Found September 25, 2013 on
Sports Report Arizona:
In football, like many other sports, a good balance usually results in a positive outcome. Taking a look at recent Super Bowl champions show how important balance is to success. The Baltimore Ravens used Ray Rice on the ground to bludgeon opponents while quarterback Joe Flacco sliced them through the air. The New York Giants in 2011 used the same blueprint with Eli Manning and Ahmad Bradshaw. Finding a balance isn’t about having an even amount of yardage in the running and passing game, but rather being able to utilize both aspects of the offense effectively and above all efficiently. This is where the current Arizona Cardinals have found it difficult. Whether it’s a lack of personnel, coaching, or a combination of both, the Cardinals will continue to fail as a team until the offense can find a balance between attacking by air and attacking on the ground.
When head coach Bruce Arians was hired, excitement reverberated throughout the valley. Arians was fresh off a remarkable season in charge of the Indianapolis Colts in place of Chuck Pagano who was battling cancer. Arians led the Colts to a surprising wild card berth with rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and a primarily new look offense. The offense finished tenth in the league last season in total yards on offense. The belief was that Arians would jump start a stagnant Cardinals offense which finished 28th in passing yards, dead last in rushing yards, and dead last in overall offense.
Three games into the 2013 season and Cardinals fans are still waiting to see the offensive results. Currently the unit ranks 19th in passing yards, 23rd in rushing yards, and 23rd in overall yards. It is thus far a below average offense which is not much better than last season. Now at this point some may be wondering how a balanced attack would benefit the team if the numbers show the offense having struggles in both aspects. That is correct, a balanced but ineffective attack would do nothing to help the team win. However, we do not have any semblance of a balance with Arians’ offense this season.
When you take into consideration the number of attempts in the passing game versus the running game this season the numbers stand out quite drastically. Through three games, quarterback Carson Palmer and the offense have thrown the ball 115 times, good for 15th most in the league. By contrast, the offense has handed the ball off to the ground game just 67 times, or 9th least in the NFL. When adding in the amount of sacks to the total passing attempts, we see a 5.85 yards per play average. The running game is producing a 3.9 yards per play average. Not very efficient in terms of gaining yards in the passing game versus the running game.
Now one might say that the discrepancy can easily be traced to the fact that Arizona has needed to play from behind through most of the three games and have needed to throw the football. That would be partially correct, but against the Rams (week 1) and Lions (week 2), the Cardinals held leads and were in position to use the ground game. In both, Arians and the offense chose to air the ball out rather than establish the run game. Against the Saints this past week, the ground game was practically abandoned once the Cardinals fell behind by a score or two in the first half. It is that type of panic and neglect of balance which ends up hurting the offense and by extension the defense, who finds themselves with a faster turnaround to get back on the field.
The ground game would serve three purposes, it would prevent too much of the pressure to move the offense being placed on the shoulders of Palmer. While still a talented passer, Palmer has completed just 57% of his passes, connecting for 3 touchdowns but 4 interceptions. The interceptions have primarily come on throws forced into tight spots, usually double coverage. Palmer has looked his best operating with a good mix of run and pass. This in part to the second benefit of the ground game, making the pass protection more effective. The pass protection has been slightly improved over 2012, although going from horrendous to ugly isn’t quite the look many were hoping to see. Against the Rams and Saints, Palmer was sacked a total of 8 times. He’s fumbled twice on those sacks, the most important of those a lost fumble in the 4th quarter against the Rams in which the Cardinals led. The running game would keep defenses from keying on the quarterback and create better passing situations via play action and shorter down and distance combinations.
The final key translates to the Arizona defense. They are a unit who has seen the field nearly a whole two quarters more than the offense. At the end of the Saints game when the defense needed a few stops to keep the game close, they looked tired and were unable to shed blocks and make tackles. That type of wear is due to an overextended amount of time on the field. An effective ground game will provide enough rest for the defense to be able to make those critical stops late in the game which would allow the offense more of a chance to play balanced longer into the ball game.
In the end this offense isn’t suffering from a lack of talent at the quarterback position or of a lack of offensive talent, it is suffering from trying to be something it is not. This team is not a 40 passes, 400 passing yards, and 30 plus points a game team. This is a team who should be using a balanced attack and capitalizing on an opportunistic defense. Until the coaching staff takes that stance, this team will continue to struggle when it matters most.
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