The Arizona Cardinals won't soon forget their 23-21 loss to the New England Patriots, as coaches and players have pinpointed a number of alarming issues that plagued Arizona during the contest.
On Thursday, its was defensive coordinator James Bettcher's turn to analyze the Cardinals' downfall, and like head coach Bruce Arians who spoke earlier in the week, Bettcher pointed out the Patriots' 10-for-16 success rate on third downs as the defining issue of his defense's performance.
"We came in Monday morning, sat down and obviously all sick to our stomachs with disappointment and our performance defensively," Bettcher said. "Looked at the tape, and the first thing you always do is you look at the things that were the issues and we know third down defense was one of the issues in the game. Leverage, tackling on third downs were an extremely important part of the reason we didn't have success in those situations."
On multiple third downs, New England quarterback and first-time starter Jimmy Garoppolo actually hit receivers short of the first down marker, but the elusiveness of players like Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell haunted Arizona as Patriots' players consistently broke tackles and stretched forward for extra yardage.
"Tackling overall was an issue for us," Bettcher said. "There's some runs that got out on us where if we make the tackle, on first hit, we had them at about 95 yards after contact and that's too much and we haven't had that in awhile here. Those are things that we addressed and you come in after a loss like that, and the only way to handle expectations is to focus on the moment you're in. And that's the point of emphasis to these guys on defense."
Like Arians, Bettcher knows the Cardinals missed an opportunity, but also understands the team cannot afford to lose a second consecutive home game, this time against a conference opponent.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to town on Sunday, boasting a 1-0 record after a 31-24 defeat of NFC South Division foe Atlanta. The Buccaneers were just 3-for-10 on third down against the Falcons, but quarterback Jameis Winston enjoyed plenty of success through the air as he tossed for 281 yards on 23 completions.
Bettcher was complimentary of Winston on Thursday, citing the second-year quarterback's improved command of the offense and ability to check into more favorable plays at the line of scrimmage as a reason for Tampa Bay's week one success.
"Moving onto Tampa, I thought Jameis (Winston) did a great job running their offense this past week," Bettcher said. "You saw him making checks at the line of scrimmage, he's got some control of the offense it looks like in terms of ability to change plays at the line of scrimmage. I thought he did a nice job delivering the ball, we all know he's got an explosive arm, buys time in the pocket to make throws down the field."
The Buccaneers struggled to run the ball against the Falcons, as starter Doug Martin averaged just 3.4 yards per carry on 18 touches. Martin is coming off one of the best seasons of his career in 2015, when he averaged nearly 5.0 yards per carry and amassed more than 1,400 yards on the ground. Coupled with a capable backup in Charles Sims, Bettcher said Tampa Bay has a strong identity in the backfield.
"In the backfield between Martin and Sims, you've got two extremely powerful running backs," Bettcher said. "Both of them have some of their own set of plays and ways they feature them and use them, so you've got to bring your big boy pads to tackle both of those guys because they are powerful, explosive runners."
Aside from Winston, Tampa Bay's other offensive standout from Sunday's season-opening victory was wide receiver Mike Evans, who caught five passes for 99 yards and one touchdown. Evans put up 1,000-yard seasons in each of his first two seasons in the league, and will likely match up with Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson in what figures to be one of the most intriguing showdowns around the league in week two.
Peterson was stout against New England, but rookie corner and first-time starter Brandon Williams struggled against New England's route concepts. Williams will likely match up with Vincent Jackson, who caught just two passes on Sunday for 18 yards.
"Then on the outside with Jackson and Evans, both of those guys are tall, long receivers," Bettcher said. "They're going to throw the ball vertically down the field to both of them and those guys are obviously going to be an important part of their offense and what they do."