The Cardinals need to become more proficient scoring touchdowns in the red zone.
When the Cardinals took their midgame breather against the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday afternoon, they found one word awaiting them on the whiteboard in their locker room.
It might still be there when they return to University of Phoenix Stadium for this weekend's game against the San Diego Chargers. The Cardinals struggled through their first two preseason games where it counted most: Inside the 20-yard-line. Their red zone efficiency, which only accounts for touchdowns, is only 11 percent. In nine trips inside the 20, the Cards have scored just once, on a 1-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Drew Stanton to rookie receiver Jaron Brown in Green Bay.
"I'm disappointed in the red zone," coach Bruce Arians said. "We talk a lot about production time, not possession time. And possession time doesn't do anything to me.
"You can hold it for 35 minutes and if you score 15 points you're probably going to get beat. It's production time. What
do you do with the ball when you have it?"
Arians' objective is to score a point a minute, a goal he reached a few times last year in Indianapolis and on more than a few occasions in Pittsburgh. But the Cardinals can't seem to get across the goal line. They're averaging 14.5 points per game in about 33 minutes per game with the ball -- not quite the equation Arians had in mind.
Arians blamed the bevy of missed opportunities in the red zone on mental errors, which are magnified as the offense approaches the end zone. There was Michael Floyd's fumble from the 4-yard-line in the first quarter and a pair of Palmer mishaps inside the 10, the first when he threw behind Alfonso Smith and then he grounded a pass at Rashard Mendenhall's feet. Stanton was intercepted at the 2. And rookie running back Andre Ellington ran a pattern at the 2 instead of at the goal line.
"Rookie mistake," Arians said. "Little things that are easily correctible but I'm tired of seeing them."
The Cardinals didn't spend much time on their red zone offense on Monday, instead patching up mental mistakes on various plays, Mendenhall said. But the running back expects to spend plenty of time inside the 20 the rest of the week.
"When the field's condensed like that, you can't really afford to mess up like that," he said. "I think it's mental errors. If we're where we're supposed to be then we can turn those drives into points.
"We're closer than we think."
Larry Fitzgerald, who struggled with coming off the line of scrimmage quick enough in the red zone, said the new offense needs to adjust to the speed of that area of the field.
Arians calls the red zone the "grimy" area because of the difficulty finishing plays inside the 20, and when they happen, they're usually because someone is scraping and clawing their way to a touchdown.
He's pleased with the Cardinals' play between the 20s and with Palmer's ability to march the offense downfield. But that doesn't produce touchdowns, Arians added.
"You can't go 96 yards," he said, "and not get anything."
The Cardinals need to go back to the white board, and finish.