You’ve got to hand it to Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians. The man means business.
After a humiliating 33-18 loss Sunday at previously win-less Buffalo, a game in which quarterback Carson Palmer threw four interceptions to the Bills’ secondary, where his offensive line allowed five sacks of Palmer to a defensive front missing its best performer in the suspended Marcell Dareus, and where his defense allowed 110 rushing yards and two scores to the heretofore hibernating LeSean McCoy, Arians put his foot down and got tough, doing what had to be done.
He cut the long snapper.
Kameron Canaday, who made the team as an undrafted rookie out of Portland State, was shown the door after his second high snap in three games. You may recall his first miscue botched the timing of kicker Chandler Catanzaro’s potential game-winner in the waning seconds of the season-opener against the Patriots. Canaday’s snap was high, Catanzaro missed the 47-yard field goal attempt, and New England hung on for a 23-21 win.
Against Buffalo, Catanzaro lineup for a chip-shot 29-yard field goal with two minutes and change left in the third quarter in what was already a 23-7 deficit for the Cards. This time, Canaday’s snap was airmailed toward Toronto, and Buffalo’s Aaron Williams eventually scooped it up around midfield and ran it back the final 53 yards to shut the coffin lid on the game and perhaps Canaday’s brief NFL career.
“Grow the hell up,” Arians barked after the game when asked if he spotted some flaw in Canaday’s technique, which was, in all fairness, a question better served for the special teams coach Amos Jones. “It has nothing to do with anything but what’s between his ears.”
No one here is arguing that Canaday deserved a stay of execution. Bringing in veteran Aaron Brewer, who’s previously snapped for Chicago and Denver, was probably a necessary move. You can only make so many mistakes on what should be routine, slam-dunk plays.
That being said, one would hope that Arians realizes that his charges had a team-wide meltdown against the Bills and that one player or one play wasn’t responsible for that.
Let’s start with Palmer, who wasn’t just the second-best quarterback on the field on Sunday, but isn’t even the best passer in the league named “Carson” anymore. Yes, he spent the fourth quarter engaged in the parlor game of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-worse with Ryan Fitzpatrick, but by then the contest was well lost. We shouldn’t gloss over the fact that it took until 9:13 remaining in the second quarter for him to engineer the Cardinals’ initial first down and that the offense gained but two yards in their first five drives combined, making this the second time in three games that they started games horribly.
There were isolated performances here and there for the visitors. The wondrous Patrick Peterson had a one-handed interception, an over-the-shoulder grab that most Pro-Bowl receivers would dream of making, and Chandler Jones had his third sack in as many games. Meanwhile, David Johnson accounted for most of their offense, contributing 111 yards from scrimmage and scoring both of their touchdowns. Again, for the second time in three games Arians abandoned any semblance of a shared workload in the backfield, with Johnson playing all but three snaps while Andre Ellington lined up for just one and Chris Johnson was given just two carries.
More than anything the Cardinals looked soft, sluggish and ill-prepared, typical of west coast teams playing in the morning across the country. They weren’t ready for Buffalo’s physicality on either side of the ball or their desperation after an 0-2 start. Maybe the players watched Fitzpatrick and his receivers raining carnage upon the Bills in the Thursday game of Week 2 and were further buoyed by the ease with which they themselves dispatched the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 40-7 three days later. Given those factors, what test would the Bills, who’d be without Dareus, their best receiver in Sammy Watkins and just dismissed their offensive coordinator after losing to the Jets, pose for them, right?
Well we saw what, and now the Cardinals already have two defeats on the young season after finishing 13-3 the year before. It seems evident that the running theme of the 2016 season is going to be “You didn’t think it was going to be that easy again, did you?” and that Arizona will have to work for everything they get, no longer assured of bludgeoning teams into submission behind Palmer and his receivers week after week.
An opportunity to right the ship arrives on Sunday against the Rams, whose posteriors few expected Arizona to be staring at in the NFC West standings after three weeks. Besides their geography the main thing the two squads have in common so far is they’ve both gotten healthy against the Bucs, with Los Angeles breaking out of their offensive doldrums to some score 37 in the surprising shootout win. Stopgap starter Case Keenum got a couple explosive plays from Brian Quick and Tavon Austin and plenty of steady pounding from Todd Gurley, but it’s still not the kind of offense you’d expect to hurt the Cardinals, who’ve won four of the previous five meetings between the two teams.
The Bills weren’t supposed to be a threat to them either, of course.
The Cardinals better find a way to recapture the magic of last season because Arians will not stand idly by. Another upset loss and more heads will roll. Why, next week it could be the gunner on punt coverage. Or perhaps an assistant trainer.
That’ll show ’em.