SportsPulse: A quarter of the season is in the books. The Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans would probably like a redo. Mackenzie Salmon reveals our biggest risers and fallers in this week’s power rankings.
He’s played in a record-high 254 career games with the Cardinals, has made 87 straight starts dating back to the 2014 season, and he’s caught at least one pass in 247 consecutive games and counting.
But never in Larry Fitzgerald’s 17 NFL seasons has he had such a miserable two-game stretch as he has now.
In back-to-back losses to the Lions and Panthers, Fitzgerald has caught a combined three catches for just 4 yards. He had one reception for no gain against Detroit and two receptions against Carolina, one for 6 yards and another for a 2-yard loss.
It’s not as if Fitzgerald has suddenly lost it overnight. He caught seven passes during Arizona’s Week 3 victory over Washington. He’s still getting almost the same amount of offensive snaps as teammate DeAndre Hopkins.
September 13, 2020; Santa Clara, California, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) celebrates during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports (Photo: Kyle Terada, Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
But here’s the difference: Hopkins has been targeted a team-high 46 times by quarterback Kyler Murray and although Fitzgerald has been targeted the second-most times, only 18 passes have been thrown his way through four games. That’s one more than running back Chase Edmonds and four more than No.3 receiver Christian Kirk, who sat out the Detroit game.
“He’s the heart and soul of this team,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said after Fitzgerald’s one-catch, no-gain performance against the Lions. “When he’s getting the football, good things happens. That’s completely on me.
“He had one of the best camps of anybody on the team. He played great in the first two games, was getting open. I just did a poor job of getting him the ball.”
Kingsbury also promised this: “He’ll have a prominent role moving forward.”
Just like the Detroit game, however, Fitzgerald was targeted only three times against Carolina. Only twice before have the numbers ever been comparably this bad over a two-week stretch.
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Last year, during a win at the Giants and a loss at the Saints, Fitzgerald caught a combined three passes for 20 yards. In 2012, during losses at the Jets and Seahawks, he finished with a combined two receptions for 25 yards. But he’s never had back-to-back games with as few as 4 combined receiving yards – until now.
On Monday, Kingsbury met with reporters again to rehash the Cardinals’ 31-21 loss to the Panthers and the first question he faced was about Fitzgerald and his lack of targets, especially since Kingsbury said the 37-year-old would have a more prominent role.
Kingsbury admittedly said the situation has become frustrating.
“Yeah, it is,” he said. “I’ve said it before, he’s a guy who gives us energy when he’s making plays and getting the ball in his hands. We all know that, and I have to continue to script that way and find ways to get the ball in his hands.
“We had a shot early and weren’t able to connect and then for whatever reason, how the game went, it didn’t get back that way. But he’s a tremendous player, one of the best to ever play the game, and we all know we have to do a better job getting him the football.”
As soon as the Cardinals landed Hopkins during a blockbuster offseason trade with the Texans, Kingsbury knew he would have his hands full trying to make sure each of his playmakers would get their share of touches.
As he often remarks about how fascinating it is to watch Fitzgerald still diving for passes and making insane plays in practice, Kingsbury probably never thought there would be a problem getting the ball to Fitzgerald. After all, Fitzgerald caught 75 passes for 804 yards last season, which wasn’t terribly far behind his annual career average of 86 receptions and 1,067 yards.
That’s another reason why Kingsbury has spent time the past couple of weeks blaming himself for Fitzgerald’s lack of targets – because he knows the Cardinals are a better team when he’s getting the football thrown in No.11’s direction.
“I’m not concerned about my production at all, honestly,” Fitzgerald said last week. “It’s not something I concern myself with. I do want to thank coach Kliff. I’ve never had a head coach actually say that before. I’ve never been one to politic or ask or request plays or passes. I don’t really operate like that.
“I’ve operated the same way for however many years I’ve played football, since I was 6 years old, and I don’t intend to change. As a player, I do appreciate him saying that, but I don’t want my head coach answering questions about any one individual being not targeted. This is a team game. This is a great offense. We have many playmakers who deserve the opportunity to be showcased in this system and have worked tirelessly to put themselves in a position to be successful.”
Yeah, but just three catches for 4 yards in two weeks? Only six targets combined?
“Wherever the ball goes, it goes,” Fitzgerald said last week. “My only objective is to win and do what’s required to win.”