Lombardi: Disastrous 2022 just got worse for Cardinals, more Week 14 thoughts

December 13, 2022 11:59 AM

Can 2022 get any worse for the Arizona Cardinals? The year began with their 11th win over the playoff-bound Cowboys in Dallas, which brought hope and optimism to their season. The Cardinals had started the 2021 season 7-0, then ran into some trouble and injuries. They lost quarterback Kyler Murray after losing for the first time to the Packers in Week 8, won two of the next three games before heading into their bye week. Murray returned from his injury to lead the Cards to their 10th win of the season, beating the Bears in Chicago to secure a playoff spot, and it looked like they were back on track.

No, they weren’t. They sputtered all over again, not winning another game in the year 2021, losing three in a row in December. Once the ball dropped in New York and all of us welcomed 2022 into our lives, the Cardinals beat the Cowboys, feeling as though they turned their season around for the second time. And for the second time they didn’t. This was going to be a great year for the Cards — until it became their worst year.

From an accounting perspective, the Cards are 6-15 since beating the Cowboys on Jan. 2. From a decision-making standpoint, they are 0 for the year and beyond. Everything they’ve touched in ’22 has been bad — from being baited into giving Murray a $250 million contract extension with his ransom letter, to extending their head coach and general manager, to firing their offensive line coach midseason to collecting older players who are often ineffective and injured. And Monday night on the third play of the game, ’22 went from horrible to devastating as they lost Murray to what is believed to be a torn ACL. If confirmed, it will prevent him from being ready for the start of the 2023 season and causes great concern for his future. Murray needs his speed, quickness and electric movement to be an effective player as he struggles when kept in the pocket. Whenever a player suffers a devasting injury to his lower body, the long-term effects are worrisome. Without his Road Runner-like skills, Murray is a below-average quarterback, making this injury devasting to all.

The Cardinals have been trending downward since we started ’22 and will continue to trend in that direction even though backup quarterback Colt McCoy offers some hope.  In those six wins since the start of ’22, McCoy is responsible for one, and had he gotten a little more pass protection, he might have been able to keep Monday night’s game closer against the Patriots. Behind a bad line, McCoy is struggling for time to throw, and when he holds the ball a little longer, he takes a beating. He won’t make it through four more games as McCoy is prone to injuries himself. This weekend in the Cardinals-Broncos game, instead of seeing Murry and Russell Wilson, two quarterbacks who received huge contract extensions this offseason, we will watch McCoy and Brett Rypien battle. The Under might be the only play in this game. 

Monday night was a double loss for the Cardinals. They lost a winnable game, their franchise quarterback and any hope for finishing strong. What started as a great year turned into a disaster, and for all of us who handicap teams, the Cards’ Under win total for 2023 might be a great play. 

Week 14 thoughts

Can Mike Vrabel continue to work his magic on a poorly constructed roster in Tennessee? The Titans are hard to run against, and now that teams have decided to make it an all-pass game, the Titans’ lack of coverage players gets exposed. Their defense ranks 25th in passing yards per attempt as they have faced the least number of passes of any team so far — yet all of that changed when the Bengals, Eagles and Jaguars decided to throw more and forgo the run. The Titans will make the playoffs, but Vrabel has run out of tricks to cover up the sins of his roster.

Jets quarterback Mike White is a free agent at the end of the season, and his display of toughness in Buffalo on Sunday was impressive. He was battered and bruised and much like a boxer who keeps getting knocked down during the fight, White got back up and kept firing. Michael Carter’s fumble was costly, and had the Jets not turned the ball over at the Bills’ 22-yard line, they might have pulled out a victory. With each showing, White is earning money from another quarterback-depleted team as the Jets cannot re-sign White if Zach Wilson is still on the roster. 

The Lions visit the Jets this weekend, which will give fans a playoff-like atmosphere in the Meadowlands. Both teams need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Lions didn’t play their best game Sunday against the Vikings, they played their smartest game. The Lions were great in the fourth quarter, running 29 plays, getting nine first downs and scoring 13 points. They understood if they did not keep scoring, the Vikings were going to come back and win. The Vikings ran out of time — as they scored 10 points in the fourth to make the game tight. When the Lions don’t do dumb things, they can move the ball on anyone. They have averaged 29.33 points per game the last six weeks, winning five games and losing one.

Since beating Buffalo in overtime, an improbable win, the Vikings defense has allowed 341.75 passing yards per game and has forced only two turnovers. They cannot cover anyone and they lack speed when playing zone coverage, making it easy for quarterbacks to throw. The biggest issue is they have not been able to pressure the passer and win with their pass rush from Za’Darius Smith or Danielle Hunter. With no pressure, teams are slicing the Vikings defense apart. They are trending in the wrong direction and unless they can control the ball for more than 35 minutes, they will struggle to keep winning games.

Tom Brady does not look, act or play his age. But his yards per attempt this season is the lowest in his career at 6.2 per attempt, which is awful. Two factors are involved with this decline. His line cannot protect, which requires him to get the ball out of his hand quickly — the Ben Roethlisberger syndrome from last season. Yes, the ball is gone quickly, but the receivers have no depth in their routes. Brady cannot be happy — as their scheme and lack of adjustments in the running game force him to throw the ball more than 50 times per game, making it hard to win. Brady is averaging 44.5 passes per game, which isn’t sustainable, especially when gaining only 6.2 yards per attempt. 

Miami went to Los Angeles to face the Chargers, who have the worst run defense in the NFL. And instead of running the ball, keeping Justin Herbert watching, the Fins decided to get pass happy and Tua Tagovailoa had a horrible game. I cannot help but think the Dolphins’ motivation wasn’t winning the game but to to prove Tua was every bit as good, if not better than Herbert. The Dolphins have taken a ton of criticism for selecting Tagovailoa over Herbert, which was a mistake, and this game became a proving ground to justify the pick. It backfired. Tua is never going to be as good as Herbert. Why not run the ball and win the game? 

The best team the last five weeks in the NFL? The 49ers. And they proved they can win games with a rookie quarterback running their yards-after-the-catch offense. For all the talk about being patient with Trey Lance because he was a second-year player and wasn’t playing well, Brock Purdy, as a pure rookie in his first start, played better than Lance in any of his games. Purdy has good awareness, rhythm and timing and is athletic enough to move around. He doesn’t have the best arm or the strongest lower body, but he understands how to play quarterback, and those 46 careers starts at Iowa State have prepared him. 

The Giants have not won since Halloween and are trending in the wrong direction as they rank 29th overall in the last five weeks. Injuries have hampered their success and when they cannot keep it close in the first half, they don’t have the playmakers to mount a comeback. They have been outscored 149-106 in the first half this season for a minus-43 differential. The Giants must slow the game down, play methodically and win the fourth quarter. And that game plan is hard to execute this time of year.

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