  • Turnover Ratio: +2. Powers and Campbelll picked off 2 Manning throws. No fumbles were recovered by either team. Card QB's threw no picks.

  • Penalties: 3 for 15yards (Broncs were flagged 7 times for 67 so don't whine).

  • 3rd Down Efficiency: 3 for 16 (18%). Broncos were 7 for 16 (43%)

  • Time of Possession: Us - 24:43/Them - 35:17

Bright Spots

  • No picks by our QB's.

  • We're one game closer to Palmer's return.

  • Logan Thomas's (only) pass completion.

  • Ellington's nose for the goal line.

  • The defense played hard for all 4 quarters (and kept us in the game for the first three quarters).

  • Catanzaro (2 for 2) still perfecto.

The Dark Side

  • The injuries. Which key guys will be out for one game? Two games? Four games? More?

  • Our receivers had more drops than Ludens.

  • We made 35% fewer big catches than we had to make. They made 35% more big catches than they had to make.

  • We still haven't found a pass rush.

  • 6 of 14 passes thrown at Cromartie were completions totalling 199 yards.

  • Our coverages either were (a) predictable or (b) were being tipped off. (Manning exploited man-coverager matchups by throwing slant routes featuring their guys outrunning our guys).

  • Lack of productive depth at QB

Last Word:
Earlier in the season we learned that we could play well enough to beat just about anybody in the NFL. Yesterday, we learned that we can play badly enough to lose to just about anybody. The initial reaction from the national media is, quite naturally, "woe is me", but guess what? The Honey Badger isn't the only one who doesn't care; neither does anyone else in the NFL. Still gotta play the games. Next man up. Ladies and Gentlemen, it's gut-check time.
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Copyright 1996 Gollin & Associates. Last modified: 11/26/2012