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  • In a loss on Thursday Night Football, Arizona’s simplistic, stagnant, outdated offense didn't stand a chance against the Denver defense. Now it's up to the Cardinals to save their talented rookie quarterback from a lost season.
By Conor Orr
October 18, 2018

It’s a shame to think about the number of talented quarterbacks who were drafted onto bad teams with bad offenses, who then floundered and had to shoulder the psychological weight of a “bust” label that was not entirely their fault for the rest of their lives.

When a young quarterback is in a situation with no hope, no respite in sight, it’s easy to spot. Josh Rosen was there Thursday night amid a 45–10 loss where he was intercepted three times (two went back for touchdowns), and sacked six times. The Cardinals have been there all season.

Arizona came into a prime time game against the Broncos ranked last in yards per game, second to last in points per game and last in third down percentage (22%). The team did not successfully convert a third down until the 9:57 minute mark of the third quarter against Denver.

While the trappings of a disaster game were present early with the fluke tipped pass, intercepted and returned for a touchdown, this was a game that may have been over before kickoff. A spin through Rosen film this year shows so many doomed concepts. Sure, there is the jet sweep tossed in for modernity, but the offense looks like something straight out of 1999 (and not the good parts of 1999 that Jon Gruden spent all offseason rhapsodizing about). So few of Rosen’s plays have any diverging action, or something to take the pressure off the focus of the play. There is almost never the mouth-agape, wide-open pass. Anything that isn’t a simplistic, muddled slant over the middle seems like a forever-developing deep route that would almost assure Rosen on his backside by the time it was finished.

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David Johnson, who is pinned largely between the tackles, averages about 15.3 rushing attempts and 2.9 receptions per game. In a season where backs of his caliber are throttling hapless NFL defenses, Johnson is largely a single-use entity. According to the league’s in-house analytics, the Cardinals offense is almost exactly as effective with Johnson in the game as with him out of the game. This should simply not be the case.

While some coaches with bad offenses view the recent explosion of points and passing yards as an unfair indictment of their work and their roster, this was always going to be the season when the spectacular and average were exposed for the world to see. Good play callers during a season like this are like jazz musicians. There is a beauty and structured chaos to everything. There is a rhythm and a story that develops over the course of the afternoon. Most importantly, it works with quarterbacks who don’t have much NFL experience. This is no longer a league that requires a medical school-style grind for four years until all the secrets are revealed and the tools are mastered.

Sometimes, generational change leaves people behind. The Cardinals, and their first-year quarterback, looked behind on Thursday night as Rosen shuffled frantically to spike a broken screen pass with a little less than three minutes to play in the fourth quarter, down by 35. There were rumblings of a coordinator switch had it all gone wrong against the Broncos. Byron Leftwich is on staff and was blessed by the retired Bruce Arians—the coach who should have controlled how his offensive legacy was continued in Arizona.

If the events of that game don’t scare the Cardinals into making a move—into doing anything, really, to prevent another talented arm from succumbing to a lost season—than nothing will.

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1. If Drew Brees defeats the Ravens on Sunday, he’ll be just the third quarterback to beat every single NFL team.

2. We are hearing less and less from Jalen Ramsey during this Jaguars’ losing streak.

3. Denver’s offense opened up on Thursday, but here’s what they could be doing better.

4. T.J. Lang is trying to get informed as he comes back from a fifth diagnosed concussion.

5. A fun story and video component following the Seahawks to London last week, even if they came home to a tragedy.

6. Inside the 49ers’ communications problems on defense.

7. James Conner and Le’Veon Bell have a great relationship, despite the awkwardness to come.



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