Devils, Cardinals Have Opposing Weaknesses
The Valley’s Two Bastions Of Football Disappoint In Two Rivalry Games That Rip Fans’ Hearts Out
By Bob Goodwood
Modern Times Magazine
Nov. 21, 2011 — There were two, good football rivalries set for the weekend that Valley football fans got pretty excited about: The Arizona State Sun Devils taking on in-state rival Arizona and the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals on the road to battle the San Francisco 49ers, their NFC West rivals.
But oh, ho-ho. The two games ended up being thoroughly exasperating disasters. The Sun Devils lost 31-27 — a game in which they had two shots at the end zone from about the 10-yard line before time expired. The Cardinals, though, got whooped 23-7 and it wasn’t nearly as close as the final score might make it seem.
The funny thing, though, is the Sun Devils and the Arizona Cardinals are two struggling football teams suffering from weaknesses that are polar opposites of the other. The Sun Devils, losers of three in a row, have a defense that can’t live up to expectations — mainly because they hit but can’t tackle — but have a credible offense. The Cardinals, who are done for the season after the loss on Sunday, have a defense that might be one of the league’s best if their offense could only maintain a couple of long drives.
If the Sun Devils would have made some tackles Saturday night, they would have been able to win the game going away. Sure, the Wildcats deserve some credit — Ka’Deem Carey specifically — but they just missed way too many tackles. They seem to be going for the big hit instead of wrapping guys up and when you are trying to track down quick, elusive backs and receivers, the result will be what happened Saturday — short passes that turn into touchdowns.
Sun Devils Coach Dennis Erickson addressed that at his Monday presser and he had no answer for it.
“In this game, we tackled in two situations it was ridiculous how many tackles we missed. We practice tackling every day. We practice that every day. Not focus, but running to the football, getting a lot more people to the football. The first touchdown that they scored the guy broke three tackles and scored a touchdown. It could have been a four yard hitch. Obviously we just keep practicing and do the things that we do, but we just don’t make the plays that we did before," Erickson said.
With all due respect, it was not just Saturday night. The Sun Devils have been horrible at wrapping guys up all year. They almost lost the first “blackout” game against Missouri because of the same thing.
The Sun Devils are more than credible on offense — 548 yards of total offense against the Wildcats — and that should have been enough to take home the Territorial Cup for the second straight year.
The Cardinals on the other hand, are horrendous on offense. They managed just 229 yards against the 49ers — and only 149 in the air against a team that came in allowing more than 250 passing yards per game. Sure, the 49ers are the best in the league against the run, but that comes at a price in the passing game. They also have the best receiver in the game in Larry Fitzgerald. His three catches are unacceptable.
“Our defense fought. I thought they did a nice job, but we didn't play well enough offensively, especially at the quarterback position to give us a chance against a good football team,” said Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt. “If we can get our offense to play at the level that our defense plays, we’ll be fine.”
Easier said than done. This season is over for the Cardinals. Only 10 games into the season and next year is already on the minds of fans. Whisenhunt is a warrior who will never give up until mathematically eliminated — as he should be — but they would have to win out to even have a chance and the odds of that, well, are pretty slim.
The Sun Devils still have a shot if they can win the finale against California Friday. But if they don’t learn to wrap up, their bowl hopes will be the only thing thrown for a loss.
Bob Goodwood is a freelance writer currently living in Scottsdale, Ariz.