The Arizona Cardinals should have won Sunday. They had every opportunity to stop their five-game losing streak.
Arizona forced six turnovers and was plus-five in that category. The Cardinals had six possessions that began within 35 yards of the Atlanta end zone. They held the Falcons to just one offensive touchdown and 58 rushing yards.
Still, the Cardinals managed to lose in Atlanta 23-19. Their losing streak now sits at six games.
What happened to this team?
It’s tough to remember now, but the Cardinals started 4-0. They weren’t winning pretty, but they were winning.
Since then it has been a free fall.
Their dreadful three-point performance in St. Louis on a Thursday night started it all. Then they couldn’t beat Buffalo at home. That was followed by four consecutive losses to above .500 teams.
The defense has played well, for the most part. But the offense has been miserable, at times unbearable to watch.
A lot goes into a losing streak that lasts more than a third of the season. But let’s look at the six biggest factors in the Cardinals’ six game losing streak:
Kevin Kolb was playing well early in the season. Maybe “well” is a stretch, but he did enough to help the Cardinals win some games. Kolb, however, suffered a rib injury sidelined Kolb in the fourth quarter of Arizona’s Week 6 overtime loss to the Bills. Ever since, the Cardinals quarterback play has been circling the drain.
John Skelton’s overtime interception directly led to that Buffalo loss, and his quarterback rating on the season is now 65.8. He was benched in the second quarter Sunday after going 2-of-7 for six yards to start the game.
Some guy named Ryan Lindley took over for Skelton, and on his third snap of the game (which also happened to be the third of his career) the ball was knocked loose and the Falcons returned the fumble for a touchdown.
Who’s Running The Rock?
Wells (toe) lasted three games before being struck by the injury bug struck; Williams (shoulder) made it five.
They rushed for combined 259 rushing yards on 73 carries, good for an average of 3.6 yards per attempt.
The 5-7 LaRod Stephens-Howling has had some success since taking over as the featured back (two 100-yard games), but he also had a 22-yard game against Buffalo and a six-yard stinker against San Francisco.
Nobody expected the Cardinals to have a strong ground game, but the occasional inability to run the ball has made things even more difficult for the signal caller, whoever that happens to be.
Follies Up Front
Nine. Five. Seven. Four. Two. Three.
That is the sack total for the Cardinals over their last six games. No matter who has lined up under center, he has been under fire.
Sunday, the Cardinals started two rookie tackles with seventh-round pick Nate Potter on the left side and fourth-round selection Bobby Massie on the right. Massie has started all 10 games this year, but Sunday was Potter’s first career start. He was replacing D’Anthony Batiste, who replaced Levi Brown during the preseason when the incumbent was placed on IR. Potter showed some promise Sunday, but, lining up across from All-Pro defensive end John Abraham, he also made his fair share of mistakes and at times looked like the seventh round draft pick that he was.
Right guard Adam Snyder also missed two games during the losing streak.
So while the pieces have changed, the results have been the same: Nowhere for the running backs to run and too many hits on the quarterbacks.
Let’s start by giving props to the defense. It is the only reason some of these games have even been close.
But when a team loses six straight, blame can be placed everywhere. And the defense has had a knack of giving up big plays lately.
Yes, the defense spends a lot of time on the field, but the lowlights above are inexcusable.
Red Zone Woes
When you get into the red zone, you have to score points. When you’re offense is as bad as the Cardinals’, you’d really like to score touchdowns because who knows when you’ll be that close to the end zone again.
But in 19 red zone trips over the past six games, Arizona has only managed six touchdowns.
The red zone play calling has been questionable. A lot of runs up the middle by the undersized Stephens-Howling and not enough jump balls to Larry Fitzgerald.
Strength of Schedule
Arizona’s victory over the Seahawks was against a rookie quarterback making his professional debut. It’s win over the Patriots was aided by kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who missed what was essentially a chip shot which would have beaten the Cardinals. And those wins over Philadelphia and Miami are looking weaker every week.
If you look at the Cardinals schedule, their last three games have come against three of the top seven teams in the NFL – San Francisco, Green Bay and Atlanta.
The contest before those came against a Minnesota squad that was 4-2 at the time.
So things have been difficult from a scheduling standpoint.
But the Cardinals have a very winnable home game this week against the Rams and should be able to stop the streak.
If they do, 5-6 doesn’t look that bad and there will be a collective sigh of relief in the desert. If it doesn’t win, Arizona could be streaking for a long time.