The season’s only three games old, yet we already know this about the 2022 Arizona Cardinals: They will test your patience and tolerance, because few things start slower.
Maybe a Sunday morning after a wild Saturday night in Las Vegas.
Maybe the car you drove in college.
Maybe a bad movie.
The Cardinals fell behind the Rams, 13-0, in the first half Sunday in State Farm Stadium. They didn’t look nearly as bad as they did when they trailed the Chiefs, 23-7, in the season opener. Or quite as bad as they looked in helping the Raiders take a 20-0 lead last week in Las Vegas.
It took a few miracles for the Cardinals to win that one. But, by definition, miracles aren’t on a weekly schedule, and the Cardinals couldn’t come up with another one Sunday, losing to the Rams, 20-12.
All last week, the Cardinals talked about the need to start faster, but they weren’t able to move much beyond the planning stages of that endeavor.
They fought back from the 13-0 deficit, closed to within 13-6 by halftime, and 13-9 in the third quarter. But touchdowns remained elusive, and it's tough to beat a team as good as the Rams if you're kicking field goals instead of extra points.
The Cardinals had drives of 19, 17 and 16 plays that resulted in field goals, not touchdowns.
A third consecutive field goal woke the slumbering Rams, who drove 75 yards for a touchdown that put the game away.
The Cardinals offense only occasionally showed life, but it took some jump starting from coach Kliff Kingsbury, who decided to try for first downs five times on fourth down. The Cardinals were successful on four of them. And still it wasn't enough.
"I don't know if we're trying too hard to call the perfect play and trying to do too much," Kingsbury said of the slow starts. "But it's just been one thing after another. We've got to get it figured out."
Quarterback Kyler Murray also was perplexed about the offense's slow starts in all three games this season.
"I wish I had the answer right now," he said. "Not sure. It's just not winning football. We make it tough on ourselves. You can see the rest of the game, it's competitive, but the first quarter, you can't get anything going. It's bad football."
No one else had much of an explanation, either. Right tackle Kelvin Beachum blamed it on execution, and running back James Conner left the locker room without talking to reporters assembled near his locker.
All three phases contributed to the slow start. The Rams deflected a punt that helped set up a field goal. A 22-yard punt return gave the Rams another short field, which helped them score their first touchdown.
The Cardinals defense scrambled to shut down the Rams passing game for the first quarter, while the offense muddled around without gaining much ground.
Over the last two weeks, the Cardinals (1-2) have proven they can play solid football. It just takes them awhile to get around to it, and they don't do it for long enough stretches.
Finding a solution, if there is one, won't be easy. The number of healthy, eligible receivers is dwindling. A.J. Green left Sunday's game with a knee injury, not that he's contributed much this season. Rondale Moore has yet to play because of a hamstring injury, and DeAndre Hopkins is suspended for three more games.
The Cardinals depth is being tested, and it's failing. They aren't getting enough help from recent draft classes. And the next opponent, the Carolina Panthers, has a history of shutting down Kingsbury's offense.
Kingsbury is 0-3 against the Panthers, failing to gain 300 yards in any of them. A year ago, the Cardinals gained just 169 yards in a 34-10 loss. They trailed 23-0 at halftime of that game.
The Cardinals are, that is, to create a pass rush.
They have two sacks this season, both by defensive lineman J.J. Watt over the last two games.
Watt’s importance to the Cardinals can’t be overstated. After missing the season opener with a calf injury, he’s made an impact the last two weeks. If not for him, the Cardinals wouldn’t have much of a pass rush at all.
Outside linebacker Markus Golden, who led the team with 11 sacks a year ago and signed a one-year contract extensions earlier this month, doesn’t have a sack yet. Other than Watt, no one else is applying consistent pressure on quarterbacks.
Simmons/Collins debate continues
The Cardinals continue to use their young inside linebackers in curious ways, especially considering Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins were first-round picks in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
For the second consecutive week, Simmons didn’t start. And while he played more than he did a week ago against the Raiders, his role Sunday was still limited to certain packages.
Collins started, but both first-round picks were on the bench during most of one Rams' possession in the second quarter. In their places were combinations of Nick Vigil, Tanner Vallejo and Ben Niemann.
It’s an odd decision, given how much the Cardinals have invested in Simmons and Collins. And especially since Kingsbury, via an edict from General Manager Steve Keim, handed a starting job to Collins on the day he was drafted.
That didn’t last long a year ago, because Jordan Hicks was better. But the two young linebackers were supposed to join the core of the Cardinals defense for years to come.
So far, that has yet to happen.
McVay wins another one
Rams coach Sean McVay has become the Cardinals biggest nemesis.
Sunday’s victory improved his record against the Cardinals to 11-1, including last season’s victory in the opening round of the playoffs.
McVay has had the Cardinals number since his first season, 2017, when the Rams beat the Cardinals, 33-0, in London.
The Cardinals have beaten the Rams just once since McVay arrived. That came in the first of three meetings last season. Kingsbury is 1-7 against the Rams.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Cardinals find no solution to their slow starts, lose to the Rams