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Safety First For Offense

Posted Oct 22, 2012

Smart plays at the right time would aid Cardinals' issues

Quarterback John Skelton delivers a pass during Sunday's loss in Minnesota.

The Cardinals want to execute better offensively, but in their world of a strong defense and close games, just taking care of the football – and taking advantage when the other team doesn’t -- ought to be enough.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt noted that Monday with some day-after analysis of the 21-14 loss in Minnesota Sunday. Quarterback John Skelton threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, and fumbled away the ball when the Cardinals were inside the Vikings’ 20-yard line for a virtual chip shot field goal.

Add in Jay Feely’s actual field-goal miss on the final play of the first half after the Vikings handed the Cardinals a gift interception, and that’s a 13-point swing, Whisenhunt said. It’s a swing that, regardless of the other frequent stalls offensively against the Vikings, likely provided the difference in the game.

“That has been a big difference for us (as opposed to) the first four games,” Whisenhunt said.

During the Cards’ season-opening four-game winning streak, they turned the ball over six times, which was subsequently turned into only 16 points for the opposition – including an end-zone interception for the Dolphins that Miami then got an 80-yard touchdown pass on the very next play.

In the three games since, the Cards only have five turnovers, so the frequency hasn’t spiked much. And the lone turnover against St. Louis was at the end of the game, a fumble once the result was basically decided. Against Buffalo, though, Skelton’s overtime interception allowed the Bills their game-winning field-goal option, while the Cards could only get three points after a game-opening fumble by the Bills. Then came the Minnesota frustration.

“We aren’t handling our side of the ball,” running back LaRod Stephens-Howling said.

The Cardinals still haven’t allowed more than 21 points in a game to any of their six opponents. There is little question every game is going to come down to close – the Cards have been living that way for a long time now – but being effective at key times could get them back to winning ways.

Even Whisenhunt acknowledged, even with a couple of turnovers during the winning streak, the Cardinals were able to make plays to overcome those, especially offensively.

“It’s hard to reiterate the same things (every week) but what you are trying to explain is to the fans,” guard Daryn Colledge said. “In the locker room, we know what we are dealing with and what we need to do. When you watch it on TV, it’s hard for the normal fan not to say, ‘It’s easy, why aren’t you guys making the plays?’ It’s not as easy as it looks. We know what we need to do. We made a run at the end of the year last year with these guys. And I think we can do it again.”

The Vikings had a very specific plan against the Cardinals, not blitzing at all and keeping two safeties back and making sure wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald couldn’t hurt them. It gave room for Stephens-Howling to rush for 104 yards, but it also forced longer drives that the Cards weren’t able to complete save for one late in the fourth quarter.

The Cards gained yardage, but never enough.

“It felt like we were playing better than what the scoreboard showed,” Stephens-Howling said. “It felt like we should have been putting points on the board and we weren’t doing that.”

Points aren’t going to come like they did in the Kurt Warner-era, but then again, they aren’t needed as much either. With the defense among the top five in the NFL in terms of average points allowed, it doesn’t take much for the offense to feel it is close to at least being good enough.

The game a week from Monday against NFC West rival San Francisco only heightens the urgency.

“This isn’t baseball,” Colledge said. “We only have so many games. You play long enough, you realize that. You let one like (Sunday) slip away, the one like Buffalo slip away, it’s difficult.

“It’s that time of year where we have to make a decision,” Colledge added. “We’ve got a chance to take the division lead with the tiebreakers. Either this is the time to decide it’s time to step up or it’s time to step down.”

Smart football will help in that quest, Whisenhunt said.

“I don’t think there’s anything positive about dropping three straight,” Whisenhunt said. “It’s frustrating because we’ve been so close. With one kick against Buffalo at the end of the game, we’re not even having this discussion. That’s how close the margins are in the NFL.

“We’ve got to focus on not making mistakes. If we can take care of that, we’ve got a good chance to win, and that’s really what’s important.”

EXTRA POINTS

Whisenhunt said the status of safety Kerry Rhodes (back) would be determined how he does in practice this week. Because of the Monday night game, the Cards don't have to put out an injury report until Thursday. ...

Whisenhunt said backup guard Rich Ohrnberger "did OK" in replacing starter Adam Snyder, who left the game with a quad contusion. "I'm certainly glad we had him," Whisenhunt said. "He matched up as far as having played the game and understanding what he has to do." ...

Free-agent offensive lineman Chris Williams, whom the Cardinals had been interested in signing, signed with the St. Louis Rams Monday.


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