The Cardinals' defense could keep them in games, but their margin for error is thin

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Jonathan Gannon's NFL coaching debut produced a lot of the things he wanted to see.

A ferocious, attacking defense. Good special teams. Some solid offensive moments.

One thing it did not produce: a win.

The Cardinals fell 20-16 to the Washington Commanders on Sunday, a season-opening loss that was encouraging and discouraging all at the same time.

It showed the Cardinals have plenty of fight. Their defense was very good — at times spectacular — and nearly single-handedly pulled off the upset. But it was also discouraging because without franchise quarterback Kyler Murray, it's tough to see how the Cardinals are going to score many points.

Joshua Dobbs — acquired in a trade two weeks ago — completed 21 of 30 passes for 132 yards. He also had two crucial fumbles that helped Washington rally in the second half.

“The last two are unfortunate, but that’s going to happen,” Gannon said. "I thought our operation was pretty clean. He made some throws, operated a lot. I thought he did a good job.”

Gannon said Dobbs will be the starter when the Cardinals host the New York Giants on Sunday. That's not really a surprise considering they don't have many better options. Murray will miss at least the next three games as he continues to recover from an ACL tear in his right knee suffered last season.

Dobbs says he expects to be better in Week 2.

“I think a huge jump is in store," Dobbs said. “Getting out there, getting the flow of the game, getting the flow with the guys. Timing and rhythm in the games is always different than practice sometimes. Just getting out there playing ball can definitely make a huge jump, and I expect them to make a huge jump, especially situationally. I know all of us do.”


The Cardinals' reworked defense looked solid, with six sacks by five different players and three forced turnovers. Newcomers like linebacker Kyzir White and defensive back K'Von Wallace were all over the field while holdovers like Dennis Gardeck and Zaven Collins had game-changing plays.


Too often, Arizona's aggressive play backfired. The Cardinals were flagged for four 15-yard penalties and were penalized a total of nine times for 122 yards.


Gardeck. The 29-year-old has risen from an undrafted free agent to a key part of the Cardinals' defense over the past six seasons. He had two sacks against the Commanders, including a strip-sack that led to a touchdown, and is the perfect leader for a no-name defense that Gannon and coordinator Nick Rallis are trying to build.

“He played great," Gannon said. "That’s what we expected out of him and that’s what he did. He’s one of our premier players, he does a lot on (special) teams, he does a lot on our defense. We ask a lot of him. He handles it. That’s why he’s a captain and one of our good players.”


Dobbs. It's a little unfair to criticize a guy who has been on the roster for two weeks, but there's no doubt his two fumbles were a big reason the Cardinals lost. Outside of those big miscues, Dobbs was OK, but it remains to be seen whether he can be more than just a game manager.


The Cardinals came out of the opener fairly healthy. Veteran OL Kelvin Beachum (hand) was inactive against the Commanders and Gannon said he wasn't sure if he'd be able to practice this week.


0 — Offensive touchdowns for the Cardinals. They cobbled together 16 points with three field goals and a defensive touchdown.


If the defense continues to play like it did Sunday, the Cardinals will almost always have a chance to be competitive. But there's little doubt the offense needs a lot of work before this weekend's home opener against the Giants.