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19 Oct 2006

EPC Special: Why Can't Arizona Run?

by Aaron Schatz

There are two good ways to figure out why a football team is winning or losing. Statistics give you the big picture, and help you notice trends you may have missed otherwise. Looking at tape shows you why the statistics turned out the way they did, and which players or play calls may be responsible.

Football Outsiders is known more for stats, but we look at a lot of tape as well. One of the big debates of the week has been over who is more responsible for Arizona's inability to run the ball Monday night: Edgerrin James, or the offensive linemen. On Tuesday, I did a statistical analysis of the game on the Football Outsiders blog. But I still wanted to look at Arizona from the scouting angle. So this morning, I sat down with my remote and that handy slow-motion button, and watched the end of Monday's game in an attempt to determine why the Arizona running game was so impotent. Michael David Smith handed me the keys to the EPC mystery mobile, so let's go see if we can find out what the hell happened out in the desert.

We're starting with 9:17 left in the fourth quarter, which is a convenient starting point for two reasons:

1) Darnell Dockett had just picked off Rex Grossman, taking away the emotional momentum from the Mike Brown fumble return touchdown that ended the third quarter.

2) My DVR thinks that Monday Night Football ends at 11:30, so the rest of the game after this play is a separate recording.

First-and-10, ARI 26: James runs right tackle for 2 yards. The Cardinals were in a 2-TE I-formation, so it was pretty obvious they were going to run, and the Bears had eight in the box on every first and second down from this point until they took the lead with the Hester punt return. The Cardinals offensive line was unable to make a hole, as the Bears just pushed them all together. James tried to bounce it out wide, but Brian Urlacher was coming around the side unblocked.

Second-and-8, ARI 28: James runs left tackle for -2 yards. Arizona is in a conventional I-formation now. Left guard Reggie Wells is pulling left on this play, but Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs is so fast that he gets to Wells three yards behind the line of scrimmage. Ayanbadejo runs into the back of Wells. James tries to get around that clog and discovers that nobody blocked Brian Urlacher. Again.

Third-and-10, ARI 26: Arizona goes to four-wide. The Bears spread their defensive line out very wide -- they seem to do this on a good number of plays. Since the line is spread, and only four rush, center Nick Leckey blocks nobody. Meanwhile, Tank Johnson goes right past Wells, and with the pressure coming, Leinart throws to the outlet, which is Troy Walters at the line of scrimmage, way over on the left side. He's uncovered, but he's also 10 yards away from a first down, so he gains six before Briggs and Nathan Vasher take him down.

Arizona punts, the Bears gain 13 yards, and then Grossman throws yet another interception. Cardinals take over with 5:53 left.

First-and-10, ARI 41: James runs left tackle for -1 yard. Once again, Arizona is in a 2-TE I-formation. Once again, the Bears have eight in the box. Once again, the problem is Reggie Wells, who this time can't control DT Alfonso Boone. As James tries to go left, Boone releases from Wells, lunges rightward, and takes him down.

Second-and-11, ARI 40: James up the middle for 2 yards, fumble, Bears touchdown. Again, the Cardinals are in a 2-TE I-formation, and this time the Bears have NINE guys in the box. Charles Tillman is covering Anquan Boldin, there's a deep safety, and every other Chicago defender is up at the line. Leinart hands off to James, who tries to go right, but there's a wall of defenders there. It's tough for eight guys to block nine. James tries to cut back left, but Reggie Wells has missed his cut block on Boone. The play-by-play lists Urlacher as the tackler, but Boone is actually the one who takes James down. While James is fighting to stay upright, of course, Urlacher reaches in, strips the ball, Charles Tillman picks it up, Chicago touchdown.

J.J. Arrington takes the kickoff back to the Arizona 34-yard line and then stupidly spikes the ball. Cardinals start again with 4:53 left.

First-and-10, ARI 19: James runs right tackle for 1 yard. The Cardinals are now in a balanced 2-TE, one back set. This play demonstrates how hard it is to try to determine blocking assignments when a) you don't have a copy of the team playbook and b) you don't have the coaches' film with the end zone angle. But I'll try anyway. Leckey and right tackle Oliver Ross both pull right. It looks like they are trying to trap linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer on the right, with the rest of the line trying to seal the Bears off to the left, and James going through that hole. It's possible that I'm wrong, and James was supposed to go wide right and instead blew the play and cut back by mistake. Either way, James ran right into Brian Urlacher, who once again, since two guys were taking out Hillenmeyer, was unblocked.

Is this getting repetitive yet?

Second-and-9, ARI 20: Loosen the reigns on Matt Leinart! The Cardinals are in the 2-TE singleback set, but everybody goes out on a pass pattern, which leaves the simple five-blocking-four and a reasonable amount of time for Leinart to find Anquan Boldin seven yards away on the right sideline. Tillman has trouble tackling him, so Boldin ends up with eight yards after the catch for a total gain of 15 yards.

First-and-10, ARI 35: James runs right tackle for -2 yards. Having shown that Matt Leinart knows how to play quarterback, the Cardinals go back to the 2-TE I-formation that basically telegraphs a run. This play is a stretch right, with the right tight end (Edwards or Wakefield, I'm not sure which) and right guard (Chris Liwienski) on the left defensive end (unidentifiable), Ross on Hillenmeyer, and Wells on left end Mark Anderson. We left out Nick Leckey, right? He's pulling to the right to take out Brian Urlacher. Pulling an interior lineman to take out one of the fastest linebackers in the league certainly worked for Indianapolis in the playoffs last year, so why shouldn't it work for Arizona? Leckey gets caught behind the rest of the linemen because the Bears are overpowering them, and by the time he gets over to the right, both James and Urlacher are five feet further to the right and Urlacher just stuffs James.

Second-and-12, ARI 33: Back to a conventional 2-TE single back set, the Cardinals send out four receivers with James staying in to block. The Bears rush four, so the coverage is tight. It looks like the Bears by this point had ditched their Cover-2 scheme and played man-on-man, and Leinart had a harder time with it. Either Bryant Johnson runs too far, or Leinart throws too short, but the pass goes behind him and falls incomplete.

Third-and-12, ARI 33: The Cardinals go to a three-wide set. For the first time since I started watching, the Bears have only seven in the box. Does that make things easier for the Cardinals? Nope. At the snap, Tommie Harris flies right past -- by now you can probably guess this -- left guard Reggie Wells. Leinart has to scramble backwards, and with Harris in his face throws over to the left side. The play-by-play mistakenly lists the receiver as Bryant Johnson; actually, Leinart is trying to throw to Troy Walters behind him, about at the first down marker, but the ball ends up between the two receivers.

Arizona punts. Devin Hester scores. Chicago ecstatic. Arizona despondent. Arizona takes over with 2:53 remaining.

First-and-10: ARI 38: Now that they need to come back, Arizona goes to four-wide and Leinart is in the shotgun. Four rush, five block, quick pass to Anquan Boldin for five yards but safety Todd Johnson is right there for the tackle.

Second-and-5, ARI 43: Again, four rush, five block. Short pass to James uncovered in the middle of the field, three yards away from the line. Four yards after the catch, seven yards total, first down.

First-and-10, ARI 50: Remember how I said the Bears like to spread the line? On this play, the right defensive end is so far spread that he's actually in a stance in front of the slot receiver. The Bears blitz six at the snap, Leinart hurries the throw, and Urlacher tips the pass for an incomplete.

Second-and-10, ARI 50: Again the Bears blitz six, but this time Leinart manages to set his feet and pass quickly, to Troy Walters on the left sideline, covered by Danieal "Can I Buy a Vowel" Manning. Six-yard gain.

Third-and-4, CHI 44: The Bears have just two linebackers, and one blitzes (Briggs, I think). With the defensive backs all back in coverage, that leaves Urlacher in the middle of the field to cover the entire flat. Ayanbadejo gets out into the right flat uncovered, catches the ball near the line of scrimmage, and runs 13 yards before Urlacher can get to him.

First-and-10, CHI 31: Again, one linebacker blitzes. This time, Ayanbadejo stays back to block, and Leinart gets a quick slant out to Boldin, covered by Nathan Vasher. Vasher and Urlacher tackle Boldin for a seven-yard gain.

Second-and-3, CHI 24: James runs left tackle for 2 yards. This is where the Cardinals shut down the offense and go into wait-for-field goal mode. The four-wide shotgun is replaced by the 2-TE I-formation. Chicago brings up nine in the box. The Bears push the Cardinals blockers together so there's no hole, and James runs into the whole mass.

Third-and-1, CHI 22: James runs up the middle for -1 yard. Again, 2-TE I-formation, nine in the box. By now, the Cardinals have realized that it may be a good idea to block the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, so they send not one but two guys to do it. Liewinski and Ross both go to block Urlacher and both fall down. Seriously. Meanwhile, with two guys on Urlacher, nobody has either Lance Briggs or Todd Johnson, who stuff Edge, although the official tackle belongs to Israel "The One-Man I-Formation" Idonije.

Fourth down, timeout, enter Neil Rackers, exit Neil Rackers, game over.

Obviously, this is just a few plays at the end of one game, but what have we learned based on these plays?

The Cardinals announced in a loud and clear voice that they were running the ball, and the Bears were listening. Some sort of play-action or pass to a tight end out of one of those 2-TE I-formation sets might have been a good idea.

There are two reasons why I believe Edgerrin James was a bad free-agent signing. First, James is at an age and level of career workload where, no matter how good he has been in recent years, he is very likely to decline in the future. But that's the future, not 2006. The reason why this was a bad signing for 2006 is that the Cardinals had a terrible offensive line last year, and the year before, and they have a terrible line this year, and it's basically been all the same guys. The Cardinals ignored the fact the ground game is driven as much by the offensive line as it is by the running back. And if one of those two elements is truly awful, it doesn't matter if the other one is good. (This works out the other way, too; check out Quentin Griffin's numbers in Denver.)

Based on these plays, it looks like the line is the problem. James ran into a wall or an unblocked defender on nearly every play. None of these guys deserve any glory, but one really stood out. The Cardinals handed Reggie Wells a five-year, $17-million contract in the off-season and if this game is any indication, he's the worst player on the line.

The idea that Edge is not the problem, however, does not mean that signing Edge was a good idea. You build a winning football team from the lines out. The Cardinals understand this on defense, bringing in Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafor in 2005, bringing in Kendrick Clancy this year, and signing Dockett to a long-term deal last week. The offense is the exact opposite. It looks like an offense with Leinart, James, Boldin, and Larry Fitzgerald should score a gazillion points, but the offense isn't made up of six guys. You need to have eleven.

Each week, Michael David Smith looks at one specific player or one aspect of a team on every single play of the previous game. This week, he let me borrow his column for the day. Thanks, Mike. Standard caveat applies: Yes, one game -- and one quarter -- is not necessarily an indicator of performance over the entire season.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 19 Oct 2006

70 comments, Last at 23 Oct 2006, 10:51am by Ian

Comments

1
by Xian (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 3:45pm

Maybe this would be a good post to appease the "traditional" Fox Blog fans?

Anyway, interesting stuff. I didn't get to see much of the game, was shocked to see Arizona leading 14-0, and then horrified when I saw the final score.

I wonder if Madden 07 rates Arizona's O-line as bad as it really is. Hmm...that may be a "project" for today.

2
by zip (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 3:46pm

Ugh. So basically, it WAS the playcalling. Very few teams are gonna be able to run when a D like Chicago has 8 or 9 guys in the box.

2
by admin :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 3:46pm

Actually, this was originally going to be a blog post, but it just kept going, and going, and finally it was just too long. It may go on FOX anyway.

4
by Independent George (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 3:51pm

So, basically, the answer to the question in the title is, "Because they suck."

5
by Diane (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 3:51pm

[3]

its too good a piece for the Fox blog, considering some of the doofus comments you've gotten there Aaron.

6
by Chris Owen (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 3:54pm

Nice job, Aaron. I want to add one play from earlier in the quarter. It's in the play-by-play as 1st and 10 at ARZ 39 (13:32) E.James left tackle to CHI 49 for 12 yards (N.Vasher). That description alone suggests a successful play, but in reality the play was hideous. What I remember was a pulling lineman (couldn't tell you who) getting absolutely destroyed by the defender (again, couldn't tell you who) who took him on. The lineman got knocked backwards two yards right onto his back, nearly taking James out in the process. I really can't remember a lineman in the NFL getting blown up that badly. With the lineman gone, another defender had a free shot at James, and he slammed into James cleanly, knocking James back a yard. Somehow James kept his feet and netted 12 yards on the play, which is a credit to him, and not at all to his line. I don't have the game recorded, and I was hoping someone might remember who got blown up on this play and by whom.

7
by Israel (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 3:56pm

J.J. Arrington takes the kickoff back to the Arizona 34-yard line and then stupidly spikes the ball.

First I have heard of this. What was that all about? I assume it went out of bounds or was picked by someone in red, as there was no change of possession.

8
by JonL (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 3:59pm

Great stuff. The conventional wisdom is probably that if Rackers made the field goal, the Arizona OC would still have a job (I think either Kornheiser or Le Batard said it on PTI). After reading this, though, I'm not so sure he deserved to.

9
by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 4:05pm

#5: Everyone should have access to good football analysis, no matter how much they want to make fun of nerds or talk about how they don't care what goes on behind the game. The more knowledgable more people are, the better the football discussion gets.

I really find it baffling, frankly, that people can not want to know more about the game. Maybe they might think it to be less meritorious than, say, Don Banks ranting, but to dismiss it out of hand while the vast majority of writers are either parrots or wrong so very often seems rather ridiculous to me.

Personally, I want to know everything I possibly can about the game. It's so much more fun when you understand fully what's going on. I couldn't imagine wanting to know less.

10
by Backseat Editor (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 4:06pm

Yo, not being a critic here but it looks like either paragraph 2 or 3 got accidentally left in. Not a hater, just doing my part to help *tiphat*.

11
by Steve Sandvik (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 4:07pm

7- he got a 15 yard taunting penalty for it.

12
by admin :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 4:11pm

Thank you for the most polite notification of an error in the history of FO.

13
by Chris Heinonen (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 4:16pm

# 7, 11: I think the taunting might have been for getting in the face of a Chicago player after spiking the ball, as the flag didn't come out on the spike, but only after he got in someone's face about how great he was. Seriously, how do you get up and brag about a 34 yard return when the play right before you, they returned it 85 yards for a TD?

14
by turbohapy (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 4:28pm

Sounds like 50% poor play calling, 40% poor line play, and only 10% Edge.

15
by Mike (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 4:29pm

FYI, this game is the subject of a Very Special Episode of NFL Replay today (see link).

16
by ABW (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 4:40pm

I have to say, this does make Denny Green's firing of his OC sound justified. When you are running against NINE in the box, time to call some play-action, or something. Do they not trust Leinart to audible them out of a situation like that?

17
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 4:56pm

I'd say "Nice piece, Aaron," but all this excellent breakdown really does is (1) make me wonder why there isn't more of stuff like it, (2) wish there were more of it, and (3) annoyed with myself for not being, oh, energetic enough to break down every Titans play like this. Well, I (heart) FO anyway.

18
by DWL (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 5:00pm

Good God!!!!

I just went to the Fox Blog and I swear I lost at least a dozen I.Q. points before I could rapidly close the browser.

Thank God this article made it to over here b/c it's an excellent analysis.

19
by Sean (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 5:01pm

The funny thing is that teams have been running over the Jets with exactly those sorts of formations. Jacksonville, New England, Buffalo and Miami all attacked the Jets run defense with three tight ends and/or two tight ends and a fullback, and all four of those teams experienced great success, even when the Jets were packing defenders in the box. Needless to say, the quality of the defensive front seven needs to factor into the equation.

I suspect that Arizona would have been more aggressive with Fitzgerald in the lineup, but they were probably concerned about Leinart forcing a ball in to Bolden in a tight spot (after all, they just finished losing a game the week before in that very fashion). I'm also a bit suprised that Leinart didn't audible to a play action out of any of those looks. I wonder if he had the authority to do so.

20
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 5:07pm

Yeah, the lack of audibles is something to wonder about. You cannot put an NFL quarterback on the field without authority to audible, can you?

21
by ChrisS (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 5:11pm

I would say it was 100% coaching that lost the game. The way Arizona called the plays the running game was completely ineffective. The passing game was effective with the called plays. The unavoidable conclusions, which Arizona coaching staff was able to avoid, is that Arizona needed to pass more, or try running from passing formations. Arizona deserved to lose, which is not to say that Chicago deserved to win

22
by stan (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 5:23pm

I've always felt that you can't blame a RB for lack of production unless you can point to some deficiency on his part that is the cause of the problem (e.g. failure to find the seam, lack of burst, failure to bounce the play, failure to cut in the hole, etc.). Same thing with a QB -- unless you can show that he has time to throw and open receivers that he a) fails to see, or b) misses with his throws, blaming him for bad numbers misses the point.

There are 11 people out there on offense and they all have jobs to do.

23
by Rocco (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 5:24pm

19 and 20- If I'm not mistaken, a Leinart audible was what lead to the sack/fumble, right? Maybe Leinart became gun-shy to audible again in fear that Oliver Ross would roll out a red carpet for a rusher rather than simply step aside, or perhaps the coaching staff told him not to audible. It's not that unusual for a rookie QB to not have audible power in his 2nd start, but Leinart has shown that in terms of reading defenses, he's not a rookie.

24
by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 5:26pm

It's my impression that most rookie QBs have very little control over the offence. From my observations it seems to me that they do not, in fact, have the ability to audible, because they're playing with a stripped-down playbook and relying on their centers to declare blocking assignments, etc.

25
by krugerindustrialsmoothing (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 5:26pm

Coaching may have cost them the game, but isn't it also true that Coaching got them in position to win the game in the first place? I think that was what ticked Green off so much in the first place.

26
by MTR (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 5:32pm

You don't need my business advice (but I'll give it anyway). This is exactly the type of post that should go on the blog. Casual readers may not want to go through every play but it's traditional coaching tape analysis and very hard to argue against. Save the stat stuff for the hardcore folks here.

27
by Lou (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 5:44pm

I think the problem with the blog is that it becomes the Blog of the Day, which is a big deal to these guys, and yet there are very few comments after the article that foster discussion. The reason for this, as I see it, is that everyone who likes FO discusses everything here- it doesn't make sense for us to sign up with fox (which is what I assume you have to do just to comment on the one FO article that doesn't link to a forum on this site). I think if the blog wasn't BotD it wouldn't be that big of a problem and there'd be fewer trolls. I say this having done zero research into what blog of the day actually is, just guessing based on their comments. I also wonder if BotD status is confered based on the fact that Aaron and Co. are on staff or if its by number of hits, which I assume would be comparitively high with all the people that check the blog from this site.

28
by MJK (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 6:00pm

The funny thing is that teams have been running over the Jets with exactly those sorts of formations. Jacksonville, New England, Buffalo and Miami all attacked the Jets run defense with three tight ends and/or two tight ends and a fullback, and all four of those teams experienced great success, even when the Jets were packing defenders in the box.

I don't know enough about Buffalo and Jacksonville, but New England and Miami both have TE's that are legitimate, no make that dangerous, recieving threats, and have shown the willingness to audible to playaction (or have it in there by design) in such a situation. Therefore, the Jets LB's and safeties have to respect that threat, and even when stuffed in the box, they can't sell out as completely on the run as the Chicago defenders were probably doing against Arizona. That's why NEVER throwing from the 2-TE I was such a mistake by the Arizona coaches.

29
by dbt (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 6:20pm

I mentioned some of this in a blog post (click my name) but I think the playcalling started withdrawing from the passing game before this. With 11 minutes left, not long after Anderson sack/Brown TD, the Bears start blitzing and getting to Leinart. The next drive after that is the one you start with and they start going to all run.

The big problem seems to be, like you say, an inability to pass from a running set and run from a passing set. The Bears defense has weaknesses, for sure, but it's hard to exploit them when they know what you're about to do.

The other thing I don't get is why so many of their I-formations were actually double tight, single back. It seems like a decent blocking fullback (and I don't know, really, if Obafemi is good or not, but his brother is a great blocker on special teams) would be able to help some on inside rushes.

30
by Fantasy Stooge (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 6:41pm

This is great analysis. Well done, Aaron. Take a bow.

31
by BillWallace (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 6:51pm

I knew it was bad, but the whole formation giveaway thing to me is much much worse than I thought. How can you work in football as a playcaller and so blatantly give away your calls by formation? That's disgraceful.

32
by dbt (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 7:33pm

Bill, probably because they didn't feel they could protect Leinart without putting him in the shotgun and handing off from the shotgun is tough for anybody, especially a rookie.

33
by Aaron Boden (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 8:04pm

I hope Aaron or someone who recorded teh game can verify this for me.

I seem to remember from the game that in the early going, one of the things that allowed Leinart to throw easily was that same max protect sort of scheme. It looked to me like they did what Carolina did in the playoffs to blunt the pass rush of the Bears. The Bears rely very heavily on the rush and it was not working at all until the second half. The Bears also couldn't tackle well at all to begin the game, and the Cards got lots of yards after contact.

34
by David Brude (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 8:58pm

I would have been more interested to see the video analysis on this sequence vs the rest of the game where edge was gaining 5-6 yards per rush. I missed the beginning of the game and did not tape it so I'm curious how they were rushing so well early on.

Edge got 31 yards on his first 7 carries with 6 of those 7 being considered successes and then proceeded to get 5 yards on his next 28 for a whopping 0.2 ayrs per carry. Leinart could have fallen forward for more yards than that.

Here is the play by play from the first ARI drive edited for Edge carries only.

2-5-ARI28 (13:17) E.James left end to ARZ 27 for -1 yards (Ta.Johnson, T.Harris).
).

2-1-ARI42 (11:26) E.James up the middle to ARZ 47 for 5 yards (A.Brown).
1-10-ARI47 (10:53) E.James up the middle to CHI 45 for 8 yards (R.Manning, B.Urlacher).

2-2-CHI45 (10:13) (Shotgun) E.James up the middle to CHI 43 for 2 yards (L.Briggs).

1-10-CHI28 (8:57) E.James right tackle to CHI 23 for 5 yards (L.Briggs).

2-5-CHI23 (8:26) E.James up the middle to CHI 17 for 6 yards (B.Urlacher).

1-10-CHI17 (7:51) E.James left tackle to CHI 11 for 6 yards (I.Idonije, N.Vasher).

35
by Andrew (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 9:16pm

Aaron:

There were several plays where James had a hole and several yards to run before he would hit unblocked defenders who were just standing still, but instead he chose to turn and run into the line.

When JJ Arrington attacked the defenders on his couple of runs, he actually picked up yards. It looked to me like Edge was shying away from contact with unblocked guys.

36
by clem (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 9:52pm

re #20: "You cannot put an NFL quarterback on the field without authority to audible, can you?" From what I read, Martz does. There are no audibles in his system according to a recent Kitna interview (I lost the link unfortunately). As I understand it, the place of the audible is taken by skill player sight adjustments, options built into the plays and, of course, the axiom that The Genius *always* calls the correct play.

37
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 11:04pm

35: "It looked to me like Edge was shying away from contact with unblocked guys."

Edge found plenty of unblocked guys anyway.

I do think that Edge's play in Arizona has been really bad, even with the line taken into account. Basically, I don't think he knows what to do with a line this terrible. Some backs, like Deuce McAllister and Frank Gore, have learned how to achieve moderate success without great blocking. Edge never learned those skills. He was a very valuable player in Indianapolis, and I'm sure if he got traded back, he'd be back up to 4.5 yards a carry in a second. But I don't think he's valuable to Arizona. Edge knows how to excel under good circumstances. The Cardinals need a back who knows how to not suck under terrible circumstances.

38
by Lou (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 11:16pm

RE 33, 34
I don't think the Cards used max protect much, they just used the shotgun, quick drops, and rollouts to take some pressure of Leinert who made some very good quick decisions. I think a lot of the Cards early running success was from the Bears respecting the pass. They would only have 6 or 7 in the box looking to defend the pass, and DEs would take themselves out of plays trying to rush the passer. Anyway, here's the Cardinals first drive.

1-10-ARZ33 Cardinals come out in a shotgun formation with 4WR, 6in box, 5 blockers 4 rushers, Leinert hits Boldin on a comeback against the Cover2 gain of 4.

2-6-ARZ37 Ayanbedejo motions into I form and Mike Brown comes up into the box(8), run left, Harris gets good push against the LG, Brown blows up Ayanbedejo, Anderson and Tank Johnson pursue from the back side and take edge down. No Gain.

3-6-ARZ 27 Shotgun 3wide, 7in box, bears blitz the backers 6 on 6, Leinert gets it away with a man in his face to Johnson on a cross right at the first down line.

1-10-ARZ 33 Ace form, play action boot left, 7 in the box, the Bears bite on the fake hard, including Brown- L.Pope blocks and releases into the area M.Brown should have been and runs 7 yards for a gain of 9.

2-1-ARZ 42 I form 2TE left, 8 in box, I'm no expert, but it looks like a zone blocking scheme with the line moving to the right(and the cutback would be left), the bears' line rather than try to get a push slide left. edge runs up the middle, one of the TEs can't finish his block on A.Brown who knocks edge down. gain of 5, first down.

1-10-ARZ 47 singleback 3WR, 6 in box, LG pulls right, DEs play pass, they double T.Harris briggs and urlacher overpursue to the gaurd and james cuts back. He runs into R.Manning 5 yards past the LOS and gets 3 more yards before Urlacher and M.Brown get to him.

2-2-CHI 45 Shotgun 3WR, 6 in box, draw up the middle, the ends take themselves out of the play looking to rush the passer, Harris is doubled, James cuts into an open hole and is met at the first down line by Briggs. gain of 2 first down.

1-10-CHI 43 Single back, 3WR, 6 in box, 4 rushers, 6 blockers, 5 step drop. Boldin lines up at HB, he runs a short out and sits in hole in the zone 5 yard from the LOS, Briggs completely misses a tackle and Boldin gets 10 more yards. Gain of 15.

1-10-CHI 28 I form. run right. LG pulls right. Nice blocks at the LOS by A.Johnson abd Schable on M.Brown and Briggs, edge finds the seem between them and gains 5.

2-5-CHI 23 Ace form. 7 in box, LG pulls right, and Briggs glances off of him and takes himself out of the play. DTs Boone and Scott get pushed back, and the DEs were playing pass. Urlacher sheds a block and makes the tackle gain of 6.

1-10-CHI 17 Ace, 8 in box but safety bails on the snap. handoff left, fake end around. A.Brown gets pushed out by the TE they double Boone the play side DT, but he doesn't get pushed back. Briggs should fill the gap between the two but he hesitates on the fake. When edge takes the handoff he stutters, maybe to help sell the fake, but if he takes the handoff and goes this could've been a bigger gain. Left DE Idonije make the tackle from backside pursuit. Gain of 6.

2-4-CHI 11 I form Twins Right. Leinert audibles, probably to max protect. Pass. zone blitz DE Idonije drops into coverage. 5 rushing 8 blocking. Leinart turns and throws a quick hitch to B.Johnson who makes Briggs miss and goes house. Touchdown.

If I'm right about the audible, and that the play was supposed to be a quick hitch all along, I don't think the max pro was really necessary, but whatev. The Cardinals showed nice balance on this drive and kept the Bears on their heels. They did everything to keep Leinert safe and he made nice throws. As the Bears played the pass it opened up holes for the run. I'll look at the second TD drive later.

39
by Just Another Falcon Fan (not verified) :: Thu, 10/19/2006 - 11:30pm

Re: 20

Apparently, Mike Vick doesn't get to audible either, as he recently stated in an "Inside the NFL" interview. That coming meltdown in Atlanta referred to in the week 7 preview could already be here. I'll get to watch the Steelers-Falcons game Sunday, but I'll probably regret it.

At this level, if you don't allow the QB to audible, either you are an idiot OC (Hi, Greg Knapp!) and should be gone, or you don't trust the QB and he should be gone.

40
by throughthelookingglass (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 12:14am

one thing i've never understood is why teams don't try to run more out of three and four reciever sets to at least spread the defense out if you can't block them. i didn't see the game, but would that have helped?

41
by D Grimes (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 1:52am

The Coordinator was the scapegoat. Fire Dennis Green. He was a loser in Minn with better talent than he has now in AZ. He allowed the no yardage running plays instead of letting Leinart get the ball in the endzone. Bring in a new coach now to build for '07. Give Leinart a chance by adding more talent around him.

42
by DavidH (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 2:01am

re: blog of the day

Right now there are 3 blogs in the top "most interesting blogs" section. One is FO, one has some nice college basketball stuff, and the third is the crap* linked in my name. I have NO idea how someone can complain about FO being bumped to the top when there is random crap like this taking up spots.

I guess if FO starts including pictures of Leslie Nielson people will stop complaining.

*He calls it Random Crap in the title of his post, so his words, not mine

43
by jstix (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 3:46am

#23
I don't understand why everyone blames Ross for that sack/fumble. An OT with a DT and an ILB over him must protect the inside, right? Doesn't that mean that the back has blitz protection responsibility and must see that uncovered DE? I've never been an Edge fan and I think it's a little worse than #37 suggests. He's no better than decent when placed in good circumstances and his contribution will suffer as his circumstances worsen. He chose to go to the left side to help block NOBODY rather than throw even the half-hearted "let me throw my body forward and at least slow this guy down by making him hurdle me" block on the rushing DE. That, his rookie-like failure to protect the ball and/or get down when he ran into the unblocked defenders and got stripped and his request to be that Bettis-like hammer to salt the game away when neither he nor his circumstances (read:line) are up to the task give him 75% of the blame for this loss. 20% goes to the coaches who decided to play MartyBall for over half the game and then chose to play for a figgy that we all knew Neil "please, no not under pressure" Rackers could miss...and Rackers gets the last 5%. The line? I don't even blame them. Everyone knows they suck. That's why the highly successful game plan that got the Cards 20 points worked so well. They planned away from the O-line's weakness.

44
by gmc (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 4:02am

Well...

Edge isn't LaDainian Tomlinson (who is who Arizona needs). Since the ACL he isn't blindingly fast, he's just tough. He really pushed for yards against the Chicago D; by my count he tended to get a couple of yards after the hit, on average. Would have been more except that a lot of the tackles were a -completely unblocked- Brian Urlacher lining Edge up from the snap.

The problem, though, was that Arizona relied on protection and blocking when those are the things it does poorly. I agree with Aaron - Arizona should be in the shotgun every play even if running - and they should run more to the outside.

Also. Why in God's name won't they throw a screen pass? This was the Plan in Indy against good running defenses - it got Edge out in front with a chance to push a single tackler rather than running into six of them. But Edge had one target all day in the passing game, and there were no real screens at all that I saw.

Green, the OC, and the whole OL should go.

45
by putnamp (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 4:20am

So minor tangent, but I'm really excited to see Leinart's ability to read defenses against Tatupu's ability to read offenses. They both seem to be particularly gifted at their respective tasks, and it's kinda cool that they ended up in the same division. I just hope Arizona can get around to putting up a decent line in front of Leinart so that they can finally put up a fight.

Wait, what am I saying..

46
by James C (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 6:37am

On the Bears website there is a report that Hunter Hillenmeyer claims that he got his fingertips on the ball when Rackers missed the kick. It did seem to me that something funny had happened to the trajectory of the ball as it cleared the mass of players. It wouldn't take a lot of contact to cause a ball to swerve off target when it still has 30+ yards to travel to the uprights.

47
by Independent George (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 8:09am

I'm sorely disappointed at the lack of a Spinal Tap joke in the last line...

48
by joel in providence (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 9:48am

every time i read the fox blog comments i picture the commenters foraging in the mud for scraps of food and picking lice out of each other's fur.

49
by skeezer (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 11:05am

wow, i went to high school with reggie wells, i was even on his basketball team in junior high.

50
by Sean (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 11:16am

Re 41: If you want to give Matt Leinart a chance, the last thing you do is fire Denny Green. Green is by far the best talent evaluator the Cardinals have had since moving to Arizona, and he has put together three excellent drafts in a row. Obviously the team needs to address the offensive line, but this is an up-and-coming team on the strength of Green's drafts.

51
by mediator12 (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 11:31am

20. Jake Plummer has almost zero audible priviliges since he may be the worst pre-snap reading QB in the league even after ten years.

He is allowed to check the play only right or left essentially on running plays. depending on the formation setup of the defense.

Maybe that is why a lot of DEN fan's are calling for Cutler?

Also, DEN runs a bunch of running plays against eight and nine man fronts with Plummer. No one is afraid of his deep ball or his intermediate throws. However, that OL still manages to give Holes to the RB consistently enough for an almost 5.0 per carry average.

52
by countertorque (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 11:43am

We're calling the playcalling bad, because the Cards were telegraphing runs. But, if they'd continued to pass and Lienart threw 2 more picks and they lost that way, we'd be laughing at them for not running out the clock.

Even if Edge went for -1 yard on every play, isn't it true that the Cards would (very likely) have won if (1) Edge hadn't fumbled and (2) they hadn't given up that return for a TD?

53
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 12:00pm

But, if they’d continued to pass and Lienart threw 2 more picks and they lost that way, we’d be laughing at them for not running out the clock.

You can run without telegraphing a run.

54
by MJK (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 12:23pm

However, that OL still manages to give Holes to the RB consistently enough for an almost 5.0 per carry average.

That's because the Denver O-line cheats. ;-)

55
by Charlie (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 12:38pm

re #50

"Green is by far the best talent evaluator the Cardinals have had since moving to Arizona"

That may be the exact definition of damning with faint praise, and I would suggest that it is too early to say that he's had three "excellent" drafts in a row. Looking back, 04 was a pretty great year for Green, as he picked up 3 clear starters in Fitzgerald, Dansby and Dockett (although the 4th round onwards was a bit barren, and I would need a Cards fan to tell me whether he drafted with own scouting reports or McGinnis', cos he joined in January of that year). Currently speaking, his 05 draft looks patchy (a second rounder on workout wonder JJ Arrington?), and with his newest recruits having played just a few games each, we can't judge the 06 version yet (although his first four picks are all intriguing prospects).

Additionally, at this point I think there are valid questions to be asked over his o-line acquisitions. Everyone was well aware that the line was terrible last year, and to me, even if Lutui becomes a good player, he didn't really do enough in the offseason to repair it. About the only mitigating factor I can think of is perhaps the unwillingness of the Bidwells to invest in many free-agents, but even then he did sign Edge.

56
by Jody (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 12:58pm

great play by play breakdown. I really liked it, esp. as I don't have cable/satellite and did not get to watch it. This definitely explains (to me) the firing of the ARZ OC.

57
by CA (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 1:01pm

Re: 55

a second rounder on workout wonder JJ Arrington

"Workout wonder" generally implies a guy who hasn't been very productive on the football field but puts up great combine or private workout numbers. I don't know how good Arrington's workouts were, but I do know that Arrington ran for over 2000 yards in 2004 at Cal. He was about as productive as you can hope for a college RB to be. That's not to say that his skills will translate to the pro game, but "workout wonder" is far from an appropriate label.

58
by Diane (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 1:38pm

re: OC playcalling in 4th quarter …

If the Bears put 8 in the box against a 2 TE/1 back set, how difficult would it have been to put one of the TEs in motion and thrown a screen pass to the back with the TEs helping out on blocking?

59
by Dave (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 1:55pm

Re: 44

Link on my name to Mel Kiper's summary of 2001 draft prospects. Now starting at left tackle for the Cards: "Big" Davis, taken 2nd overall by Arizona. Tomlinson was available at #5 for the Chargers.

I wonder if the run on top-of-the-draft Left Tackles is going to slow down - the Jets may have a winner this year in D-Brick (how's he doing, anyway?), but Davis and Gallery (to pick two off of the top of my head) are sure not inspiring confidence. One of the axioms of draftniks is that 1st round Left Tackles are more nearly "sure things" than running backs, etc. As a Charger fan, I'm pretty okay with our second round rookie at Left Tackle right now.

60
by Charlie (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 3:03pm

re 57

You're right of course, but I was more referring to the widely publicised story that Green fell for Arrington after a stellar workout.

My point really was that at this time his choice by the Cards - like quite a few players in that 05 draft - looks questionable. (Which seems especially true for Arrington, since they went and signed a starting running back this offseason.) Not that I'm ruling out success in the future, it just seems inappropriate to label that an excellent draft right now.

61
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 3:32pm

Looking at Edge and his past success, this seems to suggest that a lot of it comes down to Manning's chicken dance. Say what you will (and last year's Pitt Playoff game aside) he tended to get them into the right play each time. "8 inthe box, we pass. 9 in the box, TD to Marvin. 6 in the box, here you go Edgie, have a ball."

Of course an OL would help, and maybe drugging Urlacher's pre-game Gatorade.

62
by derekc (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 4:01pm

On the last run of the game it looked to me as if James had a big hole if he had just taken one step to the left. In fact the way the line blocked it appeared as if it were possible that was where the run was designed to go. Your thoughts on this? Is it possible James is having some problems picking up the offense or that due to the lack of blocking he is ad libbing becuase of his lack of confidence in the O-line?

I still have that play on my DVR as it is a short program since my DVR also thinks MNF ends at 11:30.

63
by Sean D. (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 4:10pm

I had to put this somewhere, but Scouts, Inc for ESPN Insider came out with a list of OL rankings. AZ ranks 30th, which is fine. But each ranking comes with a best player attached to it, and the have Reggie Wells listed as the best player. I already had my doubts about these rankings when I saw the Steelers at #1 (have you seen them pass block this year?), but Reggie Wells as the best player. The article was just posted today too. Crazy.

64
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 4:23pm

Just because the recent early left tackles have been crap don't mean they all will, though. Every single team in the league has at least one tackle drafted in the first day. I think the idea here is probably right - you need at least one tackle who's capable of handling a defensive end one-on-one. Typically they're blindside, but it doesn't have to be - if they're not, you can always help out on the blindside knowing that the opposite side is well handled.

65
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 4:26pm

I had to put this somewhere, but Scouts, Inc for ESPN Insider came out with a list of OL rankings. AZ ranks 30th, which is fine.

I actually posted something similar in the college thread as well. They rank one of the linemen from PSU as one of the top in the country, saying he had a "good game" versus Michigan, when he was clearly responsible for at least two sacks and looked ineffective in run blocking elsewhere. I really, really wonder whether these people actually watch line blocking. I mean, I'm not a scout, so my opinion's not terrific, but when a guy gets shoved flat on his back by the guy he's trying to block, that's not good. And when a guy can't decide between blocking two guys, and ends up blocking neither, that's not good either.

66
by Jerry (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 4:28pm

re #6

That was Urlacher who blew up the lineman leading for James. I was just as amazed at what he did as you.

67
by Marko (not verified) :: Fri, 10/20/2006 - 7:31pm

Another recent high first round tackle who was a bust is Mike Williams, who was drafted #4 by the Bills in 2002. He was cut by Buffalo after last year and is currently on IR with Jacksonville. (As an aside, what is it with high first round busts named Mike Williams?)

68
by Bruce Anderson (not verified) :: Sun, 10/22/2006 - 1:04pm

Shouldn't Green be held accountable for this game as well? The head coach is responsible for getting both the coaches and the players into the best position to help the team win. That doesn't seem to be happening in Arizona.

This was a terrific play by play analysis... much appreciated from someone who did not see the end of the game. It's seems from the analysis that there were several significant factors that went into this loss that are a direct reflection of the head coach.

1.) Continued inability to address the offensive line. Despite years of underperforming o-line, things haven't changed. Don't know the exact reason for this, but it's got to partly be a talent evaluation issue and a coaching issue. It's remarkable how some coaches seem to extract the best talent from relative no-names on the offensive line (e.g., see Pats and Steelers). It's one thing to have a bad year, or to have a big impact player go down due to injury or free agency. But that's hasn't been the case in AZ. This seems to be a head coaching issue as well as o-line coaching issue.

2.) Lack of play calling adjustment. If your running game is going no where and defenders are stacking the box, why not run some screens and quick outs or any of the other suggestions mentioned by the non-professionals in this post? Seems like it's appropriate and actually required to change strategy in this situation. This seems to be a head coaching issue as well as OC issue.

On a separate note: It's scary to think of how good Leinert could be given decent protection and a running game. He seems to be reading defenses remarkably well and responding well.

Bruce

69
by Pete (not verified) :: Sun, 10/22/2006 - 7:00pm

I believe you can be willing to go with a 2-TE, I-Formation when you can STILL get 3-4 yards on a run. This means a good, tough line. Arizona doesn't have this and doesn't have very good tight ends. With this analysis the loss should mostly be given to the Arizona coaches who refuse to recognize the biggest weakness on their (or any, IMO) team: the offensive line.

For some teams the best way to run out the clock is to play consistent ball control, even if this means short passes and not running out of bounds. This should be Arizona's strength.

A strong aspect of a screen play is not blocking in a convincing manner. I suspect Arizona Offensive Line has this down and it would work fairly well.

70
by Ian (not verified) :: Mon, 10/23/2006 - 10:51am

Anyone who has watched the Colts the last several years knew that James would suffer horribly in Arizona, which makes you wonder what AZ was thinking when they signed him. He has no burst at all, he is incapable of breaking long plays. Nor is he particularly strong in a push-the-pile sort of way. Edge's great strength as a runner is his patience, vision and ability to find holes as the Colts O-line strings out their blocks creating cutback opportunities for the runner (the Colts' signature 'strech' play). To ask another team to duplicate this with a patchwork line (remember the Colts have had the same o-line coach for like 9 years), was pretty far fetched. Especially when you consider James wasn't that great of a runner to begin with, he only has ONE season with a ypc of 4.5 or greater, despite playing in one of the most consistently effective passing offenses of all time over that period.

If you watch the Colts now, you see them starting to run the same types of plays effectively with Addai. The difference is that his young legs mean he's typically an extra five yards downfield before the defenders can get to him.