Saturday, December 27, 2014

Opposition breakdown: 5 notes on the Cardinals' offense

The Cardinals have a great defense, which seems to get more attention than the offense, as it should. Here, we'll note 5 random things about the Cardinals' offense. 1) Larry Fitzgerald's has killed the Eagles in the past, but that probably doesn't matter

Opposition breakdown: 5 notes on the Cardinals' offense

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. (Ben Margot/AP)
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. (Ben Margot/AP)

The Cardinals have a great defense, which seems to get more attention than the offense, as it should. Here, we'll note 5 random things about the Cardinals' offense.

1) Larry Fitzgerald's has killed the Eagles in the past, but that probably doesn't matter

Sunday will be the 6th time Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald will face the Eagles. He has absolutely destroyed the Eagles in the past:

The Eagles have a completely new coaching staff, a new defensive scheme, and only three players in the secondary have ever faced Fitzgerald in an Eagles uniform -- Brandon Boykin, Nate Allen, and Kurt Coleman. Boykin and Allen have only faced Fitzgerald once. (Allen missed the 2011 game.)

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The Eagles have never shut Fitzgerald down. It should be noted that Boykin struggled tackling him in Arizona in 2012, but Boykin is a much better player now than he was in Week 3 last season.

Beware the TE screen

When you think of the most athletic TEs in the NFL, you think of guys like Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham. The Cardinals have a TE in Rob Housler who isn't well known, but is an athletic beast. He is right there with Davis and Graham in terms of speed and quickness. Housler's Combine measureables are off the charts. He's incredibly fast for a guy who goes 6'5, 250. (Via mockdraftable.com)

However, unlike Davis and Graham, Housler has not yet developed into a consistent down the field receiver. Only one of his receptions this season was caught more than 20 yards down the field. By comparison, Graham has 7, and Davis has 8.

Housler didn't produce much at all his first two years in the NFL, catching just 59 balls for 550 yards and 0 TDs. He also started off his third year (2013) slowly, but has come on a bit lately, statistically. In Housler's last 3 games, he has 14 catches for 178 yards and a TD.

On the season, Housler has 313 receiving yards. He has 166 yards after the catch, and there's a good reason why. The Cardinals have made an effort to get Housler more involved in the passing game by getting the ball in his hands on short passes and TE screens, allowing him to use his athletic ability to get yards after the catch. The Cardinals have gotten 4 positive plays to Housler on TE screens the last 3 weeks:

The Eagles do a good job defending screens. The young defensive line seems to recognize screens early, and the defense in general does a good job hustling to the ball and making tackles. The Eagles will need to be aware of Housler in the screen game.

RB Rashard Mendenhall is a fumbler

Over the last 2 seasons, Cardinals RB Rashard Mendenhall has 181 carries. He has fumbled on 6 of them, meaning that he fumbles once every 30.2 carries, which is awful. In fact, last year he fumbled against the Eagles when he was still playing with the Steelers.

Here's Mendenhall carrying the ball way away from his body with DRC in pursuit:

Perhaps fearing one of DRC's patented bone crunching hits, Mendenhall simply drops the football:

Of course, like most of the Eagles fortunes in 2012, the ball rolled harmlessly out of bounds:

Mendenhall is careless with the ball.

Here he is against Cleveland. Mendenhall is running through traffic, and you can see how far away from his body he's holding the football. That's easy pickings, and the Browns' defensive lineman hammers it out:

In that same game, he fumbled again. Nobody really even hit him. The ball just popped into the air:

The Steelers recovered, and Mendenhall didn't even bother huddling up. He jogged directly to the sideline because he knew he was benched.

Here he is in another multiple fumble game against the Buccaneers this season. Mendenhall is carrying the ball away from his body in traffic again:

A defender doesn't even pop this one out. He runs into teammate Larry Fitzgerald and the ball pops out:

Mendenhall's second fumble of that game was utterly ridiculous. Look at the clock in the top left corner of the screenshot. The Cardinals are tied with the Bucs, with under 2 minutes to go. If you can score a TD, great. But about all else, with a FG all but in the bag, the RB has to know to stay in bounds, and for the love of God, DON'T FUMBLE. Sure enough, Mendenhall, is not only running toward the sideline with a head of steam, but... he fumbles!

Fortunately for the Cards, the ball bounced off Mendenhall's leg and rolled out of bounds.

And here's one that's just as bad against the Texans. The Cards have a 10 point lead against a team with Case Keenum as their QB. They are backed up on their own 5 yard line, and have less than 5 minutes to kill off the clock. number 1 priority: DON'T FUMBLE! Sure enough, Mendenhall fumbled (you can't see it in the mess of bodies below), and the Texans scored 3 plays later, giving them legitimate life in that game:

Eagle defenders need to be aware when Mendenhall is in the game and look to jar the ball loose.

Unrelated: Mendenhall doesn't seem to be buying that terrorists caused 9/11.

Andre Ellington is the far better player at RB for the Cardinals

For some reason, the Cardinals continue to give Mendenhall carries, despite the fumbles, and the fact that he only runs for 3.0 yards per carry. The Cardinals' other running back is Andre Ellington, who is 5'9, 199, who averages more than 6 yards per carry and only has 1 fumble. His 6.0 yards per carry lead the NFL:

Obviously, he has fewer carries than other RBs around the league, and an 80 yard run skews his average. 6.0 yards per carry is not sustainable, but Ellington is absolutely a big play threat.

Are the Cardinals limiting Ellington because of his size? In the two games after Mendenhall's latest egregiously horrible fumble against the Texans, Ellington got 19 carries, while Mendenhall got 25. That makes no sense. The more Mendenhall the Eagles see, the better.

Trent Cole needs to take advantage of Cards LT Bradley Sowell

If Carson Palmer has time in the pocket, he can pick you apart. However, he takes a lot of sacks and is a completely different QB when you get pressure on him.

The Cardinals have a weakness at LT, in Bradley Sowell. According to ProFootballFocus, Sowell is a pressure allowing machine. Here are the numbers they compiled for him in his 7 starts at LT.

On average, Sowell is averaging about a sack, a QB hit, and 3 hurries per game. If the Eagles could sign up for that out of Trent Cole on that for Sunday, I think they'd take that deal in a heartbeat. It would be huge if Cole has a good day rushing the passer.

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