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2011 Cardinals Week 9: Five observations

11/10/2011

Five things I noticed while watching the Arizona Cardinals during their 19-13 overtime victory against the St. Louis Rams in Week 9:

  • Still no Fitzgerald on third down. The Cardinals targeted Larry Fitzgerald for passes 12 times in 35 attempts. That included eight of 17 times on first down, three of 11 times on second down and only once in seven chances on third down. Fitzgerald had no yardage on third down. He has four receptions for 60 yards on third down all season. Early Doucet has accounted for 248 of the team's 467 third-down receiving yardage. Even Andre Roberts has more third-down yardage (65) than Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has generally finished past seasons with closer to 20 receptions on third down. The team's overall third-down struggles could be to blame. Arizona's third-down conversion rate over the past two seasons has fallen to levels the team has not seen since 2001.

  • Too many missed tackles. On one play, Adrian Wilson threw his body at Steven Jackson without wrapping up. On another, Rashad Johnson bounced off Jackson. Linebacker Paris Lenon couldn't bring down receiver Greg Salas. Plays such as those helped the Rams possess the ball for more than 20 minutes of the first half.

  • About that running game. The Cardinals' running backs rushed for 32 yards, including only four yards on first down from starter Beanie Wells. That was probably the most disappointing aspect of the game from a Cardinals standpoint. Arizona is a vastly different team from a temperament standpoint when Wells is healthy enough to run hard. Wells, slowed by knee trouble, had been more productive playing hurt the week before.

  • General thoughts on Skelton. Coach Ken Whisenhunt qualified praise for John Skelton by saying the Cardinals' backup quarterback missed some basic plays. Whisenhunt would know all the particulars. my general feel watching the game was that Skelton seemed more comfortable than injured starter Kevin Kolb. A second-and-9 play early in the third quarter stood out. The Cardinals lined up in an offset-I formation with base personnel. The Rams rushed six and got immediate pressure with safety Quintin Mikell. Skelton dodged Mikell, moved purposefully to his left and threw a perfect touch pass to Roberts between defenders. Roberts dropped the ball or else this would have been a first down. A delay penalty set up third-and-14, but Skelton kept his poise, firing another perfect pass, this one to Doucet for a first down. Skelton has 48 yards on three attempts when facing third-and-11 or longer. Kolb has 95 yards on 19 such attempts.

  • Daryl Washington on the cusp. The second-year inside linebacker often looks like one of the better young defensive players in the league. He's exceptionally active against run and pass alike. He had a chance to make a game-changing play with four minutes left in the third quarter. Arizona trailed, 11-6, when Sam Bradford threw a pass to Salas underneath the coverage. Washington recognized the pass right away, accelerated into position and should have scored a touchdown on the play. Washington did everything but catch the pass. This was a good play that should have been a great one -- emblematic of the team's missed chances this season.

Time ran out on last week before I could finish five observations from the Cardinals' game against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 8. I'll pass along the notes I did take:

  • Humble beginnings. The first offensive play of a road game can be a tough one. The opposing crowd is at its loudest. I've wondered more than once why coaches don't run the ball a little more frequently on first plays, particularly in hostile conditions. The San Francisco 49ers took a sack on their first play at Detroit, for example. Why invite trouble? In this case, the Cardinals came out passing and gave up pressure right away. Terrell Suggs bull-rushed left tackle Levi Brown into Kolb's face before Kolb had time to react. Kolb had room if he would have stepped forward to his right, but in turning back to his left, he ran right into Suggs and fumbled. After a penalty gave the Cardinals a first down, the Cardinals ran the ball three times in a row, moving the chains. Much safer, smarter football under the circumstances.

  • Low man wins. Even the greatest players relearn tough lessons. That seemed to be the case when Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis absorbed a big hit from Cardinals right tackle Brandon Keith, forcing Lewis from the game with a stinger. Lewis was standing a little too upright near the line of scrimmage when Keith blasted him on a Beanie Wells running play to the right side. How much did the Ravens miss Lewis? It's tough to say, but Kolb completed a 66-yard pass over the middle to Fitzgerald on the first play Lewis missed.

  • Missed chance for Wilson. Wilson nearly picked off a pass in the end zone before Baltimore kicked a field goal to tie the game, 3-3. This would have been a difficult play to make because the ball was on Wilson quickly. Wilson, who made an athletic play to pick off Rex Grossman at Washington in Week 2, missed chances against Seattle, the New York Giants and now Baltimore. The Cardinals lost to the Seahawks by three, the Giants by four and the Ravens by three. They were a play or two away.