WR Larry Fitzgerald
Following another blowout loss against a playoff-caliber team, the Arizona Cardinals head east for difficult matchup in New England. For the third time in four games, Arizona was dominated in all facets of the game leaving several questions to be answered over the final weeks of the regular season. Brad Wilbricht examines if the Cardinals’ late-season swoon will lead to an early playoff exit.
Although the Arizona Cardinals have already wrapped up the NFC West division, their recent struggles leave little optimism heading into the postseason. Three of the Cardinals' previous four outings have come against playoff contenders, all games in which they’ve faltered. In those three losses, Arizona has been outscored 120-63 by the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. New York has already clinched a spot in the postseason while Minnesota and Philadelphia are still trying to secure a playoff berth.
The Cardinals have won only two games against teams with a winning record this season. They defeated the Miami Dolphins in Week 2 and knocked off the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6. Arizona’s only other win against a non-divisional opponent came against the Buffalo Bills who have collapsed to lose seven of their last eight games.
While the Cardinals have performed formidably against inferior competition from the NFC West, they’ve been largely unsuccessful elsewhere. Arizona has lost by 21-plus points three times this season and has been outscored 227-138 in its six losses. The Cardinals have offset those porous numbers by outscoring their divisional foes 146-80.
The main culprit behind Arizona’s struggles this year has been an inept running game. The Cardinals are averaging a mere 73 yards per game rushing and only 3.3 yards per carry. Veteran RB Edgerrin James has spent the majority of the team’s last seven games on the sidelines, carrying the ball only seven times during that span. Rookie RB Tim Hightower took over as the starter in Week 9 but has managed to rush for more than 35 yards in a game just once.
RB Edgerrin James
Arizona’s passing attack remains productive, but QB Kurt Warner’s numbers continue to drop. Warner’s QB rating is down to 97.5 and he’s been held to a rating of less than 80.0 in three of his last four games. Furthermore, Warner has tossed five interceptions in his last three outings and has been picked off at least once in five straight contests.
Complicating Warner’s problems has been the decline of the Cardinals’ offensive line. In addition to providing little room in the running game, they’ve been unable to keep Warner upright in recent weeks. The Vikings stampeded Arizona with four sacks while the Giants and Eagles were able to rattle Warner with constant pressure in the pocket.
Prior to a Week 17 showdown against the Seattle Seahawks, the Cardinals have one final opportunity to show up against a worthy opponent. Arizona makes its fifth East Coast road trip of the season this week, a place where they’ve been unable to overcome the cross-country journey. If the Cardinals fail to reverse those fortunes against the New England Patriots, their hopes of a lengthy playoff run will grow even more unlikely.
Brad Wilbricht can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org