Cardinals running back Stepfan Taylor is stopped short of the goalline on third down against the Vikings last week.
The sequence started with a touchdown that wasn't.
David Johnson scampered 26 yards for a score against the Vikings, except that replay showed the running back was down at the Minnesota 2-yard line. So the Cardinals got a first-and-goal at the two – and proceeded to gain no yards on a Stepfan Taylor run, lose seven yards on a sack and then get just four yards back on a dump pass.
A short field goal was next, and a long drive that looked like it would put the Cardinals up two touchdowns created only a 10-point lead from which the Vikings later were able to even the score.
"It's little things that turn into big things," quarterback Carson Palmer said.
The Cardinals' offense remains one of the best in the league. But after a mini-bye during which much self-scouting took place, the offense would like to finish such drives. Bruce Arians had already said the loss of late leads is more on an offense that isn't putting teams away, and Palmer noted after the game the Cards must find a way to pull away when given the chance.
"You never want to count on somebody other than yourself," Palmer said of the offense's duty to keep up the scoring pace. "You want to put pressure on yourself, you want to stress the importance of every play, every drive. That's something we are continuously working on, efficiency.
"All those things add to more points."
Since two emotional wins against Super Bowl contenders Seattle and Cincinnati, the Cardinals have had some offensive hiccups against the 49ers, Rams and Vikings. It's a season-long battle despite the Cards having the second-most points and the most yards in the NFL.
Of late, it's the red-zone and short-yardage game the team wants to improve. Two red-zone stalls against the Vikings and two early short field-goals against the 49ers made both games much closer than expected.
Arians was also frustrated with a failure on a third-and-1 – Kerwynn Williams was stuffed for no gain – that
stopped the Cardinals from answering a fourth-quarter Minnesota field goal. The Vikings got the ball back and scored the tying touchdown.
"You've got to go back and score," Arians said. "You can't go three-and-out."
The defenses have been better of late – both the Rams and Vikings were top-10 in scoring defense, although Minnesota was missing key defenders due to injury – but the Cardinals have played well enough this season it shouldn't matter. The Seahawks were the second-best scoring defense when they hosted the Cards and Arizona scored 39 points – 37 on offense.
"I can only speak for me, but I've been frustrated," wide receiver John Brown said. "We want to drive and score points. Those are the things we have to work on. We could easily put teams away fast."
Even when the Cardinals have scored touchdowns, ease hasn't been part of the equation. The one-yard Johnson run for a touchdown that capped the crazy nine-plays-inside-the-5 in San Francisco featured three runs from the 1- or 2-yard line that netted negative-four yards.
The Cards have even passed a couple of times on third-and-1 in the last three games, passes that have gone for first downs as the team simply looks to move the chains the best they can.
"I think there's tons of room for improvement; obviously on third and fourth down situations, the 3rd-and-short stuff," Palmer said. "Those are drive killers and we've shot ourselves in the foot with those. There is no area that we're patting ourselves on the back about.
"We're always improving. We're out there for two-and-a-half hours every day. We have great practices. We have very focused practices and it's because we're trying to get better, because there is a lot of room for improvement."