Ralph Freso/Associated Press
It wasn’t exactly news entering Thursday’s home tilt with the Denver Broncos that the Arizona Cardinals are not a good football team. The Cardinals rank at or near the bottom of the NFL in just about every offensive category, and their only win was gift-wrapped for them two weeks ago in San Francisco.
But after watching them punch right through rock-bottom and hit a new nadir in a 45-10 disaster against Denver, fans of the Redbirds are so dizzy and nauseous they need Dramamine. They can’t tell if Josh Rosen is ruining the team, or the team is ruining the 10th overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft.
After watching that desert disaster, the sobering reality is that right now it’s a little of both.
Heading into Week 7, the Cardinals offense was not just bad: It was historically bad. Arizona came into the game dead-last in the NFL in total offense (220.3 yards per game), last in the NFC in passing (156.5 yards per game) and last in the NFC in scoring (13.7 points per game).
The Cardinals converted 21.9 percent of their third downs over the first six games of the season. Over a full 16 games, that would be the lowest conversion rate in well over 40 years.
Now, not all of that is Rosen’s fault. (Looking at you, Sam Bradford, as you stand on the sideline and collect the millions you fleeced from yet another NFL team.) But Rosen had very much looked the part of a first-year quarterback, with a completion rate under 56 percent, only 626 passing yards in four games (three starts) and just two touchdowns to accompany an equal number of interceptions.
Ralph Freso/Associated Press
Rosen himself admitted to Carson Field of Arizona Sports earlier in the week that part of the responsibility for Arizona’s offensive struggles rested with him.
“I think there’s a significant bit of responsibility (on me),” he said. “I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and clean up the edges as much as I can.”
Unfortunately, Rosen just kept struggling—and then some—against the Broncos.
It didn’t take long for it become evident that it wasn’t going to be his night. On Arizona’s second play from scrimmage, a batted Rosen pass was plucked from the air and returned for a score by linebacker Todd Davis.
Not even a minute into the game, the Cardinals were already in a hole.
That interception wasn’t Rosen’s fault. Batted passes happen to everyone from Tom Brady to Aaron Rodgers, but by the end of the first quarter, Rosen had thrown his second pick-six of the night on a pass that should most assuredly not have been thrown to a receiver who cut off his route too early.
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Broncos CB Chris Harris Jr. high-fives teammate Todd Davis during his pick-six on Cardinals QB Josh Rosen 🤷♂️
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Per the NFL Network, it was the first time ever a rookie quarterback had thrown two pick-sixes in the first quarter of a game.
By the end of the first quarter, it was 21-3, Broncos. Twenty seconds after that, it was 28-3. At the half, it was 35-3, and the game was over.
That first half was an absolute nightmare for Rosen. He was 8-of-17 for 60 yards with the two interceptions returned for scores. His passer rating was 16.4.
Not 106.4. Or even 60.4. Sixteen. Point. Four.
It would be great to be able to say that Rosen circled the wagons at intermission, came out in the second half and rallied. But the second 30 minutes of the game were only slightly less disastrous than the first. He turned the ball over three more times in the game. On Arizona’s lone touchdown drive of the game, Rosen threw two more would-be picks that were dropped.
It was a horrendous outing from beginning to end. As a matter of fact, horrendous doesn’t do it justice.
To be fair, Rosen also spent Thursday night in the same spot he’s been in most of the season: an untenable position.
Against a Denver defense that had allowed 200-yard rushers in each of its last two games, the Cardinals managed a whopping 69 rushing yards on 21 carries. The team’s best offensive player, tailback David Johnson, had 39 rushing yards and just 70 yards total. Some of that was because the team fell behind early, but even before they did, the holes just weren’t there.
The Arizona offensive line saved those holes for Denver’s pass-rushers. The Broncos spent more time in the Cardinals backfield than Johnson did. Denver piled up six sacks and hit Rosen 11 times. Von Miller had two sacks and a pair of forced fumbles. Yes, the Cardinals are hurting up front. But it’s not like this line was playing well at full strength.
The coaching staff didn’t do Rosen any favors either. Knowing full well that the offensive line was being abused, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy didn’t call more quick passes or throws to Johnson out of the backfield. Or keep extra guys in to help block. He kept trying to push the ball vertically, which turned out about like you’d expect.
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
There had been loads of speculation before the game that McCoy’s job was in jeopardy. Head coach Steve Wilks didn’t mention anyone by name after the game, but he also didn’t try to hide how he felt about what he’d just witnessed.
“Definitely an embarrassing effort tonight,” Wilks said in the postgame presser. “Unacceptable. Got to find ways to get this thing corrected, and corrected soon.
“You guys are going to ask me about changes. That’s premature to talk about any changes right now. Everybody’s going to be evaluated across the board, and as I said before we’ve got to get this thing moving in the right direction.”
Assuming that Wilks isn’t going to fire himself, McCoy’s a goner. He has to be. Because things are at a tipping point with Rosen.
Rosen is easily the least mobile of this year’s “Big Four” quarterbacks (Rosen, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen). He’s not able to consistently extend plays with his legs. In the face of unrelenting pressure against Denver, he made mistake after mistake. Pressed. Forced the action. Tried to make something happen.
He effectively sabotaged himself—and the Cardinals along with him.
You can bet the rent that Arizona’s next nine games will feature opponents coming after Rosen in an effort to force a repeat of that face-plant.
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
During Thursday’s telecast, Troy Aikman compared Rosen to himself on more than one occasion. Like Rosen, Aikman went to UCLA. Like Rosen, Aikman took more than a few lumps as a rookie—twice as many interceptions as touchdowns and a 0-11 record as the starter in Dallas. Peyton Manning threw 28 picks as a rookie in 1998 and won three games.
But for every Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning, there’s a David Carr and Tim Couch. Carr and Couch were both the No. 1 overall pick in their respective drafts. Highly regarded prospects with what was believed to be a bright future ahead of them. But they were trotted out behind nonexistent offensive lines on bad football teams, took a beating both emotionally and physically and never recovered.
Heck, there’s a guy standing on Arizona’s sideline counting money in Bradford, who was supposed to be a star with the Rams.
How did that work out?
The Cardinals are at a similar crossroads with Rosen. They can either go back to the drawing board, scale things back in an effort to keep Rosen upright occasionally (a la what the Jets have done with Darnold) and possibly sacrifice the present (which isn’t going to amount to anything anyway) for the future, or they can keep pretending the offense isn’t a catastrophe and let Rosen “take his lumps” while they try to win a few games and trash a player who, before the draft, looked to be pretty good.
He’ll even help them. He’s a quarterback. He wants to win. Now.
Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.
What’s going on in the desert right now is certifiable.