Featured Image from Arizona Cardinals/azcardinals.com
We’re just a little over a week away from the start of the NFL season. Tons of questions have surrounded the season this year, but it’s finally time to play some football.
Coming off a turbulent first season under Kliff Kingsbury, the Cardinals made some massive additions to an already talented roster, and they’ll be tasked with following up a 5-10-1 season with a better performance.
Welcome to Arizona DeAndre Hopkins
In what was probably the biggest move of the offseason for any team, the Cardinals acquired WR DeAndre Hopkins from the Texans in exchange for David Johnson, a 2nd round pick, and a 4th round pick. The Texans also sent a 4th to the desert. Hopkins, 28, is heading into his 8th NFL season and has caught over 100 balls in each of the last two years, and has caught at least 50 passes in each of his 7 seasons. Hopkins is widely considered one of the best wide-outs in the league, and to pair him with Larry Fitzgerald, aka Legend, is going to be HUGE for this offense.
NFL Defenses Beware
In 2019, the Cardinals offense, led from the start by 1st overall pick Kyler Murray, finished the season 21st in yardage, 17th in points per game, 10th in rushing, and 24th in passing.
This year, led by the Rookie of the Year Murray, 1st Team All-Pro Hopkins, and future 1st ballot Hall-of-Famer Larry Fitzgerald, you can expect the Cardinals to improve in all of those categories. Lets not forget Christian Kirk either, who is expected to be a major piece in this offense, even as WR3.
The rushing attack will be led by 5th year man Kenyan Drake, who, after being acquired from the Dolphins mid-way through last season, rushed for a team-leading 643 yards. You can also expect Chase Edmonds and rookie Eno Benjamin to play significant roles in the rushing game, but for now it appears that Drake will be the lead back this season.
2nd year Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury is widely lauded as an offensive mastermind after developing on the highest powered college offenses in the country at Texas Tech. Oh, and he also helped develop a quarterback with the last name Mahomes. Now Murray and Kingsbury have had a full offseason together, you can expect a big jump from the already impressive Murray, and the entire Cardinals offense. Can Murray become the 3rd consecutive sophomore to win NFL MVP?
To say the 2019 Cardinals defense was bad… well that would be an understatement. Try dead last in yards allowed, 30th in yards per play allowed, 25th in turnovers forced, and 28th in points allowed.
It was clear that defense was a priority in the offseason. Arizona invested more than 22 million dollars into De’Vondre Campbell, Devon Kennard, and Jordan Phillips, as well as 4 of their first 5 picks in the draft on defense.
8th overall pick Isaiah Simmons looked like an absolute stud in camp, and is expected to be a week 1 starter. The question is where? Simmons played a little bit of every position at Clemson. Safety, linebacker, cornerback, even some EDGE. In camp though, Simmons has been primarily focused on middle linebacker, and that’s where you can expect him to line up most of the time come week 1.
Isaiah Simmons said he’s been exclusively focused on inside linebacker to this point.
The defense is the key to this team’s success, maybe even more so than the offense, and they have a great test to start the season.
Week 1 Matchup: @ San Francisco – 9/13, 1:25 MST
Talk about a tough break to start the season. I don’t expect many pundits to expect a Cardinals win over the defending NFC Champion 49ers. The Niners swept the Cards in 2019 for the first time since 2013, and in fact, their Thursday night Halloween win was their first win over their rivals in the desert since 2014. This year the Cardinals will likely be underdogs in both matchups, but they are high reward, low risk games. With a win, the Cardinals announce to the NFL world that they are here, the rebuild is over, and they’re ready to compete now. But if they lose, the narrative will be about how the reigning division and conference champions are poised for another run at a title, and not about how the Cardinals lost.
This is a talented football team. Wins and losses won’t be decided by talent or lack thereof. This season is going to depend on 3 things: 1) Coaching, 2) The development of Kyler Murray, and 3) The defense executing effectively.
After a 5-10-1 season in his rookie year, HC Kliff Kingsbury has 3 seasons left on his contract to prove he belongs in the NFL as a head coach. If this season season doesn’t go as planned, Kingsbury is going to feel his seat getting warm in 2021.
Kyler Murray had a fantastic rookie year to the tune of over 3700 passing yards, 20 TDs, and 12 INTs, along with over 500 rushing yards. Now he has one of the most talented offenses in the league surrounding him, so it will be up to him whether he hits a sophomore slump or adds his name to a list that includes names like Jackson and Mahomes.
It’s no secret that the NFC is a high powered offensive division. The defense will need to gel early this season for this team to have a shot at contending. Patrick Peterson, Chandler Jones, Isaiah Simmons, Budda Baker, Jordan Hicks, and the rest of the defense have immense talent, but as I stated earlier, talent alone won’t win games this season.
Conclusion: The Cardinals will benefit from a comparatively easy schedule, and I expect them to be able to put it all together. They won’t be world-beaters, but the extra wild card spot will help, and we’ll be seeing Arizona back in the playoffs for the first time since they lost the NFC Championship in 2015-16.
It’s been 7 months since we last got the taste of an NFL kick off, and even longer than that since the Cardinals took to the field.
But the wait is finally over.
Football Fans, the NFL is back.