NFL Week 5 Cardinals at Rams – Breaking the camel’s back

The Football Educator’s guest blogger Frank Martin breaks down why Arizona fell from the ranks of the unbeaten.

Despite wins over Philadelphia and New England, there are many in the football world that feel the Arizona Cardinals were the weakest undefeated team in the league heading into week 5.  Seems those people were right as “Old Man Reality” hit the Cardinals with everything it had on Thursday night.   (So did the St. Louis defense.)  The Rams defense battered QB Kevin Kolb, sacking the signal caller nine times… (nine times…) en route to a 17-3 victory over the previously undefeated Cardinals.

“Experts” have pointed out the Cardinals major concern lies in its offensive line.

After reviewing the tape, they are right.  Here are a couple examples.

Let’s look at a basic run play from the first quarter…

(Below) The Cards line up in pro personnel: 2 RB, 2 WR, TE.  In today’s game, this is a running formation.

St. Louis brings strong safety Darian Stewart up to support the run while dropping free safety Quintin Mikell (not pictured) back deep.  It’s a simple “8 in the box” look.

Prior to the snap, the Cards bring WR Andre Roberts in motion toward the ball.

Rams CB Janoris Jenkins follows, and now by “formation,” Arizona has built a “9 in the box” situation for the Rams.  Why would they do that?  Doesn’t that make running the football harder?

Well, no it’s actually a great play design because of what the formation creates.   (Below)   Here is what the Cardinals are trying to do.


(While it’s hard to see from the all-22 angle) 5 of the 9 Rams “box” defenders are aligned to the tight end side of the ball (Arizona’s left).  The Cardinals want to run right.

Arizona has created a number’s game.  Three one-on-one match-ups for their FB, WR and RT.

The most important of the three blocking match-ups being between right tackle Bobby Massie and Rams WLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar.  He is the key.

The play calls for Massie to allow Rams DE Chris Long to release inside (with Long being picked up by FB Brit Miller).  Richardson must then climb to the second level of the Rams defense and “seal off” Dunbar.

Here’s another look at the play.


The play calls for a counter step to the left by RB Ryan Williams.  This “counter” action is designed to give Massie an extra “moment” to get to the second level.

If Dunbar hesitates or steps toward the fake to his right, Massie will have the necessary leverage to seal him off.

You’ll also notice, Massie’s block was supposed to work in correlation to WR Larry Fitzgerald’s block on CB Courtland Finnegan.  Fitzgerald is trying to seal Finnegan outside, creating a lane for RB Ryan Williams to run through.

So what went wrong?

To put it bluntly, three bad steps. (Below)

Massie whiffs on his block and Dunbar is free to push the play outside.

Two steps later, (above) Dunbar moves toward the line of scrimmage and Ryan Williams chooses to try to out run him to the sideline.  But this counter-acts what Larry Fitzgerald is trying to do with Finnegan.  Remember, he is supposed to force Finnegan out to the sideline.


Without leverage (as well as eyes in the back of his head), Fitzgerald can do nothing but simply watch Finnegan force Williams out of bounds.

One guy misses a block and the entire design of the play is washed out in a few steps.  I imagine this is why most teams choose not to run the ball anymore.  It’s hard.

In Arizona’s defense, let’s keep in mind, St. Louis’ defensive line features three first-round picks (talent) and free-agent stud tackle Kendall Langford (opportunity).  So the Rams are near the top of the food chain when it comes to holding the line.

If I see the result of the last play, and I am Ken Whisenhunt, I want to pass more too.

Which as we see on the very next play, is the wrong move.

Here’s the pre-snap look (below).  Mark DE Chris Long (he’s got the pink towel at the bottom of the line)

Pretty basic.  Press coverage.  Man look.  The Cardinals also appear to have enough players to protect their QB.  Now watch what Chris Long does in one step. (below)

Now four steps (below)

Long is just about 5 yards deep in the back field.  One more step takes us to our next picture and as you see in five easy steps…

Chris Long has a sack.

If Arizona can’t protect the QB in the most basic fashion (one-on-one), they must adjust their plan.  The New Orleans Saints did this very thing.  After getting upset by the Rams, Sean Payton went to a basic chip technique using of all people TE Jimmy Graham.  It widens the defensive end and gives your tackles a chance to “catch up.”  Clearly, Massie is a liability on the edge against rushers with talent.  Since this is the NFL and he will see more talent comig off the edge, it’s time to help Massie out.  On Thursday night, Arizona did not.

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