The Arizona Cardinals have the 31st ranked offense in the NFL after week 4. After two, three and four points wins in their previous games, it can be argued that the defense was mostly responsible for the win, with the offense doing just enough necessary. The game on Sunday versus the Dolphins was a step in a different direction.
It was a full teams win on Sunday. The Defense caused four turnovers and four sacks, yet gave up 480 yards and 21 points. The special teams was particularly special, as Jay Feely kicked a game winning 46 yard field goal in overtime, and Dave Zastudil had one of the best nights punting in league history. With nine punts for a gross of 47.3, over the last 20 years only one other punter has a better gross for nine punts. The Offense sputtered at first, but picked up at the end of the first half, with an increased emphasis on the shotgun.
The Cardinals offense came out in their base formation to start the game, two wide outs and two tight ends, but came out with a pass first mentality. The Cardinals threw the ball on first down the majority of the game. The Dolphins Defense looked to be concentrated on stopping the run, and stifled the running game very quickly. Ryan Williams got the bulk of the work with Beanie Wells out, but William Powell had just as many snaps. Powell was the back who came in for the majority of all shotgun snaps. After failing to put up a point in the first half, you saw the Cardinals switch to a three or four wide shotgun set. Switching in and out based on packages were Early Doucet, Rob Housler, and Michael Floyd. This puts starting TE Jeff King and Running Back Ryan Williams on the bench. This fast paced shotgun offense resulted in four straight catches, Kevin Kolb looked much more comfortable, and moved the Cardinals into Dolphins territory for the first time in the game. Then Kolb threw the first of his two picks, on a terrible under thrown ball, trying to force it in to Larry Fitzgerald.
In the second half, the Cardinals opened up with the shotgun set, and immediately saw success. The Cardinals drove down the field and scored. Using an adaptation of the 4 wide set that we saw heavily used in the Eagles game, the Cardinals have been able to get Larry going, despite double coverage most of the time. The Cardinals are using Larry Fitzgerald in the slot of a trips formation. Motioning the TE or fourth receiver out or in, they are able to identify zone or man coverage, and get a good read on what the defense is doing. Larry catches mostly short passes from this set, but it forces the defense to identify and isolate Larry Fitzgerald.
In the fourth quarter, we saw both the best and worst from the Cardinals offense. Andre Roberts had the two biggest catches of his career. With the Cardinals down by six on the Miami 46, Kevin Kolb ran play action and took his first read, Andre Roberts down the sideline, for a 46-yard touchdown. After a Patrick Peterson fumble recovery down to the Miami 3, Kolb threw what he called his worst pass. After Sean Smith pushes Larry out of bounds, Kolb is intercepted as he tries to force a ball to Larry in the end zone. Kevin Kolb shrugged off his second pick of the day, and led the Cardinals on a 10 play drive, completing two fourth downs, the last of which a touchdown on 4th and 15 with 22 seconds left to tie the game. Kevin Kolb called that his best pass
In overtime, the Cardinals went back to a more power oriented offense, and we saw a very uninspiring three and out. After another fabulous Zastudil punt, and eventually the Kerry Rhodes interception, we saw the Cardinals offense complete one final big pass. This time the hero was Early Doucet, catching a 10-yard pass from Kolb to put them in field goal range.
The Cardinals offense is still searching for what is wants to be. We see the Cardinals alternate between run heavy and pass heavy sets, and run first and pass first mentalities. So far we have seen no success from the running game, aside from it creating many opportunities in the play action, which they worked on the Dolphins to the tone of 324 and 3 td’s. The Cardinals are averaging just 2.7 yards per carry. One thing is for certain, if this team is going to continue to overachieve, they have to find a consistent and reliable identity on offense. Is the power run offense they try to endorse the answer? Tendency seems to suggest their best chance of success will be shifting more to a pure shotgun offense, as we saw work to begin the second half. While working runs and play action out of single back sets. This offense does not deserve to be 31st in the league. The Cardinals offense is adaptable, its players are young and fast, and Whisenhunt has shown the ability to quickly change and adapt his offense to what is working. This team has a 4-0 record, and although the defense is playing to that caliber, it is now up to the offense to rise to the occasion.