Cardinals searching for answers to offensive line, fourth-quarter woes

TEMPE, Ariz. -- A pair of painfully familiar problems surfaced in the Arizona Cardinals' 28-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

First, the offensive line had a rough time holding off the Cowboys' pass rush Monday night, especially right tackle Jared Veldheer. And the Arizona defense, after playing well for three quarters, couldn't hold off Dallas when the game was on the line in the fourth.

It was almost exactly the same pattern that Arizona exhibited in its other loss, 35-23 at Detroit in the season opener.

So the Cardinals find themselves 1-2 heading into Sunday's matchup with NFC West foe San Francisco.

Coach Bruce Arians praised quarterback Carson Palmer, who was under extreme duress much of the night but still completed 29 of 48 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.

"I don't think our quarterback could have played any better," Arians said. "He was lights out from start to finish. Even getting hit that many times, he moved his feet great. He was around the pocket. He was the quarterback I knew we'd see all year, and we can win with Carson playing like that."

If he can stay healthy.

The Cowboys had 11 quarterback hits and sacked Palmer six times, three by Demarcus Lawrence, who repeatedly beat Veldheer, the big tackle who was moved from the left to the right side this season.

The problems, Arians said, are "mostly on the right side" of the line. Second-year pro Evan Boehm has had some growing pains, but Veldheer has been the chief culprit.

"Just wasn't good enough," Veldheer said after the game, adding that the only way to improve things is to study tape and fix the mistakes.

General manager Steve Keim, in his weekly radio appearance, was highly critical of Veldheer.

"I don't think it has anything to do with (Veldheer moving to) right tackle," Keim said. "The fact of the matter is he has to get better. He's got to improve all the little things -- his footwork, his technique, his hand placement and get back to basics.

"Again, 64,000 people saw it last night. Jared is a prideful guy, and I expect nothing less than for him to be in here this week and make some improvements."

Arians said Veldheer's problems are "just technique."

"It was the same problem he had on the left side," Arians said, "of being bull rushed and not getting his hands on people. He's got to get his hands on people. If he gets his hands on people, he's big and strong and won't get bull rushed."

To make matters worse, the Cardinals have two new injuries on the offensive line. Alex Boone, who had replaced the injured Mike Iupati at left guard, and John Wetzel, playing in place of injured D.J. Humphries at left tackle, both have triceps injuries and were to undergo MRIs.

Then there are those fourth-quarter woes.

At Detroit, Arizona led 17-15 after three quarters and was outscored 20-6 in the fourth. On Monday night, the game was tied at 14-14 after three quarters, and the Cowboys outscored the Cardinals 14-3 in the fourth.

"That's two games that we had a chance to win in the fourth quarter and didn't get it done," Arians said, "one on the road and one at home. It wasn't effort, it was just executing on a couple of plays."

It didn't help that the Cardinals had a drive of nearly nine minutes late in the first quarter and early in the second and came up empty. A touchdown pass was negated by a holding penalty, then Phil Dawson missed a 36-yard field goal try. That's the 42-year-old kicker's third miss in three games.

Kicking for San Francisco, Dawson missed three field goals all of last season.

No one had a better game, though, than Larry Fitzgerald, who tried to will the Cardinals to victory with a huge night, highlighted by a circus catch in traffic for a first down on a third-and-18 play. Fitzgerald was targeted 15 times and caught 13 of them, matching a career high for receptions in a game, for 149 yards.

Now the Cardinals have a short week to prepare for the 49ers, who should be well-rested after a loss to the Los Angeles Rams last Thursday night.

One consolation for the Cardinals is that no one is dominating the NFC West. Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona are all 1-2. The Rams lead it at 2-1.