TEMPE, Ariz. – The season is over.
The players are gone.
Now it’s time for Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians to figure out what happened that led to a 7-8-1 record and a second-place finish in the NFC West, after his team was a chic pick not to just make it to Super Bowl LI but to win it.
The Cardinals’ postmortem will focus on the last five minutes of five games that Arians believed changed the course of the season.
“We will go back and research why we didn’t play well in those five minutes that cost us games that took us out of the playoffs,” Arians said. “That will be the research we do as a coaching staff – if we asked them to do things that they couldn’t do too much, why weren’t successful, because we had been successful in those scenarios for two to three years.
“Was it the personnel? Was it the scheme? What it all was. And we will evaluate every single situation and try to improve it.”
It all started Week 1, Arians said.
Kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed a potential game-winning 47-yard field goal with 36 seconds left against the New England Patriots on primetime TV. Had he made that, after the Cardinals’ offense executed an efficient two-minute drill, Arians believes the trajectory of the season would’ve been set on a different course.
“Had we won the game like we should have, with the field goal, I think the whole season is different,” Arians said.
“That set a little bit of ‘are we good enough?’
Then there was the loss to the Los Angeles Rams at home in Week 4.
David Johnson fumbled the ball away near midfield with Arizona up 13-10. A touchdown would’ve sealed an Arizona win, Arians believes. The Cardinals lost 17-13, falling to 1-3.
“The first two losses at home set us way back for the season because you had to fight from the back end the rest of the way,” Arians said.
“I think maybe everybody started pressing a little bit more. Those will be the critical areas of games lost. The Miami one, that was different because of the rain and everything else but that was another game we should have won.”
There were individual reasons that Arians felt contributed to the Cardinals’ season, mainly injuries.
Losing Evan Mathis early in the season hurt, he said, because the offense wasn’t prepared to replace him. Losing Jared Veldheer later in early November was another shot to the offense, Arians said. Another was John Brown, who dealt with the effects of being diagnosed with the sickle-cell trait in late October. J.J. Nelson’s broken thumb in training camp set him back during the first half of the season. Between the two, Arians felt the Cardinals’ offense lost some of its speed, taking away some of its luster in the process.
“John’s illness hadn’t shown itself on what it was but you knew there was some problem because he didn’t have the gear when the ball was in the air that he’s always had,” Arians said.
“He’s had a couple of balls thrown deep that he’s always had that catch-up speed to go get it. That’s not there right now.”
Dealing with injuries wasn’t something new for the Cardinals. Two seasons ago, they had to face similar circumstances. But this season, Arians felt the backups, and their backups, weren’t producing at the levels they had in the past.
And that was one of the things that bothered him most about how Arizona underachieved all season.
“The fact that we didn’t overcome the injuries that we should have and have in the past,” he said. “Next man up didn’t necessarily do his job good enough the first week.”
But it’s why they lost those games that still has Arians perplexed.
“If you can put a finger on an individual, you replace him. If you can put a finger on something, you fix it right away,” Arians said. “But this was different scenarios each week and that’s why this will be fun as a coaching staff to go back and review it all.
“Hopefully it’s something that we can correct.”