The ugliest of games: DA v. Troy Smith

If anyone doubted the Cardinals are among the five worst teams in the NFL, a humiliating display last night at home in front of a national TV audience, certainly should quell dissenters.  San Francisco’s 27-6 pounding of the Cardinals was shocking in the sense how inept this team really is, a team its coach said had more talent than any other since he arrived here four years ago.  Shocking in the sense, how a 10-6 team of last season could fall so far, so fast. 

Out here in the desert this season that can mean only one thing.  Derek Anderson.  Fans would say the fault lies 95 percent with the quarterback.  But put aside for the moment DA’s dreary game and focus on the winning quarterback and the reasons he produced a victory.

If you had taken a look at Troy Smith’s statistics after the game and nothing else, chances are you would conclude the 49ers lost the game.  Smith completed only 48 percent of his passes, for a mere 129 yards, and had one interception.  His QB rating was a poor 61.7.  And yet the game was not even close. 

What was the difference then?  Simply put Smith had something DA has lacked most of the season, a competent supporting cast.    He had a running game that amassed an amazing 261 yards rushing, even with star running back Frank Gore injured for much of the night.  Smith had receivers that could actually separate themselves from defenders and make big catches when they were needed.  He had a defense that checked the Cardinals to 13 yards in 11 carries, a defense that was able to pressure DA almost every time he passed.

Because he has help, Troy Smith’s flaws are mostly hidden and of virtually no consequence.  As his coach Mike Singletary said after the victory, the running game allowed Smith to concentrate on what he does best and to avoid attempting plays that aren’t there.  San Francisco ran the ball 66.2 percent of the time, exposing their struggling quarterback very little.  By contrast, the Cardinals relied on their struggling quarterback to pass them out of trouble 76.6 percent of the time.

For those time-of-possession freaks who blame DA and the offense for the defense being on the field too long, it might be noted the defense would not be on the field so long if they could stop the other team.  In fact, in last week’s 31-13 loss in Kansas City, the Cardinals won the possession game, 32 minutes to 28. 

One area that has undeservedly escaped the wrath of Cardinals fans is the receivers.   Supposedly the team’s strongest suit, the receivers have had their own problems.  The All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald has had some stunning drops. None more stunning than last night.   DA threw a beautiful pass to Fitzgerald in the end zone.  Fitzgerald rose into the air to make the catch, his forte, but the ball came free, out of hands.  No touchdown. 

Probably the most telling play of the night came in the first half when DA launched a long pass down the sidelines.  It was caught, not by a receiver, but by the running back Beanie Wells, for 43 yards.  The longest pass play of the game.  It was the first time Beanie had gone long for a catch this year, maybe in his entire career including Ohio State.

Why Beanie?  Because the Cardinals have no other viable speed among the wide-outs.  Steven Breaston has the speed but is playing hurt and no doubt will have knee surgery after the season.   Fitzgerald can not get deep.  And, chances are, if the Cardinals decide to throw deep, DA won’t have time.  Same problem as the running game, a poor offensive line.  And where might the tight ends be?  Of the 16 receptions by the Cardinals last night, not one was caught by a tight end.  Not to mention the coach’s obsession with getting the ball to Fitzgerald, even when he’s double-covered.  Which is most of the time.

The Cardinals coach asks the players to trust the system.  It’s worked before.  But this obviously is a different team.  The coaches have tried too hard to stick to the same old stuff with players unsuited to play a possession, ball-control offense and a 3-4 defense that can not pressure opposing passers.   Admittedly, it is hard to change in mid-stream.

But if coach Ken Whisenhunt thought this team was more talented than any he had, it is a sad and frightening commentary on his abilities and the others on his staff.  This is a bad team, and things likely will get uglier.  Just more crap to pile on DA. Or whoever else may be the quarterback.

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