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Third Down Trouble Dooms Cardinals Defense

Posted Sep 11, 2016

Notes: David Johnson's big day; Special teams falters; Williams struggles; Mathis hurt

The Cardinals had trouble making key stops in the loss to the Patriots on Sunday night.

Markus Golden slapped his leg in frustration when the statistic was relayed to him.

Sixteen times in Sunday night’s 23-21 loss, the Cardinals had the Patriots and their backup quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, facing third down. Ten times New England successfully converted.

“Damn, man,” the Cardinals linebacker said. “Any time somebody does that, that ain’t good for the defense and for the team. We take pride in pass rushing and getting them off the field on third down. We’ve got to do better.”

Even without star quarterback Tom Brady and star tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots put together an efficient offensive showing. Garoppolo finished the night 24-of-33 passing for 264 yards and a touchdown.

After a slow start, the Cardinals defense seemed to find a groove as Golden and defensive tackle Frostee Rucker forced a pair of fumbles which led to 14 points.

The Cardinals led 21-20 after a Larry Fitzgerald touchdown catch, but the Patriots responded by driving 61 yards on their ensuing possession for the game-winning field goal. New England converted a third-and-15, a third-and-3 and a third-and-11 on the drive to get Stephen Gostkowski to within makeable range.

“I thought that was the whole game,” coach Bruce Arians said. “We could not get off the field on third down.”


Running back David Johnson responded well in his first game as the starting running back. He carried the ball 16 times for 89 yards and a touchdown, including a highlight reel 45-yarder that had quarterback Carson Palmer harkening back to last year’s tremendous scoring run against the Eagles.

He also added four catches for 43 yards, putting Patriots defenders on ice skates in space. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald dubbed Johnson ‘The Monster’ after his performance.

“The guy is unbelievable,” Fitzgerald said. “We have to find a way to keep getting the ball in his hands. He is a guy that can change the complexion of the game with one touch.”


The Cardinals pledged to improve on special teams this year, but there wasn’t much evidence of that in the opener. A low snap by Kameron Canaday and subsequent missed field goal by Chandler Catanzaro with 37 seconds left was the most glaring mistake, as it sealed the loss.

The punting game wasn’t good as the Cardinals’ net punting average of 32.4 was eight yards worse than the Patriots. The kick return game “was awful,” Arians said.


Cornerback Brandon Williams had a pair of glaring mistakes in his NFL debut. He gave up a 37-yard touchdown to Chris Hogan on the Patriots’ opening possession, when Hogan got behind him in what Arians called a “totally busted coverage.”

Later in the game, Williams tried to bat down a ball and didn’t have enough leverage to make the subsequent tackle. Malcolm Mitchell picked up 28 yards on the play and LeGarrette Blount scored on the next snap.


Guard Evan Mathis injured his foot in the second quarter and left the game. He returned after intermission, but only for a short stint before heading back to the locker room. Earl Watford replaced him on the line.

Rucker injured his knee and didn’t return. Wide receiver J.J. Nelson hurt his shoulder and didn’t return, although Arians said he could have if needed.

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