By HCR Staff | Nov. 14, 2018
Josh Lambo, Aldrick Rosas, Sam Martin. Phil Dawson was hoping to join the company of these three kickers on Sunday against the 8-1 Kansas City Chiefs. Why? Because those three possess the only successful onside kicks in 2018 out of 31 attempts. Prior to the 2018 season, rule changes to kickoffs that forbid a running start and evenly distribute players to each side of the kicker made successful onside kicks nearly impossible. Things were different between 2001 to 2010, when surprise onside kicks — not an obviously desperate situation — had a recovery rate of 60 percent (compared to 20 percent when everyone in the building knew one was coming). Perhaps it was this element of surprise that Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks was banking on when his team attempted one in the first quarter of Sunday’s game against the Chiefs.
Going into this Week 10 matchup, the 2-6 Cardinals were heavy underdogs against the AFC’s top team. Not to mention they would also be playing in one of the most hostile environments in the league. The game plan for the Cardinals to steal one in Arrowhead Stadium was to keep the Chiefs off the field as much as possible, and early on they were executing.
The Cardinals won the time of possession battle thanks to four drives of over 10 plays each. Unfortunately for them, only two of those resulted in touchdowns and the other two resulted in turnovers. They had a solid game plan, but the execution just wasn’t consistent.
Keeping the Chiefs offense off the field wasn’t just put on the shoulders of the Arizona offense. The defense did a commendable job bringing Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes down to Earth and limiting Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce to an extent. Special teams was even in on the action.
The Cardinals found the end zone following a lengthy drive and the game was tied at 7 with eight minutes left in the first quarter… when they attempted a surprise onside kick. It wasn’t recovered cleanly before going out of bounds, giving the Chiefs excellent field position at the 40. Apparently, it wasn’t as big a surprise surprise as Arizona would have liked. Earlier in the week, Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub mentioned opponents would try “tricky things” to steal possessions, so he prepared his team to expect and recover anything out of the ordinary. This kind of anticipation and execution is what kept the Chiefs at one loss even on a day they weren’t at full throttle.
The Cardinals website does a good job of dissecting each aspect of the attempt, including the perspectives of both Steve Wilks and K Phil Dawson. Wilks stated that they “weren’t going to put [their] hands in [their] pockets” and elected to stay aggressive. So it seems an onside kick was going to come at some point in this game. The only thing surprising was how early it did. But Dawson saw the personnel they had on the field and decided it was time. He liked the kick, it just wasn’t recovered.
As for HCR’s perspective, we agree with the Cardinals game plan to keep the Chiefs away from the football as much as possible. However, we believe it shouldn’t have come in this form and especially at this time. The Cardinals were executing their game plan offensively, and their defense would hold the AFC’s best offense under their 35 points-per-game average. The Cardinals were exactly where they needed to be. But the onside kick risked giving the defense a tough task of defending a short field against a high-octane offense and swinging momentum in favor of the Chiefs.
That is what happened. Though the Chiefs only cashed in for three after the onside, they had a 20-7 lead by halftime. Falling behind the sticks with only a half to play took the ball out of David Johnson’s hands and shoved it in rookie Josh Rosen’s. At that point, the offense was not as effective as it had been in the first half. Rosen threw two picks and had Chiefs in his face several times throughout the second half.
The Cardinals were heavy underdogs going into this game, but didn’t show signs of that before the onside kick. Wilks’ aggressive game plan was right on track but this particular call was not sound. If the Cardinals stuck with their game plan and didn’t try to push the limit, it could have been a lot closer. Instead, it was evident the Cardinals started losing their grip on the game after the attempt, and that is why it’s our Situational Call of the Week.