There are often discrete reasons that go a long way toward explaining a bad team’s badness. Look to the New York Giants, a team with a decent defense, perhaps the best receiver in the league, and a superhuman rookie running back that is nonetheless very bad because of one simple reason: they can’t block anyone. Otherwise talented teams are constantly being undone by single, season-ruining deficiencies. Maybe the coach is a dummy and always gets out-schemed. Maybe the quarterback can’t stop throwing picks. Maybe they have no pass rush.
No such easy explanations reveal themselves when considering the 2018 Arizona Cardinals, who fell to 0-2 after losing 34-0 to the Rams on Sunday. The box score does not contain a single, throbbing mark of disaster, such as a high number of turnovers or sacks allowed, that clearly demonstrates how the game got so out of hand. What we have instead is a rich mosaic of incompetent football. The Cardinals didn’t make any truly spectacular missteps, but instead played a game over which their badness persisted like a low, steady hum. It’s how they ended up with grim particulars such as these:
- The Cardinals did not cross midfield until the second-to-last play of the game. Before that, the farthest they’d advanced the ball was to their own 45, which happened on their first drive of the game.
- The Cardinals’ longest play of the game was a 15-yard completion to Larry Fitzgerald.
- The Cardinals’ longest drive of the game lasted for five minutes and 17 seconds. It consisted of six plays, started at their own two-yard line, and ended at their own 15-yard line.
- The Cardinals had just as many drives as the Rams (10) and amassed nearly 300 fewer total yards (137 to 432).
- Sam Bradford completed 17 passes for a grand total of 90 yards.
- The Cardinals had five first downs all game.
There’s just nothing going on with this team. Their offensive attack in this game consisted doomed runs up the middle from David Johnson and go-nowhere slant routes run by receivers who couldn’t get separation if Wade Phillips was playing corner. The defense spent the afternoon doing a decent job of stopping the Rams’ ground attack while also offering Jared Goff uncovered receivers in the middle of the field. It felt like every pass Goff threw turned into a 15- to 25-yard completion right between the hash marks.
First-year head coach Steve Wilks doesn’t seem to have any interesting ideas, nobody aside from David Johnson and Patrick Peterson seems to have any real talent, and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s playbook appears to be two pages long. What all this added up to on Sunday was a team that couldn’t even be bad in hilarious or memorable ways. The Cardinals were just there, uninteresting and inert, producing the sort of game that can best be described as a waking nap.
You want to hear something funny? As the second half of this game began, Fox sideline reporter Jen Hale told viewers that the Cardinals’ offense was planning to add in some “new wrinkles for this half after simplifying the first half.” As Hale concluded her report, the Cardinals began their first drive of the second half. The drive consisted of three David Johnson carries that went straight up the middle for a total of nine yards, followed by a punt.
With just over 11 minutes left to play in the third quarter and trailing 19-0, the Cardinals were given a chance to get themselves back into the game. Peterson intercepted Goff on the Arizona two-yard line, and Bradford managed to convert a third down from his own seven on the ensuing drive. The Cardinals had a little bit of breathing room and a fresh set of downs with which to try to start a long, potentially game-changing drive. Two plays later, they faced a third-and-six from their own 20, and then they did... whatever the hell this is:
Man, what? Was that supposed to a screen? To the tight end? Without any blockers in front of him? If you are a professional tape-eater, please explain to me what the Cardinals were trying to do on this third-down play, on which they gained negative-5 yards.
The Arizona Cardinals are now 0-2 and have been outscored 58-6. Their kicker has yet to attempt a single field goal or extra point. They are big-time ass.