ST. LOUIS -- After months of installing and reviewing their new offense, the Arizona Cardinals finally had a chance Sunday to see if all the hype, all the planning, all the tweaks would actually work.
And it did -- until they needed it most.
The Cardinals went 7-of-14 in third-down efficiency, struggling from longer distances while mostly converting in short-yardage situations. But when they faced critical third downs, such as three times in the final eight minutes with the game tied at 24, only once were they able to obtain a fresh set of downs.
“We did a really good job for the most part, but then there at the end you got to convert and stay on the field and keep our defense off,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “We didn’t do that as an offense.”
The Cardinals were 3-of-5 on third down in the first half and 4-of-9 in the second. They failed to convert on any third down of eight yards or longer. And on their nine third downs of six yards or shorter, the Cardinals converted all but two.
They missed three of their last four third downs, including their final two, which closed the door on a comeback.
After six months of learning the new scheme, the offense could sense when things were working and when they weren’t.
“I felt like in the first half we really were clicking on third downs,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “In the second half it felt like the drives weren’t as sustained, and we have to improve on that.”
For a few weeks at least, the offense will be a work in progress, but they’re already learning what works. Palmer threw for 327 yards on chunk plays -- an Arians staple -- but they didn’t call a running play on third down, which is typical, but not even one on short-yardage downs.
It’ll be seen if Arians will change his play-calling to help keep drives alive, or if he’ll just rely on his players to make that happen.
“We ended up putting our offense back out on the field, and that’s what cost us the ball game,” Arians said. “It was an evenly fought ballgame. And those last two drives, we’ve got to continue to make those third downs.”