Monday, December 30, 2013

Nice Try, Little Cardinal

It didn't wind up mattering, not with Tampa being blown out by the Saints, or Atlanta suffering a very Arizona-type loss last Monday night, but Arizona lost to the Niners 23-20. For some reason, the Cardinals thought it would be a good idea to spot the Niners a 17-point lead.

You'd think they would have learned from their last loss, against Philly, when they spotted the Eagles a 10 point lead. You can get away with that crap against the Jacksonville's of the world, but not actual good teams. And sure enough, Arizona, despite an impressive comeback that saw them tie the game at 17, then again at 20, wound up losing. Arizona lost the turnover battle, with Palmer throwing a pick and Mendenhall fumbling, while San Francisco committed no turnovers. It's only the second time all year Arizona failed to force a turnover, the other occasion being, you guessed it, the loss to Philadelphia.

Depending on which metric you use, Palmer may still have out-played Kaepernick. Quarterback rating leans heavily to Kaepernick, 111.2 to 89.4. ESPN's QBR actually gives the nod to Palmer, 73.8 to 68.6. Even beyond the fact the Niners won, I'd be inclined to give it to Kaepernick. He didn't turn the ball over, averaged 9.1 yards per attempt, and scrambled for an additional 24 yards. He was sacked twice, and I guess QBR is penalizing him for not accomplishing much in the middle of the game. After all, San Fran scored 17 points in the first quarter, then didn't accomplish doodley-squat until the last 2 minutes of the game.

Anyway, Palmer finishes 10-6, though he can hardly claim sole credit for those wins. Most of the losses are his, though. Even so, that makes him just the second Arizona QB with a winning record since I've followed them, and Palmer is at least considerably better than Jay Schroeder. Still, 22 INTs is unacceptable. Maybe he'd be better with another full year in Arians' system, especially if Arizona could upgrade the offensive line. But the persistent problem is he doesn't play that well against good teams. Or maybe it's more accurate to say he plays poorly to start against good teams, then rebounds later in the game. After he's put his team in a big hole. This week for example, the earlier loss to the Niners, last week against Seattle, the Eagles game. I'm not asking for him to come out and score two TDs each week in the first quarter - though that'd be swell - but at least stop shooting the team in the foot with turnovers. Arizona's defense was 6th in turnovers, but Arizona's 17th in turnover differential (at -1) in large part because of Palmer.

Mendenhall and Ellington both fell short of 700 yards rushing this year, as Arizona as a team had only 83 yards on 22 carries. Still beats San Francisco's 83 yards on 23 carries. Yeah, take that, Niners. Arizona had a whole 0.2 yards more per carry. If Mendenhall's going to be around next year, hopefully Arians puts his brain in gear and switches the number of touches the two backs get. Mendenhall averaged 15.7 touches, producing 54.7 yards. Ellington averaged 10.5 touches, netting 68.2 yards. Yeah, might want to get the productive back more touches next year.

Arizona might also want to upgrade their special teams. Feely missed 4 field goals from inside 40 yards, so maybe my confidence in him is misplaced. Or maybe it's just a bad stretch. I'm more concerned with their coverage and return units. Especially the return units. Peterson only averaged 6 yards per punt return, and Javier Arenas just 21.4 yards on kick returns. I don't know if that's down to the two of them, or if Arizona needs to work harder on blocking to open up lanes, but it needs to improve. The offense can use every bit of help it can get.



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