Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald takes the ball downfield after a catch Saturday against Dallas.
The echoes of last year's Cardinals were heard around University of Phoenix Stadium Saturday, and that didn't sit well with Bruce Arians.
The defense created turnover after turnover, which should have set the offense up for success. Instead, the Cardinals' first-year head coach, who lamented after the preseason opener that his team had left too many points on the field, had the same problem against the Dallas Cowboys despite a 12-7 win.
The offense, a work-in-progress, still moved the ball. It's still coming along well enough, Arians said. But the touchdowns are lacking, and that's not just a problem in regular season games.
"It's not acceptable now," Arians said, adding, "we have to learn to score touchdowns."
It wasn't so much the missing points as much as the number of times the Cardinals (2-0) could've scored. Five times the Cowboys (1-2) turned the ball over in the first half, leading to 49
first-half offensive plays – and just nine points, a result Arians called "horrendous."
But as always – even in the preseason – things are easier to digest after a win. Special teams played well (forcing one of the six total turnovers) and Arians was mostly happy with his defense. And the defense remains encouraged by their offensive counterparts regardless of what happened against the Cowboys.
It's not as if the Cards didn't move the ball -- 365 yards -- and even Arians noted his team gained yards. Just not enough inside the red zone.
"Oh no, no, no. I'm not worried about that at all," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "I know they will get points on the board. Our offense, they can put points on the board. I have no doubt about it in my mind. We will get the ball and they will put points up."
In the first half alone, the first-team defense had two interceptions (by cornerback Jerraud Powers and safety Tony Jefferson) and two forced fumbles (by Powers and safety Yeremiah Bell). The punt coverage team also forced a fumble thanks to gunner Justin Bethel.
"We're still out there making mistakes we shouldn't make," Powers said. "You probably can't see it because you have a turnover here, a turnover there, everyone is flying around. But we can be better than we've shown."
Arians said the run defense was improved – the Cowboys (1-2) had just 44 yards on 16 carries – although he was disappointed in the explosive plays Dallas had in the passing game. That said, the Cardinals seemingly came up with turnover after turnover to wipe out the impact of any of those plays, enough so that the Cards kept their shutout streak alive into an eighth quarter of the preseason.
The Cardinals allowed their first points of 2013, a touchdown pass from third-string QB Alex Tanney to tight end Gavin Escobar, with 10:55 left in the game.
"We'll have to come up with a good fine for the players who were on the field for the players who gave up the first points of the year," Arians deadpanned. "I'm sure the veterans will come up with something special for that."
There will be no such penalty for the offense' struggles, although there will be more work. The best chance for a touchdown seemed to come right after the Bethel forced fumble set the Cards up on the Dallas 22-yard line. The Cardinals got to first-and-10 on the 11, but stumbled.
First was a run for no yards, then a four-yard pass to Andre Roberts. On third down, Palmer tried to hit running back Alfonso Smith near the goal line, but the pass looked a little off target – and it looked like wide receiver Michael Floyd might have been open in the back of the end zone.
Palmer said he'd have to watch the video to see about the Floyd possibility, but acknowledged that overall, the offense needed to be much more crisp.
"It was silly, sloppy things, and I put that on my shoulders," Palmer said. "It's unacceptable."
Palmer, who finished 7-for-15 for 66 yards, also missed on his last three passes, including a final two to Andre Roberts and Larry Fitzgerald where in both cases it looked like quarterback and receiver went different ways on the play.
Palmer acknowledged those two plays were among the sloppy things the Cards needed to clean up. Fitzgerald, who had three catches for 44 yards, was also taking blame.
"I missed a 'hot' (read) down there and coach Arians jumped on me," Fitzgerald said. "I let the group down. I've got a lot of work to do. It was OK, but far from where we are capable of being."
"We want to be able to have a point for every minute of time of possession," Fitzgerald added. "We fell way short of that goal today. But a win is a win."
The Cardinals did see some life in the running game with starter Rashard Mendenhall in his first game. He gained 32 yards on seven carries and looked solid doing it. Again, though, Arians said the Cards had too many mental errors from offensive players in the red zone, something that "baffles me," he said.
That'll be what they want to fix heading into the third preseason game next week against San Diego, in which the starters will play into the third quarter, Arians said.
"It's a good thing we have four chances to have these practice games," Palmer said.