What do we need to see from the Cardinals heading into Week 2 of the preseason against the New Orleans Saints? Plenty. But that’s not a bad thing.
There’s a lot to feel good about based on what we learned from Arizona’s 24-17 home win over the Los Angeles Chargers to open the preseason schedule.
Let’s have a look:
The defense has promise.
“We scored on defense, and that’s one of the things we pride ourselves on,” coach Steve Wilks said. “So, that’s always encouraging. Guys did a good job in the red zone.”
There are things that need work, clearly. But players and coaches know it and are on the same page.
“We’ve just got to do a much better job of tackling,” Wilks said. “Point of emphasis there. We had a couple of opportunities to get off the field on third down, and we missed the tackle.”
Defensive coordinator Al Holcomb had a similar assessment.
“Tackling No. 1,” he said, of areas where his unit could improve. “We’ve got to do a better job tackling in space. … We want to be the best tackling team in the NFL.”
It’s a good goal, and he’s got a plan for getting there.
“We’ve got to work on it,” he said. “We work on it every single day, regardless whether we’re in shorts or not, we still preach tackling, fundamentals and technique. We’ve just got to improve on it week to week, week to week.”
Here’s an example of how it’ll work:
Antoine Bethea came up empty with a chance to sack LA quarterback Cardale Jones on a safety blitz in the first quarter.
“I missed it,” Bethea said. “Getting the rust off.”
Jones showed above-average mobility on the play, but Holcomb said “we’ve just got to work for the upfield shoulder of the quarterback and keep him inside.”
It’s a fundamental correction that Bethea should be able to make.
The defense also recovered three fumbles.
In the third quarter, reserve corner Bene Benwikere popped one loose from a quarters coverage scheme the Cardinals figure to use often. He correctly read his flat defender, then reacted aggressively to the ball – and 235-pound LA fullback Derek Watt.
“Really, it was just a throw in the flat,” said Benwikere, who is listed perhaps generously at 195 pounds. “I just wanted to make sure I got to the guy before he was able to turn up. I know he’s a bigger guy. So, I was able to get there, and I just tried to wrap up. I saw the ball in his hands, so I was trying to punch, but I wasn’t sure if I got to it or not. But it did come out.”
The offense needs to improve, but it might be better than you’d think.
The stats weren’t good. The Cardinals gained only 174 total yards and were dismal on third down.
“We didn’t convert, 0 of 11,” Wilks said, “which is not good football.”
But a pregame key was the run game early.
“I think the 1s did an outstanding job,” offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said. “We said we’re gonna run the football in if we get inside the 5. We wanted to run the football early in the game, that was the goal going in there. … They did a great job of executing it.”
The first drive went 45 yards on eight plays and ended with a Chase Edmonds rushing touchdown. All but 6 of those yards came on the ground, including 28 on two carries up the middle for David Johnson. Edmonds added 8 yards up the gut.
Arizona went to a jumbo package for two plays near the goal line, with tackle John Wetzel checked in as tight end.
The line wasn’t able to get much push on either play, and on fourth-and-goal from the 2 Edmonds was stopped several yards behind the line. The Fordham rookie kept churning, however, and popped into the end zone on his second (or maybe third?) effort.
McCoy wasn’t ready to evaluate the line on those two plays.
“We’ll watch film tomorrow and evaluate the whole game, not just those two plays,” he said. “We did score, so that’s a good thing. We may not be perfect all the time, but we scored.”
He’s got a point. Sometimes results matter as much as process, and with this being preseason, overall stats only count for so much.
If the first unit can run the ball between the tackles, especially with rookie Mason Cole playing for the injured A.Q. Shipley at center, that’s promising.
Offense and defense have areas to improve ahead of New Orleans on Friday, but there are signs of encouragement, provided you know where to look.