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Cardinals struggling to find offensive fix

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Cardinals struggling to find offensive fix

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Cardinals did just enough on offense to get by the first month of the season, riding one of the NFL's stingiest defenses to their best start in 38 years.

Not even their defense has been good enough to overcome the offensive ineptitude lately.

Unable to protect whichever quarterback is healthy or get out of their own way, Arizona's offense has sputtered during a losing streak that reached three games with Sunday's stuck-in-the-mud 21-14 loss at Minnesota.

``We think the defense is doing a great job, they've put us in position to win every single game,'' Cardinals guard Daryn Colledge said Monday. ``We owe it to them to play better football.''

Arizona's defense has certainly held its own.

The Cardinals (4-3) have the NFL's fourth-best scoring defense, allowing 16.9 points per game, and they're seventh in total defense, giving up just over 312 yards. Arizona has 22 sacks, two behind league leader Green Bay, and has had a knack for coming up with big plays, forcing eight interceptions and seven fumbles, including one returned for a touchdown.

With numbers like that, all the offensive really has to do is make a couple of plays and avoid big mistakes.

They did just that early in the season, opening 4-0 for the first time since 1974, 14 years before the franchise moved from St. Louis to the desert.

Over the past three games, Arizona's offense turned it over too many times, allowed way too many sacks, been unable to come up with plays downfield or when in scoring position.

The Cardinals have scored 33 points during their three-game losing streak and overall have given up an NFL-high 35 sacks, including 29 the past four games.

``It kind of feels like we're not handling our side of the ball,'' Cardinals running back LaRod Stephens-Howling said. ``The defense is playing great, the special teams are playing great, we just need to pick it up and score points.''

Injuries are certainly a part of Arizona's offensive struggles.

Quarterback John Skelton, who won a tight battle with Kevin Kolb to open the season as the starter, sprained his left ankle in Arizona's opener against Seattle. Kolb took over the next five games, only to go down with chest and rib injuries in an overtime loss to Buffalo two weeks ago - the same day Skelton was back in uniform.

Running back Ryan Williams is out for the season after suffering a shoulder injury against St. Louis on Oct. 4. Beanie Wells has played three games and is out until at least Thanksgiving with a turf toe injury. Stephens-Howling missed two games with a hip injury and returned against the Bills.

Tight end Todd Heap hasn't played since the opener due to a knee injury and left tackle Levi Brown is out for the season with a triceps injury.

The attrition has led to plenty of shuffling and moving players into unfamiliar roles.

``That's the NFL, you face that,'' Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. ``You don't have 90 (players) like you do in training camp, you only have a 53-man roster, and part of our continuity on offense is struggling because of that. You can't use it as an excuse. You've got to move forward.''

All Arizona's offense had to do was move forward just a little against Minnesota after the defense held the Vikings to 209 total yards.

They couldn't do it.

The Cardinals started four possessions on the Vikings' side of the field in the first half and came away with one touchdown - set up by an interception by the defense inside the 20-yard line. Arizona failed to get a first down on two of the drives and Jay Feely missed a 47-yard field goal on the other.

The Cardinals' beleaguered offensive also had a hard time keeping the Vikings' pass rush away from Skelton, who was sacked seven times and spent most of the day throwing off the run.

Skelton ended up with two of the game's biggest gaffes, losing a fumble with Arizona in position for at least a field goal and throwing an interception that Minnesota safety Harrison Smith returned 31 yards for a touchdown.

``We can't make those kinds of mistakes where we are as a team right now,'' Whisenhunt said.

The Cardinals need to clean it up quick. They play NFC West-leading San Francisco on Monday night and have games against Green Bay and Atlanta coming up.

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Jeff Green lifts Wizards as fellow Hoya Otto Porter watches late again

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USA Today Sports

Jeff Green lifts Wizards as fellow Hoya Otto Porter watches late again

The Wizards’ 117-109 win over the Orlando Magic Monday night was the tale of two Hoyas.

Washington brought Jeff Green back home this summer to help anchor the second unit with his defensive versatility and scoring spurts. Both aspects were on display in the fourth quarter, as the Wizards finally broke free from the Magic.

Another former Georgetown star, Otto Porter, was nowhere to be found in the fourth. Zero minutes for a third consecutive game for the Wizards’ highest-paid player, thus adding another layer of weird to his season.

The why is a topic. For a team that registered its first winning streak of the season after a 2-9 start, all that matters is finding success. That was the postgame message from Scott Brooks.

There’s no detective work required as to why Green turned into a late-game staple.

After his 19-point outing in Saturday’s win at Miami, the streaky scorer had 10 of his 18 in the final period against Orlando with four 3-pointers. Defensively the 6-foot-9 forward offers Brooks an option the roster lacked last season: a versatile player capable of guarding on the perimeter and, as was the case against Orlando center Nik Vucevic, inside against bigger players.

“We need his all-around play,” Brooks said. “He can guard just about everybody on the floor. … I thought [Jeff] did a pretty good job on the big fellow.”

Green and Markieff Morris handled the interior spots the entire fourth quarter. When the forwards can match up with opposing four’s and five’s on defense, it typically means their scoring presence opens the court for penetrating guards John Wall and Bradley Beal on the other end.

Green sinking bombs throughout the game helped as well. He finished four of five from deep with two coming in the fourth. The career 33 percent 3-point shooter is 9 of 13 from beyond the arc overall during the last four games, and 21 of 28 overall.

“He's starting to get a little bit of rhythm from the three-point line, and we need that from him,” Brooks said.

Maybe Green isn’t the ideal athletic-4 Wall called for in recent years, but the on-court connection between the power forward and point guard is evident. During the decisive 14-4 run, the two hooked up for an alley-oop lob that's turned into a go-to play for Washington.

With shooters surrounding the duo, Wall dribbles toward the left elbow, taking all eyes with him. Green immediately turns down an open lane and rolls to the rim before rising high to meet the toss.

“We have shooters, we have guys that have to [be] respected,” Green said of the play. “It keeps [defenders] at bay, and with John’s speed, to get downhill at the rim, you have to help (on him).”

Wall passed on offering any keys to the play’s success (“We just tweaked a little bit of the play. I can’t tell you about, but it’s kind of working for us.”), but he praised Green’s performance with ease.

“That’s what we got Jeff for,” Wall said.

The Wizards matched that massive four-year, $106.5 million restricted offer sheet Porter signed with Brooklyn in 2017 for all kinds of reasons. Among them, he’s an instinct-rich player who makes winning plays and ranks among the most accurate 3-point shooters in the league. Those traits haven’t kept Porter on the court late in games recently in part because they haven’t shown in full-throated ways.

The term “benching” is harsh, though the situation is odd. Morris sat out the final periods at Orlando and Miami. Dwight Howard didn’t enter the fourth Monday despite finishing with 17 points and eight rebounds. Only Porter’s sit streak reached three games.

The small forward played a strong defensive game in Saturday’s win at Miami, but Brooks rode with a group that gained momentum as Washington surged past the Heat.

Porter is 9 of 16 on 3-pointers over the last four games. That’s only one aspect of the game. Brooks is looking for more. Porter took only one shot attempt in the first half Monday, lacked vigor defensively, and scored six points in 21 minutes.

"I mean, it's trying to find a blend of guys that are going to compete and going to play hard,” Brooks said of his lineup choices.

Asked specifically about Porter, Brooks said, “It’s just the way it is. Some games Otto is not going to have good games. Tonight isn’t one of them. He’ll bounce back. The guy is a winner. He knows how to play.”

Green and Porter honed their games at Georgetown under coach John Thompson III and turned into top-5 NBA Draft selections. The program is mostly closed off to the outside world, but a strong bond between the players exists regardless of when they played. The two forwards never joined forces until this season. Green knows Porter, enough to tell whether a helpful chat is required. This isn’t one of those times. 

“Otto is a pro, man,” Green told NBC Sports Washington. “I don’t have to say anything to Otto. He’s a team-first guy. He’s a guy who’s going to make sure whenever his name is called he’s going to be ready. He’s not worried about if he’s playing. I’m sure he’d like to be playing. He’s doing whatever it takes it to make sure the team is in a place to win.”

So is Scott Brooks. For now, that includes one former Georgetown star in the fourth quarter. It’s just not the obvious one.

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' 117-109 win over Magic, including Bradley Beal's big dunk

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' 117-109 win over Magic, including Bradley Beal's big dunk

The Washington Wizards topped the Orlando Magic 117-109 on Monday night. Here are five plays or moments worth revisiting...

1. Like most games the Wizards have played this season, on Monday they started out scorching on offense while defense appeared optional. 

This play was an exception. Bradley Beal, whom you will see plenty more from in this post, got a steal that led to a three for Otto Porter Jr. on the other end:

Though the Wizards won, Porter was held to just six points in 22 minutes of action.

2. Back to Beal. Though that first-half play was nice, he was quiet for much of this game. It wasn't until less than five minutes were remaining in the third quarter that he flipped a switch.

But when he did, there was nothing the Magic could do to stop him. This was one of the plays he made during his third quarter takeover. He used a nifty behind-the-back crossover to set up Dwight Howard for an and-1 bucket:

3. Beal accounted for 10 points in a three-minute stretch, capped off with this steal and dunk:

Beal started the game 3-for-13 from the field, but ended it with 21 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block.

4. John Wall (25 points, 10 assists) and Jeff Green (18 points, six rebounds) also had big nights. They connected on this alley-oop in the fourth quarter:

Green had 10 points in the fourth quarter and Wall had nine.

5. Wall kept it going late with this fadeaway jumper to force a Magic timeout. The way he toyed with the defense off the dribble was quite impressive:

Speaking of Wall, if you ask Beal, it was the media (and more specifically ESPN's Stephen A. Smith) that set the five-time All-Star off. Wall, Beal says, was playing with some extra motivation with Smith sitting courtside:

Don't question him. Just go with it.

The Wizards have now won two straight games. In a sign that it's still super early and probably not time to freak out about the big picture, the Wizards are now just 1 1/2 games out of the eighth seed in the East.

 

 

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