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The Setup
The 4 - 5 - 1 Cards were coming off a bitter loss that dug them an even deep hole in the playoff hunt. The division leading Falcons (@ 6 - 4) were (fanfare!) coming off a Bye. The Cardinal offensive line was about to undergo a major shake-up with DJ Humphries starting at LT, Ulrick John coming in off the street to fill in for Humphries at RT and John Wetzel moving from LT to start at RG.

The Lede
Fewer mistakes lead Falcons to 38 - 19 win over Cards

The Bottom Line:
Interesting question was posed on the ASFN billboard about whether the Cards were good or (heh heh) even great. It occurred to me that the issue of what separates goodness from greatness was more interesting than whether the Cardinals fit either description:

When I evaluate a football team (its W & L notwithstanding) I want to know (1) whether each Sunday, it will do what most experts and fans expect them to do and (2) in a majority of snaps, do they deliver when they need to?

A "Good Team" acts as expected and makes the plays it needs to make - most of the time.

A "Great Team" acts as expected and makes the plays it needs to make - nearly every time.

The Cardinals do neither. Witness the loss to the Falcons where a botched snap, a penalty and missed block by its center cost the Cards severall key first downs. While the game was close during the first half ( 7 - 7 at the end of the 1Q and 17 -13 at halftime) the Falcons made far fewer mistakes and made a higher percentage of key plays than did the Cardinals; expanding their lead to 24 - 13 at the end of the 3Q and a 38 - 19 Final.

Actually the biggest factor in the Falcon victory might fly somewhat beneath the radar: Compare the pass coverage by DB's and separation by WR's for the two teams: Falcon cover-men were all over Cardinal receivers like SaranWrap, whereas Falcon pass catchers always seemed to have 10 or more yards of open territory between themselves and their opponents. (& during those rare occasions where pass-coverage was tight, Cardinal DB's would invariably be flagged for defensive PI).

Another "below the radar" factor had to do with coaching strategy. Although BA outsmarted the Atlanta secondary a couple of times with slant passes to D Johnson, there were many more examples where Quinn got the best of Bettcher - most notably the 2 TD's by Gabriel on inside screens: using them as "running plays" that gave Gabriel room to maneuver. All in all, I think BA was outcoached by Quinn.

The performance in Atlanta reconfirms the common perception that the Cardinals are not as predictable as they need to be - with players capable of making enough big plays to protect their starting roles but not enough to consistently win football games. Too many things that cause teams to lose: i.e. costly penalties, missed assignments and turnovers (Palmer's late 4Q interception didn't matter but it could have - and it was a dumb throw).

The Cardinals are capable of being a "good" team, but right now, they're not playing like it. Kudos to a patchwork OL for hanging in there along with David Johnson and Fitz. But, unfortunately, it's not enough - we need more players making more plays. The Falcons made more big plays than the Cardinals and were more consistent.

Game Recap
Cards scored first, and for awhile, it looked as if we'd be treated to 60 minutes of competitive offensive football. Well, Atlanta held up their part of the bargain, but the combination of sacks, penalties and dropped passes (& even more aggravating, a wide gap in pass-coverage aggressiveness on the part of the two teams) allowed Alanta to widen their lead and win going away 38 - 19.

To be fair, the Cards were still within a TD and a FG of tie-ing things up with nearly half of the 4Q to go but were unable to sustain anything close to scoring that TD or kicking that FG. Kudos to the effort by the banged up OL, gritty catches by Fitz and creative running/catching by David Johnson, but in the end, Atlanta made more plays (& fewer mistakes than we did)

1st Quarter
  • Cards won the toss and received. TB on KO. Cards' opening drive was the first one all season that ended in a Cardinal touchdown. Completions to Gresham (+15) and John Brown (+19) followed by a couple of decent D Johnson runs (+6 and +2) and completions to Fitz (+17) aand Johnson (+13) set up a one-yard TD completion: Palmer to Gresham. Cards 7 - Falcons 0.

    Atlanta returned the KO to its own 28. Ryan dinked and dunked hi way to the Ccardinal 36 where he then hit Hardy for 27 yards. Three plays later, Freeman ran off right tackle for an Atlanta TD. Falcons 7 - Cards 7.

    TB on the KO. Cards moved to the Falcon 6-yd line to end the quarter. Key plays were a +14 and +16 yd runs by Johnson & a +18-yd pass to Fitz.

    1st Quarter Score: Falcons 7 - Cards 7.

2nd Quarter
  • An aborted direct snap moved the Cards back to their own 17-yd line and they had to settle for a 25-yard Catanzaro FGCards dinked and dunked theirway to the Minn 16 where they settled for a 34-yd Catanzaro FG. Drive took 12 plays (6:26). Cards 10 - Falcons 7

    TB on the KO. On the 6th play of the Atlanta possesion, the Cards intercepted a Ryan pass, but Bucannon's pick was nullified by a defensive PI flag on Peterson. Four plays later, Bryant's 45-yd FG attempt was good. Cards 10 - Falcons 10.

    TB on the KO. An 11-yard gain from K Williams on a direct snap was nullified by a holding call on Shipley and the Cards punted 3 plays later. Punt was returned to the Falcon 16. Atlanta was held to 3 & out. Punt returned by J Brown to the Card 29. A holding call by Iupati and grounding by Palmer forced the Cards back to their own 6 where the punt was downed at the Atlanta 45. Ryan hit J Jones for +10 and then Gabrie (who made Cardinal tacklers look like cardboard cutouts) for a 35-yd TD. Falcons 17 - Cards 10..

    TB on the KO. 2:19 left in the half. Cards were held to 3 & out.Punt fair caught at the Atlanta 31. They moved to the Card 35, butpm the 6th play of the drive, Ryan's pass for J Jones was intercepted by Swearinger. Cards' ball on their own 37 with 0:37 till halftime. Some clever clock management/play calling moved to where it set up a Catanzaro 54-yd FG with 0:01 left on the clock. Falcons 17 - Cards 13..

    First Half Score: Falcons 17 - Cards 13..

3rd Quarter

  • TB on the KO. Atlanta couldn't get anything going. Ryan was sacked on 3 consecutive downs (though one sack was nullfied by an illegal contact flag on Bucannon) and punted from their own 20. Punt was returned to the Card 27. Cards were held to 3 & out. Punt was returned to the Falcon 23. Ryan engineered a 13-play (6:05) drive capped by a Coleman 2-yd TD run off right guard. (Longest play of the drive was a Ryan 11-yd scramble). Falcons 24- Cards 13..

    TB on the KO. Cards made it to the Atlanta 43 where, on the final play of the 3Q, Palmer was sacked for minus-7.

    Third Quarter Score: Falcons 24 - Cards 13..

4th Quarter
  • Cards failed to convert a 4th & 7 and turned over the ball on downs at the Atlanta 40. Ryan then engineered another long drive (10 plays 5:29) resulting in another twisting 25 yd Gabriel catch and run (tackling was atrocious). Drive was kept alive by an offsides penalty by C Campbell on a punt on a 4th & 5). Falcons 31 - Cards 13..

    TB on the KO. 8:48 left. Palmer moved the Cards in 12 plays to the Falcon 3-yd line before hitting D Johnsonfor a 3-yd TD. 2-pointer was no good. Falcons 31 - Cards 19.

    4:44 left to play. Onside kick was recovered by Atlanta. A face-mask flag on Swearinger moved Falcs to the Carnal 29. They moved right on down to the Cardinal 5-yard line, where Freeman scored from 5-yds out off RG. Falcons 38 - Cards 19.

    TB on the KO. Five plays later, Palmer's pass (presumably for Gresham) seemed directed into a crowd of four Atlanta defenders. It was picked off and returned to the Cardinal 36. Two knees. Game over.

    Final Score: Falcons 38 - Cards 19.

Notable Game Stats.

  • Passing: Palmer was 25 for 45, 289 yards 2 TD's and 1 Interception. (Ryan was 26 for 34, 269 yds, 2 TD's and 1 pick).

  • Rushing: D Johnson gained 58 yards on 13 carries & 1TD. (Freeman picked up 60 yds on 16 carries and 2 TD's. Coleman carried 8 times for 9 yds and a TD).
  • Receiving: D Johnson led the Cards with 8 grabs for 103 yards and a TD. Gresham caught 5 for 35 yds & a TD. Fitz was next with 53 yards on 4 catches. (Sanu caught 8 for 65 yards. Gabriel caught 4 for 75 and 2 TD's - mostly runs after short catches. J Jones caught 4 for 35).

    Turnovers: Even. Each QB threw a pick. Cards & Falcs had no fumbles.

    Penalties: Uneven (favoring Atlanta). Cards were penalized 8 times for 60 yards. Falcs were penalized 4 times for 23 yards.

  • Run/Pass Ratio: Cards: 14/45. (Minn: 30/34)

  • Kicking: Catanzaro was 2 for 2 in FG attempts. (Bryant was 1 for 1).

    Net Punting Yards: Butler averaged 40.0. (Newly signed Atlanta punter averaged 52.0)

  • Tackles: Cooper led with 9 followed by Swearinger and Jefferson (7 apiece). Buccanon and Peterson each had 4)

    Sacks: Cards sacked Ryan 3 times (Jefferson, Mathieu, Golden). Palmer was sacked two times)..

    Interceptions: Palmer anfd Ryan was picked off once.

    Third Down Efficiency: Cards were 4 of 11 for 36%. (Atlanta was 4 of 9 for 44%).

    Red Zone Efficiency: Cards were 2 of 3 (66%). (Falcs were 3 of 3 for 100%).

    Time of Possession: Cards 28:38 / Falcs 34:22

  • Card rush defense gave up an average of 3.0 per rushing play (Card rushers averaged 3.5)

Bright Spots

  • Patchwork OL was far from perfect, but - given the hand they were dealt - they did a pretty good job.

    It's hard to say without watching a lot of tape, but Carson Palmer may have been an unsung hero, because he had to limit his passes to quicker-developing plays behind a make-shift OL. (We didn't like some of his double or triple clutching but sometimes, when you're under a lot of pressure, you gotta do what you gotta do).

  • D Johnson nickname should be: "Davey Touchdown." or "Pay-Dirt David."

    Welcome back Tyrann - you're starting to make your presence known out there.

The Dark Side

  • Carson Palmer threw another "gimme" to the opposing secondary (fortunately in the 4Q with the game pretty much out of reach).

  • Why did their DB's cover our WR's like a blanket while, by comparison, our guys played "off" their man by 10+ yards..

  • Falcs made a higher percentage plays than we did.

  • Shipley's various miscues (at least one penalty, at least one missed block and the aborted direct-snap may have cost us the football game.

    A matter of opinion, but I think BA and Bettcher were outcoached.

Last Word:
"Never say never", but hopes the Cardinal's playoff chances are beginning to blink less and less brightly. To their credit, Cardinal players competed with intensity for all 60-minutes. Let's just hope that some of that intensity is rewarded with a win or two...& that those of us who follow Cardinal football are rewarded for their loyalty.

(OT) Well...we got to see Menominee HS compete in the Michigan District 5 playoffs - & at least half the offensive plays they ran were Single Wing plays. (What was especially entertaining was listening to a couple of millenial announcers trying to figure out what that strange direct-snap formation really was). For football diehards, watching Menomonee run the Single Wing was a hoot. That's the good news: A series of 7 turnovers (including at least three direct-snaps over the head of the Menominee tailback led to their 43 - 7 drubbing by Grand Rapids West Catholic. (Note - The botched direct-snaps kind of reminded me of the Cardinals today).

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Copyright 1996 Gollin & Associates. Last modified: 11/26/2012