Hall of Fame Game. Cards came off a disappointing 2016 season marked by meltdowns in special teams play.
They enter 2017 minus Pro Bowl DT Calais Campbell, 2 starting safeties and a major questionmark at #2 corner.
They restocked their defense with elder-statesmen S Antoine Bethea and 2-time Cardinal alum LB Karlos Dansby. Blaine Gabbert was brought in to push backup QB Drew Stanton and to add depth. Notable draft pickups worth watching include LB Hassan Reddick, S Budda Baker and WR Chad Williams. A number of FA wide receivers (with varying levels of size and speed) merit attention as do veterans attempting to bounce all the way back from injuries (including WR John Brown and DB Tyrann Mathieu). Would Robert Nkemdiche turn around what was, to some, a disappointing rookie year? The Cardinal approach to apparent weakness at #2 CB was a "throw enough mud against the wall " approach" with many contenders battling to become starters. Would any rookies, FA's or returning vet corners step up to the challenge?
What (& who) we paid extra-close attention to -
Gabbert... TJ Logan...Stud WR Chad Williams....FA wideouts (notably big guys, Hogan and Agadus)i... Line play on both sides of the ball....New NT additions (Afau and Moala)...Have light bulbs turned on for Nkemdiche?...LB's Reddick and Scooby Wright...Returning corners Bethela and B Williams...New CB vets T Williams and Carter...Budda Baker...Special Teams play.
"Muffed FG Tries Sink Cards (Again)"
The Bottom Line:
Cards looked sharp on both sides of the ball zooming to a 15 - 0 firat quarter lead, but then mailed it in for the final 3 quarters and wound up 20 - 18 losers. Same old culprets: Special Teams and CB.
We know, we know - it was only the first preseason game, and our starters were only used as "sideline lawn furniture" but bad habits have an odd way of becoming an ingrained part of team culture. This includes (make that "really includes") sloppy special teams play. The Cards lost at least 4 games last year due to botched FG attempts and other apects of special teams play, but 2 missed FG's cost us last night's game and caused all kinds of alarm bells to go off in our sleepy heads.
But enough overreacting. Who stood out?
Gabbert looked "Carson Palmer sharp"...Logan had all the earmarks of an explosive return-man (until he hurt his wrist late in the 4th quarter)...Verdict still out on young receivers like C Williams, Agadusi and Hogan)...Golden seems to be the WR "gold standard" (i.e. if no one else steps up, we could do far worse than having him as our #6 guy)....OL (First Unit) - Allowed no sacks. Often (but not always) opened up holes for RB and made backups (KW, Ellington and Logan look good)...DL - Kind of up & down (No sacks...some pressure...gave up few long runs but were ball-faked too often throughout the game)....Reddick was praised by TV guys but we had a hard time seeing it on our screen)...Wright looked woefully slow...No one sparkled at CB - B Williams was toasted most of the game before redeeming himself with a pick in the end zone. Of all the guys contending for a bigger role, Jarrell Carter seemed closest to being game-ready....We botched 2 FG's (one from 51/the other a chip shot). (All together now - The definition of "crazy?")
Side Note - NBC game coverage was too much like People Magazine and not enough like The Sporting News. Started out with a Dallas Informercial an spent too much time interviewing HOF selectees on the sidelines instead of covering the game itself..
Gabbert led the Cards to two early scores to build a 15 - 0 lead, but - after the first-line players left the game - let the lead disappear and (on with 2 missed FG's leading the way), would up on the wrong end of a 20 - 18 loss.
Cards received. TB on KO...Cards started from their own 25. Gabbert led Cards on an 8-play drive capped by a 5-yard KW touchdown run off LT. Cards 7 - Dallas 0.
Dallas returned KO to their own 26...Cards held them to 3 & out. Punt (net roughness flag on Dallas) gave Cards ball on their own 36. Gabbert sacked on first play. Completions of +20 and +26 yards to TE's Niklas and Momah set up a 13-yard run off RT by Ellington and a 3 yard Ellington TD run off left guard. Dallas penalty set up a successful 2-pointer (with Gabbert running up the middle for +1. Cards 15 - Dallas 0.
KO. returned to Dallas 11....A 46-yard completion to Butler (over Ford) and a deep right TD completion to Geathers (over Gallon) made it: Cards 15 - Dallas 7.
Logan returned the KO to the Card 36. A Gabbert-to-Ross 29-yard hookup moved the ball to the Dallas 33 end the quarter.
1st Quarter Score: Cards 15 - Dallas 7.
Two plays into the quarter, Gabbert was sacked for minus-12 yards...Card punt was fair cught at the Dallas 12...Cards had a hard time containing RB A. Morris - who gained +4, +7 and +25 yds...A 32 yd completion to Butler (over Brandon Williams) and a pass interference flag on B Williams helped set up a 23-yd Hill FG. Cards 15 - Dallas 10.
KO was out of bounds. Cards started from their own 40 but were held to 3 & out. Fair catch at the 20. A 20-yard completion to Jones (over Baker)TB on the KO keyed what looked to be a 5:54 80-yard TD drive, but perennial victim Brandon Williams partly redeemed himself with a nifty interceptiom of K Moore's pass in the end zone. Cards then moved to the Dallas 33-yd line, but Leone's 51-yd FG attempt on the 2nd-to-last play of the half was wide left.
First Half Score: Cards 15 - Dallas 10.
TB on the KO. 22-yd pass interference flag on R Lewis and 17 yd pass from C Rush to Gathers (vs. Baker)...set up a 14-yd TD pass to Nwachukwu. Dallas 17 - Cards 15
TB on the KO. 3 & out (Holding call on Munyer declined). Punt returned to Dallas 27. Dallas held to 3 & out Punt (net holding call on Bundy) returned to Card 30. Knignt to C Williams completion for +19 pass interference on Dallas for +17 yds set up a successful 40-yard Wiley FG. Cards 18 - Dallas 17.
TB on the KO. A 16-yd throw to Gathers (over Ford) was the key highlight of an unsuccessful 8-play Dallas possession that ended in a 43-yd punt. Cards took over on their 8-yd line and ran one play to wrap up the 3rd quarter before going 3 & out.
Third Quarter Score: Cards 18 - Dallas 17.
Dallas capped a 7 play drive with a 43-yd Hill FG. Dallas 20 - Cards 18
Logan returned the KO to the Card 22. A face-mask call on Dallas and a 25-yd completion to Hogan set up a 32-yard Wile FG that coulld have been the game-winner (except for Wiley hooking it far to the left).
Dallas took over at its own 22 with 7:03 left. Cards held them to 3 & out...Dallas then held us to 3 & out....Dallas ball on its own 25 with 4:26 left. Cowboys ran all but 0:43 off the clock before punting from the Cardinal 40. (One killer - a "12-men on the field" flag on AZ). Punt downed at the Card 20.
Knight managed to get Cards out to their own 35 before time ran out (Knight got lots of 2-minute reps under his belt during that possession).
Final Score: Dallas 20 - Cards 18
Notable Game Stats.
Gabbert was 11 for 14(185 yards, 0 TD and 0 picks). Knight was 5 for 14 (68 yards, 0 TD and 0 picks).
It was RB by spread out committee, with Logan(4 for 24) the top ball carrier
Max number of catches were by Momaj (3 for 48)
Cardinal Run/Pass Ratio: . (Runs: 27 /Pass: 28).
Wiley was 1 for 2 and Leone 0 - 1 on FG's
Net punting average: 36.6 (Dallas punter netted 34.8)
Ford and Gallon led the team in tackles (9) followed by Bazzie (8) and Baker 6)
Card QB's were sacked twice
Cards were 4 for 11 (36%) in Third Down Efficiency. Dallas was 7 for 16 (43%) and 2 for 2 in 4th down efficiency.
Red Zone Efficiency: Cards 2 for 3 (66%). Dallas 0for 0 (0%)
Penalties: Cards were penalized 8 times (compared to Dallas' 11)
Time of Possession: Cards 25:14 - Dallas .34:46
Card defense gave up an average of 3.3 yds per rushing play (Card rushers averaged 3.4
Momah had 3 catches and at least one key block.
Budda Baker said to have impressive outing.
Nice bat-down by K-Mart.
Logan adds poise and explosion
Nkemdiche played solidly
The two NT's (Anau and Moala) took care of business.
Carter showed promise at CB. Does he have enough straight line speed?
The Dark Side
Was it just me? Or did it just seem as if - as a group - the Dallas players had roughly a 25 IQ point advantage over our guys?
Two missed FGs cost us the game (again!)
12-men on field call? Seriously?
Scooby looked a step slow.
Sloppy run tackling vs. Morris
Nice RAC by Chad Williams
Card pass defenders losing track of Dallas receivers in intermediate zone.
It's easy to overreact, but: I still feel we have unanswered questions at #5 and #6 WR, #2 CB along with depth issues at LB.
But to balance that out - I feel a lot better about our depth at QB and RB.
Finally - whether it be in "real" or "pretend" games - we cannot let missed FG's and sloppy special teams play become an ingrained part of the Cardinals' team identity to be ignored at our peril.