I'm sorry I had to write that, but hey, if you follow me on Twitter- you were warned. It was in your power to prevent this.
Anyhoo, there is good news here: I get to write a compliment sandwich piece! Obviously I only write these post-win. I floated the idea of an ‘insult panini' in my head for a bit post-Redskins lost but decided I didn't want my rage/ depression to infect you all. You come here for better things than that.
There is also bad news here. This lunch tray sampler of compliment sandwiches may end up causing some intestinal discomfort. There's a lot and each one is heavily loaded. After the win against the Titans, I had to struggle a little to find the ‘but' part to fill in; sorry again, Mr. Simpson. This time I'm going to have to struggle at times to find the nice things to wrap them in.
It was an ugly game, but hey, a win's a win. That said we're not going to win consistently by playing the kind of game we played yesterday. I think we all know and can agree on that. So let's get started.
Compliment: After bemoaning the lack of Percy Harvin in the red zone... as well as generally doing anything in the red zone... after the last fiasco in Washington, that was less of a problem against the Cardinals. Harvin caught a nice pass with his typical YAC greatness for one of our two offensive touchdowns yesterday.
But: It's just too easy to have a ‘but' here, ladies and gents. We didn't seem to have any issues in the red zone this week; heck, we scored a TD both times we were there!
Do you see the problem arising in that statement? "Both times we were there"?! Blair Walsh didn't even get to kick a field goal yesterday because we couldn't even apparently get him into range. Our... passing... offense... stunk. Like, rotten cabbage in an old used baby's diaper stunk. If it were not for the cyborg known by his human alias Adrian Peterson, we would have lost that game, period. Blame Bill Musgrave, blame Christian Ponder... it was bad all around. I'd throw some stats at you but you know by now darn well just what the second half held for us in that department. Scream at me if you must, but to be honest, it was actually worse than the Donovan McNabb led offense!!! At least when he was slamming footballs into the turf opposing DBs couldn't intercept them.
We're not facing a collapsing team like the Cardinals every week, and I have a hard time patting myself on the back for the win. Yes, they started strong. But they are fading and everyone knows it. There aren't many teams in the NFL that wouldn't have beaten them yesterday. This should have been the game against the Titans round two, with us repeatedly body slamming them until they were begging for mercy, and then we slammed them again just to make them scream "I'm a pretty little princess!" so that we would stop out of sheer pity.
That said: The cyborg is back. He said in the post-game press conference that he still doesn't think he's 100%. He also said we'd think he was crazy for saying so. I don't, because I'm afraid that if I say anything bad about him, he'll appear out of a puddle of liquid metal behind me and William Gay me into next week. If Adrian Peterson can indeed remain healthy, and if by G-d he's still not at full capacity, then we are the one team in the NFL that might survive such a bad passing game and escape into a win. Right now every team on our schedule is trying to figure out how they can legally have more than 11 men in the box.
Compliment: Harrison Smith. That's it; his name alone is the compliment. Chris pointed out that we haven't had an actual, factual pick-six since 2007. I mean, I knew it had been a while, but holy crap is that a long drought. And while the INT sure seemed easy, that run for the end zone was pure hustle. Sometimes DBs make an INT and have an open field between them and the end zone; Smith had practically the entire AZ offense between him and it, and he still scampered 30 yards to make it happen. Major credit of course to his teammates for some good blocking but you can't take away the skillz that it took for him to get that ball in.
But: In terms of pure defense, we didn't have a bad game per se; but we sure as hell did in the running department. We're a team whose defensive identity has been based around stuffing the run for I believe 89 years. Sometimes you face a good running back and accept that they're just going to break off a solid run here and there; sometimes, you face a third-string RB and get embarrassed. Maybe Larod Stephens-Howling is beginning some sort of meteoric rise, and is really a much better RB than anyone believed; but I don't think so. He's a third string back, and has been with the team since 2009. I think if he really was as good as we made him look yesterday the Cardinals would have known that by now. I don't know what happened, and thankfully it didn't become too much of a problem, but that was just ugly. Like, world's ugliest dog ugly.
That said: Sack city, baby! We had a bit of a slow start in that department, and Arif can attest to my sincere panic early on in the game in this department. Apparently Brian Robison heard me. I'm very, very sorry sir. Please don't hunt me down. Not only did we record seven sacks spread across four players (Robison, Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Antoine Winfield), but we also smacked the ball free a few times to boot. We knew going into this game that the AZ front line had... ah, issues... defending their QB. I worried a bit that it could have been a Colts redux, where a trash O-line somehow did not equal massive sacks. It was not said repeat, and it did equal massive sacks. And that was fun.
Compliment: This was one of those games where just one bad bounce of the ball and we could have lost. But the team managed to prevent that, and managed to hold on for the win- because let's face it, that's exactly what we did come second half. The defense had to bail the offense out a LOT, but it did it. If this team didn't have good chemistry and a solid foundation, it wouldn't have been much for us to see Chris Cook screaming at Christian Ponder on the sideline because he only got 33 seconds of rest between seeing the field.
But: Speaking of Colts reduxes, penalty city, baby. Ugh. We got off on a bad foot in that department right out of the gate, with Marvin Mitchell racking up a blocking-in-the-back penalty to negate Harvin's take it to the house opening kickoff run. And while some penalties are ‘ticky tacky' as they say, or are questionable from certain angles and whatnot, that was about as clear cut a violation of the rules as it could have been. Repeatedly we had penalties that pushed the offense back away from the first down marker, had penalties that negated solid defensive plays (Chris Cook's nice INT), etc. I'm not really sure what happened; we appeared very disciplined post-Colts game, but yesterday there was a clear collapse of discipline at very inopportune times. The coaching staff needs to iron that out in practice, and quick- we've got another game coming up very soon.
That said: The players seemed to remain united in the postgame conferences/ interviews. While yes, teams typically don't fall apart after wins, it would have been easy for at least a little finger-pointing to go on after that fiasco. But it didn't happen. Now of course we don't know what's been said in private between teammates, but it doesn't seem that this ugly game has rattled nerves too badly, and that's really important because again, we have a game on Thursday. The coaches have enough to cover before then- the last thing they needed was to have to try and re-unite the locker room to boot.
Compliment: This one's going to be a bit tough, and I'm going to try to avoid making this a ‘back handed compliment'. There is one thing I can say about Christian Ponder that's good- he does seem to generally keep his cool in bad situations. Whether it's taking a sack or throwing an INT he doesn't seem to lose his cool. I have yet to see him get blasted right after the snap (as he very much did at one point; that was veeeeery bad on the O-line's part), get up, and pull a Jay Cutler on his linemen. There is some belief that his first INT was based on a bad route run by his receiver, and I haven't seen him barking at anyone on the sideline. While great QBs can and will do that stuff (see- Manning, Peyton) Ponder's not a great quarterback. At least not yet. He wouldn't, in my opinion, do himself any favors by having a Tom Brady-esque meltdown on the sidelines towards a teammate. And he doesn't.
But: Oh, it's too easy to go off here so I'll avoid as much as I can. There's no point reviewing his multitude of bad decisions yesterday, and to be fair, some of that was not on his shoulders. But what I would like to see from Ponder in his post-game interviews is for him to take a little more blame onto himself. Yes, I can see the comments already screaming at me for this one. But I believe it nonetheless so I'll say it nonetheless. Lines like "it's great to win a game like that" rub me the wrong way. While it was a very true statement it's not something I think that the, arguably, worst player on the team that day should say. Great quarterbacks take blame, and I do think, to some degree, that's something he should emulate. No, we don't want Ponder to enter a funk, no, we don't want him having his confidence shattered (although at times it very much appears it is). But there's a fine line between taking full credit for your mistakes and losing confidence, and I want to see him walking it a bit more.
That said: I mentioned it above- not everything that went wrong from his end yesterday was all his fault. Musgrave's play calling was head-scratching at times, to say the least. And again, Ponder's not at the level to just audible out of the play just yet. Brett Favre worked magic in 2009 by ignoring Brad Childress' and Darrell Bevell's calls half the time; Ponder's not Favre. And the O-line might have had one of its worst games yesterday. There were a few times that Ponder definitely held onto the ball too long, but there were probably more times that the O-line allowed defenders to get into his face wayyyy too quickly. No matter how great the QB, there's a limit one can take in terms of constant pressure and the threat of sacks. Just as much as Ponder needs to very quickly iron some of his issues out, the O-line needs to get its act back together, and Musgrave needs to get his head out of his arse ASAP. The Bucs are coming to town Thursday night. We have not beaten them since the divisions were re-aligned and they left the NFC Central/ NFC North. I say that a lot. BECAUSE IT FILLS ME WITH THE DEEPEST, DARKEST, BLACKEST OF RAGES.
I could probably write two or three more compliment sandwiches but I'm going to cap it at that. For a win, there was probably more bad than good in yesterday's game, and again, we're not going to go far playing like that. Fortunately, we should remember that as bad as it was, we have had much, much better games. The first thing this team needs to be doing today is getting some quick and strategic amnesia; while we need to fix the problems that existed yesterday, we can't get too hung up on how poor our performance really was. This team needs to reap some confidence in its win, regardless of how it was achieved. AND FOR G-D'S SAKE IT NEEDS TO BEAT THE F'IN BUCCANEERS ON THURSDAY NIGHT!!!
Oh, and yes, I am 7-0 now in Mark's monster fantasy league. Thanks for asking. And yes, some point this week I will have the Floridian Vikings get together announced-ish. Kind of a shame that the Bucs game had to be on a Thursday night, that could have been perfect. Cest la vie.