ESPN and PFF give uninspiring grades to Arizona Cardinals linemen

(Photo by Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo by Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports) /

Despite the Arizona Cardinals sitting with a 9-2 record, there are still a lot of problems for the team on both sides of the trenches.

Winning cures and hides many things, and the Arizona Cardinals are just the latest team to validate that statement.

But, unfortunately, the Cardinals‘ offensive and defensive lines still have their issues, and those who grade the unit have given less-than-stellar marks to the team’s men in the trenches in three specific areas.

Those three areas include pass blocking, run blocking, and run defense (all in terms of win rate). The Athletic’s Ben Baldwin specializes in NFL analytics and he recently tweeted out several charts that displayed the combined grades from ESPN and PFF for every team in the NFL this season.

What isn’t surprising is that the run block win rate for Arizona is still alarming as it’s one of the worst-graded units in the entire league. Statistically speaking, this makes sense since the Cardinals have allowed six teams to rush for over 100 yards this year. Furthermore, a closer inspection shows that Arizona has allowed more than 150-plus rushing yards to their opponents on five of these said six occasions.

These numbers show that Cardinals general manager Steve Keim not attempting to acquire a run stopper (like Akiem Hicks) before this year’s trade deadline might turn out to be one of the reasons why the team’s season won’t end with a Super Bowl victory. Can Arizona continue to get by with the way they’re currently playing?

Sure, as long as a team is winning, things get swept under the rug. However, there may be cause for concern with the rushing defense, as here is how each of the Cardinals’ remaining opponents ranks when running the ball this season.

  • Chicago Bears – 8th
  • Los Angeles Rams – 24th
  • Detroit Lions – 21st
  • Indianapolis Colts – 3rd
  • Dallas Cowboys – 7th
  • Seattle Seahawks – 25th

While some of these games like Chicago, Seattle, and Detroit seem to be winnable, the genuine concern is for those with rushing offenses that rank in the top 10 (Bears, Colts, and Cowboys).

Arizona would have to be careful not to get behind in those games, as their rushing offense may not be able to keep up despite their own unit ranking as the 11th-best in the NFL through the first 12 weeks of the season.

Arizona Cardinals offensive line receives near to below-average grades, but why?

If there were a way to see the criteria and grading scale for the Cardinals, I’d love to see it. Of course, there are some clunker games (the first 49ers matchup as well as the games against the Panthers and Vikings). At the same time, Arizona’s offense also boasts the following:

  • 20th in the league in penalties (lightyears better than 2020)
  • 6th-highest scoring percentage, with 44.1 percent of drives ending with a score
  • 4th-lowest turnover percentage (8.5 percent)
  • 3rd-most expected points on offense, aka EPA (113.48)
    • For those who want to learn more about the EPA (no, not the environmental agency), click here.
    • Game-by-game EPA results for Arizona can be seen here.

That final metric (EPA) shows that the Cardinals are repeatedly putting themselves in a better position to score with each and every play. They don’t go backward and get behind the sticks. So why would the offensive line receive average grades?

The only inference I can make is that this breakdown is from a technique standpoint, like grading how square a lineman’s hips are when he pulls, kick set mechanics, and so on. Wins are wins, and at the end of the day, that’s the objective.

Let’s hope Arizona can improve some of these grades for the playoff stretch.

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