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Football NFL

NFL Team Previews: Arizona Cardinals

Watching some Cardinal games, it seemed like the every run play call was just a dive right up the middle, no creativity at all.

Today is the first day of our 32 teams in 32 days preview for the upcoming NFL season. We are starting from the start of the NFL Draft and working our way to the Super Bowl Champions on the final day, August 31st. Not only that, but we’re also posting a full game from each team’s history in a separate post, so you can watch some football while waiting for September 5th. Today, we start things off the Arizona Cardinals.

2018 Season Review: 3-13 (4th in NFC West)

Well when you have the first pick in the NFL draft you know your team was bad but Arizona was really bad. Their three wins came against the San Francisco 49ers (twice), and somehow on the road against my Green Bay Packers (and some fans wonder why McCarthy was fired after this game).

The Cardinals poor record stemmed from their offensive woes. They only scored 20 or more points four times all season, winning only two of those games. They also managed to score 10 or less points six times during the season. 2018 was supposed to be a decent year for the Cardinals on offense, they signed new QB Sam Bradford, drafted their future QB in Josh Rosen, RB David Johnson was back after missing most of 2017, and they still had WR Larry Fitzgerald and drafted a solid WR in Christian Kirk.

But none of those things matter if your QB can’t stay healthy, which wasn’t a surprise at all, and your play calling is atrocious. First year coach Steve Wilks hired Mike McCoy as his OC who was downright awful. Combine that with one of the worst offensive lines in the league, and you have a disaster of an offense on your hands. Because of poor offense Mike McCoy was fired after week 7 where the Cardinals got beat 45-10 by the Denver Broncos on Thursday night Football. Byron Leftwich came in after that but the offense only improved a little bit.

The Arizona Cardinals managed just 14.1 PPG. That was good for dead last in the league, and a full 5.8 points behind the Miami Dolphins who were ranked 31st with 19.9 PPG. They averaged only 83.9 yards rushing per game with one of the premier RBs in the league, and only 157.7 yards passing per game – both good for dead last in the league by wide margins.

David Johnson returned in 2018 after only playing one game in 2017. He was a surprise star in 2016 where he had 1,239 yards rushing and 16 TDs , to go along with 879 yards receiving and 4 TDs. Coming into 2018, he had high expectations and it looked like the Cardinals would rely on him to carry the offense. But the offensive play calling and offensive line were so bad Johnson couldn’t manage much and he only mustered up 940 yards rushing with 7 TDs, and 446 yards receiving and 3 TDs. . Those aren’t awful stats, but disappointing for a RB of Johnson’s caliber. Watching some Cardinal games, it seemed like the every run play call was just a dive right up the middle, no creativity at all.

We could go into the QB play but there is no point because the Cardinals shipped Josh Rosen away. Instead, briefly talk about the defense which was also bad. Arizona finished 26th in allowed PPG with 26.6, so at least their offense wasn’t as bad as their defense. However, they did manage to record 18 interceptions, which was good for 5th in the league, and recovered 10 fumbles which was tied for 9th in the league. They also managed to get 52.0 sacks, a tie for 5th. Even with those good numbers, the defense still couldn’t stop anybody.

Finally, after week 17 the Cardinals parted ways with Steve Wilks after just one year at the helm. The Cardinals brass saw enough in one year with the abysmal offense and defense to think the team needed a new direction. Going into the 2019 off-season, the Cardinals needed to revamp their entire roster and hire a whole new coaching staff.

Key Off-Season Acquisitions

Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury

Kliff Kingsbury (center) being introduced as the Arizona Cardinals new head coach on January 9th, 2019. (Rob Schumacher/The Republic)

The most controversial HC signing this offseason was Kingsbury because of his lack of NFL experience, and his lack of success in college at Texas Tech. But with NFL moving towards these innovate pass happy offenses, and the fact they had the #1 overall pick with Kyler Murray available led the Cardinals to Kingsbury. Kingsbury has been a “consultant” for some NFL teams and worked closely with golden boy Sean McVay. There’s no doubt that Kingsbury knows his shit, but will the offense he want to run translate to the NFL and will he be able to control, coach, and lead an NFL locker room to winning records when we wasn’t able to do that in college. One thing is for sure, this offense will be exciting to watch with Kingsbury and and Kyler Murray leading it. Kingsbury should be much more innovate in getting his play-makers the ball, mainly David Johnson.

As for the defense, Kingsbury brought in former Denver Broncos HC Vance Joseph. Joseph has been a defense coach while whole life and went to Denver after one year being the Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator in 2016 and helped the Dolphins reach the playoffs for the first time in eight season at that point.

ILB Jordan Hicks (4 years, $34 Million)

Jordan Hicks was a huge get for Arizona for a few reasons. For one, they had zero depth at LB and no leader in that front seven – that changes with Hicks and Suggs in the mix. Second, Hicks is a very good ILB that played well for the Eagles. Arizona more than likely outbid the Eagles for Hicks services. In 2018 Hicks had 91 tackles, 3 sacks, 5 TFL, and 6 QB hits in only 12 games. Only 12 games you say? That’s the risk of this signing. Hicks has been unable to stay healthy since coming into the league in 2015. In 2015 and 2017 he was put on season ending IR and he’s only played one full season for the Eagles, in 2016. If Hicks can stay healthy, he will be the Cardinals best defensive player.

G J.R. Sweezy (2 year, $9 Million)

Mike Iupati is gone to Seattle, bring in J.R. Sweezy from Seattle. Sweezy played primarily at RG for the Seahawks and I’d expect him to play there for the Cardinals too. The Cardinals had one of the worst offensive lines in the league, they may have four of five be brand new starters come week 1 – Sweezy is just one of those guy they hope they can plug in and play good enough.

CB Robert Alford (3 years, $22.5 Million)

Alford is coming over from Atlanta where he’s been a full time starter for them since 2014. In 2018 Alford played and started in 15 games and produced 11 pass deflections and 50 tackles. He has 10 interceptions in his six year career and failed to record one last year. Alford will be a welcome addition to the CB room. Once Peterson gets back from injury, the Cardinals should have a solid three deep CB groups with those two and rookie Byron Murphy. At 30 years old, this three year deal could be his last in the NFL.

OLB Terrell Suggs (1 year, $7 Million)

I am not sure how much Suggs has left in the tank but this is a very quality pickup for a young Cardinals team, plus it brings Suggs back home to where we went to college (ASU). Suggs will bring a lot of swagger, leadership, and accountability to not only the defensive room but the whole locker room.

2019 NFL Draft

#1 Overall Pick: QB Kyler Murray

Kyler Murray throwing at the Cardinals Rookie Mini-Camp in May. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

There’s not much to say here, Murray is going to start for the Cardinals from day 1 and will have the chance to have the biggest rookie impact in the league. We’ll see how his speed translates to the NFL, he blew past guys in college like Lamar Jackson did but he’ll find that harder here. He did a good job at OU of avoiding shots, but he’s gonna have to be better in the NFL. This team will go as he goes running Kliff Kingsbury offense in the NFL.

Round 2, Pick #33: CB Byron Murphy

Cardinals got a first round talent here at a needed position. Besides Patrick Peterson the Cardinals don’t have much at corner, and the past two years or so Peterson rumors of being traded have gotten louder and louder. Combine the weak secondary with the news of Peterson being suspended for the first six games of year, and Murphy is gonna get thrown into the fire right away. He’s a small corner, at only 5’11” and 190 pounds but his highlights were great quickness, instincts, and was good in the run game. He’s probably more suited right away for the slot defender, but he’s gonna have to play on the outside right away until Peterson gets back.

Round 2, Pick #62: WR Andy Isabella

Cardinals needed help at WR and they took a trendy pick as the “steal of the draft” for the WR position in Isabella from UMass. You’ve probably never heard of him before the draft because he played at such a small school, but many liked him as the best slot prospect in the draft. He’s only 5’9″ and 188 pounds, but he ran a 4.31 40 yard dash and a 36.5 inch vertical jump. He is VERY quick and obviously has good speed. He will the slot guy for the Cardinals from day one, and they’ll try to use him in the likeness of guys like Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola among others but with better speed than all those guys.

Round 4, Pick #103: WR Hakeem Butler

Butler is a BIG dude, he stands at 6’5″ and 227 pounds. The Cardinals realized last year their receiving core was pitiful outside of Fitzgerald, and a few highlights from Kirk. They’ve definitely addressed this position with Butler and Isabella. Not only addressed, but gotten different types of receivers. Butler was a match-up nightmare in college and it was surprising to me he fell all the way to the fourth round, seeing as at different times during the year some had him as a first round or high second round pick. He had a 4.48 40 yard dash, and 36 vertical at his size which is impressive. He finished 2018 with 1,318 yards, and 9 touchdowns in 13 games. The Cardinals got a steal here.

Key Off-Season Departures

Arizona didn’t have any big free agent loses, its hard to when you only win three games in a season. They did lose Antonie Bethea at the safety position, and Mike Iupati at guard but those loses are minimal. They addressed the OL in free agency and in the draft. The only other big name would be J.J. Nelson at WR, but they drafted two guys to replace him.

2019 Season Outlook

Cardinal fans have a lot to be excited about with this team, and nervous about at the same time that revolves all around the coach. Kliff Kingsbury offense could be electric in the NFL, hell Chip Kelly’s offense was good for one year but we’ll see if Kingsbury can keep his relevant as time goes on. Kingsbury also is getting a team that got a complete roster overhaul that happened in one offseason. Many focus on the offensive side of the ball but besides the Peterson, Chandler Jones, and their safety group this defense is going to look way different, and be lead by a former head coach.

Then we move to the offense and Kyler Murray who should make the fan base and NFL fans excited early on. I am positive that Cardinal games in the first few weeks of the season are going to get good ratings, just because people will want to see what Kingsbury and Murray can do in the NFL. The Cardinals still have studs on offense with Fitzgerald and David Johnson, they have a good young group of WRs, and they also revamped their TE room by picking up Maxx Williams from Baltimore and Charles Clay from Buffalo.

Have the Cardinals done enough to compete for a playoff spot? If Kyler Murray is a top 10 QB right off the bat, then yes, but that won’t happen. On paper, this team should have a very good offense and solid defense but we all know not to get caught up with whats on paper. Kingsbury will have to prove he can coach at a high level before I believe the Cardinals can even get to 9 wins. We’ll look at their schedule and wins totals after this, but the Cardinals are not a playoff contender.

What people should expect of the Cardinals is a young and exciting team that will compete in every game. You couldn’t say that about this team last year, there were some games where it looked like they just quit cause they were getting their ass kicked so bad. I expect the Cardinals to be a pest their division rivals, and pull out a surprising upset or two – maybe even late in the year.

Schedule

This year the NFC West gets to play the AFC North (Bengals, Browns, Ravens, Steelers), and the NFC South (Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Buccaneers). Because they finished last in the NFC West, they also draw the Detroit Lions and New York Giants along with their normal six games against the Rams, 49ers, and Seahawks.

As far as prime-time games go, the NFL wants every team to have at least one and because the Cardinals sucked last year, they’re only getting one which is week 9 on Thursday Night (on Halloween no less, very SPOOKY) at home against the San Francisco 49ers. There is flex scheduling from weeks 5 – 16 but I don’t see the Cardinals getting flexed to Sunday Night unless Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury turn this offense into a ridiculous powerhouse and are in playoff contention late.

Now the Cardinals might not contend for a playoff spot, but after their Week 12 bye they can player spoiler for a lot of teams projected to be in playoff contention. They get the Rams in weeks 13 and 17, home games against the Steelers and Browns in weeks 14 and 15, and then play at Seattle in week 16. So the Cardinals might not be in the playoffs, but if they can pull out an upset the can affect who gets in and who gets out. Check out the full schedule below.

Fantasy Player You Want

Gonna go with the obvious answer here and say David Johnson. After his fantasy performance last year, even though he was still a RB1, you could probably snag him in the 2nd round and he has the potential to be a top 3 fantasy running back.

Fantasy Player to Avoid

It’s hard to select a guy here because there really aren’t many options to choose from. If you get David Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald as a WR2/WR3 you’re probably gonna be pretty happy. Behind those two, you have second year WR Christian Kirk, two other rookie WRs, and Kyler Murray. Its tempting to pick Kyler but I think he will be a top 15 fantasy QB, just because of his running ability. I’ll go with Christian Kirk here on an exception. The exception is that I think as the season gets closer to starting, Kirk is going to get drafted higher and higher. Kirk is a WR3 or Flex guy on specific weeks. I think people will take him as a WR2. So if that’s what you’re thinking, stay away. But get him as the third or 4th receiver on your squad and not so bad.

Ceiling

I’m gonna say six wins. They play two tough divisions in the AFC North and NFC South. Really every team in both those divisions besides the Bengals could and should be a playoff contender, yes I said the Bucs should contend for the playoffs. They also play in a division where the other three teams should be in the playoff hunt as well. The Lions and Giants are obviously winnable games, and they should steal a game here and there. Everything depends on the offense and what Kyler Murray can do. I’m gonna say the Cardinals win no more than 6 games this year.

Floor

Three wins. They managed three wins last year with a fucking awful offense and defense. Both will be better so I don’t envision the Cardinals winning less that three – that would be disastrous.

Photo Credit: USA Today
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