Break It Down: A complete collapse by the Arizona Cardinals
Arizona Cardinals quarterbacks threw 11 passes in Larry Fitzgerald’s direction Sunday. Fitzgerald caught one for two yards … and Seattle’s defense intercepted three.
About everything that could have gone wrong for the Cardinals did in a humiliating 58-0 loss to the Seahawks, but Fitzgerald’s horrid afternoon is a good place to start. The setback was Arizona’s ninth straight, following a 4-0 start that looks even more baffling now than it did when it was happening.
A lot of blame, rightfully, has fallen on head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who will finish out the regular season but seems destined for a firing.
“Let me start by saying I apologize to our fans and everybody associated with our organization,” Whisenhunt said in his press conference following the loss. “That was embarrassing today.”
This was one of those “burn the tape” type of losses — there was not much for Whisenhunt and his staff to gain by rewatching the debacle. That’s because the blowout defeat in Seattle was a total team meltdown. From awful quarterback play to an ever-struggling offensive line to an unprepared defense, the Cardinals never had a chance.
How did it all go so horribly wrong for Arizona on Sunday? That’s the subject of this week’s Break It Down:
First and foremost, Larry Fitzgerald should not have one-catch games. He’s too talented, too physically gifted to be taken totally out of an offensive game plan. And yet, Week 14 marked the fourth time this season he’s hauled in just one pass.
The latest nightmare so enraged his father that Larry Fitzgerald Sr. took to Twitter to rip the “pathetic” Cardinals.
John Skelton was at QB for all three of the INTs on passes intended for Fitzgerald (Ryan Lindley, who relieved Skelton, misfired on all five targets of Fitzgerald). The first interception was a bit of bad luck — Skelton tried to squeeze a quick slant into Fitzgerald between two defenders, but the pass was slightly off, Fitzgerald had it ripped from his arms and it bounced wildly over to Bobby Wagner.
The other two turnovers: less misfortune, more Arizona error.
It’s hard to get a handle on the first interception entirely without knowing what the play call was supposed to be. Fitzgerald took off on what looked like a fly pattern; Skelton either way underthrew a back-shoulder fade or thought Fitzgerald was curling back to the line.
Either way, Richard Sherman read it and jumped the route for a pick-6.
Another look below — Fitzgerald actually had some space to the outside, had Skelton delivered the ball there. Where the pass actually ended up, though, a pair of Seahawks undercut it.
Communication, decision-making, poor execution. All three were themes for Skelton and the Cardinals throughout Sunday’s collapse.
Skelton at least appeared to know where Fitzgerald was headed on interception No. 3. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the Seahawks had multiple players tracking Fitzgerald, and Skelton did nothing to throw them off the scent.
Fitzgerald initially lined up next to Skelton in the shotgun, then motioned out of the backfield. See if you can figure out where he is on the field during the play based on where Skelton looked …
Skelton did such a terrible job looking off the safeties that Kam Chancellor (red line, above) was cheating to his left immediately after Skelton took the snap, then made a beeline toward that side of the field.
Before Skelton even let go of the ball, Sherman — who started the play covering Andre Roberts — had let Roberts go toward Chancellor so he could double-back on Fitzgerald.
The play never had a chance.
Fitzgerald already draws enough attention without his quarterback blatantly tipping the intended target. But Skelton did the same thing when trying to find Andre Roberts on what would be Skelton’s fourth and final INT of the day (and fifth turnover).
Skelton honed in on Roberts, who was running a crossing route, and apparently never even picked up Wagner. Arizona’s starting QB simply made things way too easy for Seattle’s defense.
Comparing Skelton to Seattle QB Russell Wilson, too, makes Skelton’s day look even worse. Granted, a lot of Seattle’s offensive success can be attributed to consistent breakdowns by Arizona’s D, but Wilson needed just seven completions to throw for 148 yards and a touchdown.
His biggest completion came on the last play of the first quarter and went for 67 yards to Anthony McCoy. Unlike those Skelton examples above, where the Cardinals’ quarterback quickly locked in on his target, Wilson kept the Arizona defense on its heels.
On the completion to McCoy, Wilson faked a handoff to Marshawn Lynch, scanned the field to his right, then came back left to an uncovered McCoy. Arizona S Adrian Wilson (red X) followed McCoy in motion pre-snap, then blitzed, while the Cardinals’ linebackers bit on the play fake.
By the time the Cardinals’ defense figured out what was happening, it was too late and McCoy was streaking free deep.
Wilson and Lynch pulled off a run-fake on multiple occasions to keep Arizona’s defense flailing — and that defense had problems all day maintaining assignments, both in the run game (which we’ll get to) and against the pass.
The play pictured below was a 12-yard pass from Wilson to fullback Michael Robinson. Again, it opened with a play-action fake, which caught the attention of just about every Arizona defender.
Robinson, meanwhile, slipped out of the backfield unattended to, allowing him to turn upfield for extra yardage. This was another good fake by Wilson and solid execution by Seattle. For Arizona, however, it’s further proof that the defense had absolutely no awareness of what was occurring within the Seahawks’ offense.
One more example, this one from the closing moments with Matt Flynn in at QB. He faked a handoff to Leon Washington — quite frankly, a pretty poor play-action attempt — and then hit a wide-open Doug Baldwin on a crossing pattern as Arizona LB Darryl Washington (red arrow) flew toward the line because of that run fake.
One Wilson INT aside, the Seahawks performed almost flawlessly on both sides of the ball. And the Cardinals could not have done more wrong.
As promised, let’s take a quick look at Seattle’s success on the ground, starting with the first of two Marshawn Lynch TD runs — this one, a 20-yarder.
Lynch took the handoff from Wilson on a play designed to go right. The Cardinals had him walled off that direction, so he reversed field and headed back left. That’s where it all fell apart for Arizona.
Cornerback Greg Toler had a chance to string Lynch out to his left, but instead tried to run a straight-line attack at Lynch — taking him out of the play entirely. Meanwhile, William Gay was unable to get off a block by Sidney Rice, then let Wilson seal him off outside without even making contact.
Pin the blame anywhere you want there: the scheme, the effort, the tackling … it’s all subpar.
The same went for Lynch’s 33-yard touchdown later in the game. The Seahawks not only won the battle up front on that play, they absolutely dominated. Lynch had a monster hole to cut up through, and the last Arizona defender with a shot (S Rashad Johnson) gave a half-hearted effort to try to dive at Lynch’s legs.
He whiffed and Lynch headed to the end zone.
The obvious: Arizona was not ready to play on Sunday.
Is that Whisenhunt’s fault? You bet, at least to an extent. The Cardinals had no tangible plan in place to get Larry Fitzgerald the ball, seemed extremely unprepared for both Seattle’s run game and its play-action passing attack, and failed to win any effort battles all afternoon.
Over the course of a 16-game season, a team will go through offensive slumps. Its quarterback will hit a rut or the defense will struggle to get off the field.
When all of those things happen simultaneously, the result usually is ugly. And it doesn’t get much more deplorable than the Cardinals’ 58-point loss.