Give me a break, Bruce Arians.
The Arizona Cardinals skipper was in a salty mood after Sunday night’s interminable 6-6 tie with the Seattle Seahawks, the NFC West frontrunners, at “One Step Above Community College Stadium.” His squad dominated most of the game, held the visitors to a mere 11 first downs and 257 yards of offense –a lion’s share of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime– and his offense held possession for 46:21, an NFL record.
The Cardinals couldn’t win, in part, due to special teams miscues. They had a fourth-quarter punt blocked, which led to the first of Seattle’s two game-tying field goals, and kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed 2-of-4 field goals. The first one, a 39-yard attempt in the second quarter, was deflected by Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner and the potential game-winner in overtime, a 24-yard chip shot, was doinked off the left upright after Wagner hurdled over the line a second time to hurry Catanzaro’s cadence.
Arians argued that on both plays Wagner stepped on the back of long-snapper Aaron Brewer to give himself leverage, and contended that he should’ve been penalized for doing so.
“He touched him,” Arians said. “You saw it. Did you see it? Didn’t he touch him? Yeah, he sure did. It sure looked like it to me, but it was not ruled that way, same with the last [field goal attempt in overtime]. He definitely touched him.
“I’m sure I’ll talk to the league and we’ll get some kind of explanation that is all bulls—, like normal.”
The NFL responded quickly, with Dean Blandino, the league’s Vice President of Officiating, Tweeting that “You have to land on a player for it to be a foul. That block was legal.”
A bit later in the presser Arians cooled down enough to direct the blame from the referees to his kicker, saying that even with the distraction of the onrushing Wagner, who you may recall from the playoffs a couple years ago apparently specializes in this hurdling maneuver, was not an excuse to miss. “Make it,” he said of his coaching advice to Catanzaro. “He’s a professional. This ain’t high school, baby. You get paid to make it.”
It’s the continuation of a running (er, kicking) theme, Arians blaming his kicking game for a bad result. He threw rookie long-snapper Kameron Canaday under the bus for his botched snap a few weeks ago at Buffalo and cut him two days later, signing Brewer as his replacement.
Just as it was with the Bills game, Arians is focusing his anger –at least publicly– at the wrong people. The blame lies with Carson Palmer and the offense, who penetrated Seattle’s 30-yard-line six times and had but six points to show for it, despite zero turnovers. Palmer completed 29-of-49 passes for 342 mostly empty yards and was decidedly limited without David Johnson racking up those 58-yard touchdowns to loosen up the defense.
Johnson still totaled 171 yards from scrimmage, but it took him 41 touches to get there, and that continues to be a troublesome concern. Arians is playing with fire, asking his second-year star to hold up under such a burden and would be well served to give his backups more work, even with Chris Johnson sidelined. Andre Ellington got only two carries.
It’s clear that Arians’ trust in Palmer has lessened some, and deservedly so. The team should by all rights be 6-1 or even 7-0 given how unexpectedly well their defense has played. They’re fourth in the league in defensive DVOA, per Football Outsiders, second in yards allowed per game (289.6), fifth in points allowed per game (15.7), tied-for-third in sacks (20) and tied-for-second in interceptions (9).
It’s surprising we’ve gone this long without the coach directing the blame where it belongs, but he’s got his reasons. Perhaps personal ego prevents him from doing so because the offense is his responsibility or maybe he doesn’t want Palmer to answer awkward questions. But eventually, people are going to notice.On Sunday, the Cardinals will return to the scene of the crime, Bank of America Stadium, where Palmer soiled the bed with six turnovers in a 49-15 wipeout in the NFC Championship Game against the Carolina Panthers. Cam Newton and Co. have had a “Murphy’s Law” type of season typical of Super Bowl runners-up, with a 1-5 record. Their defense has missed corner Josh Norman badly and hasn’t mustered nearly the pass rush they had last year. Offensively, Newton’s faced too much pressure, their running backs have been hurt and he hasn’t played consistently at last year’s MVP level.
The Panthers will have the rest advantage, however, coming off a “Bye,” they’ve got the psychological edge on the Cards, and they’ll have the benefit of the early start, with Arizona traveling across the country and playing at 10 AM PST time on their body clocks. They already fared poorly in that situation once, looking sluggish for a half in their loss at Buffalo. The Panthers will be desperate, knowing full well that their season is all but meaningless if they drop to 1-6, while the Cardinals can theoretically recover from 3-4-1 to still grab a wild card.
We’ll see which quarterback can shake off their demons on Sunday. I’m just wondering if Arians will blame the punter if Palmer throws four more interceptions.