Last night we saw who the Raiders really were. We’d been deceived by their 3-0 record, after wins against a poor form Steelers team, and overtime wins against both the beat up Ravens, and the severely underwhelming Miami Dolphins. The Arizona Cardinals however, have already totally shut down the Tennessee Titans, allowing Derrick Henry only 58 yards, and then on Sunday. they took down the LA Rams to go 4-0, the only team in the NFL still undefeated, and I’m here to tell you, that they are for real.
Where do I even begin with my reasons. For starters, I said in the preseason the Cardinals can absolutely be a legitimate play off team this year, but it starts with the division. In 2020, the Cardinals couldn’t get past the Rams at all, losing both games, and fell 2-4 in the division as a whole, with one win against the Niners, and one against Seattle. Now, I know we’re only 4 games in, and they’ve only played 1 division game, but they just convincingly shut down the LA Rams, who beat the Super Bowl champions in week 1. Kingsbury and his staff out coached Sean McVay, and I believe the patience and belief that Arizona had in hiring Kliff Kingsbury is really paying off. A beautiful family relationship is blossoming between head coach, front office, quarterback, and the locker room.
Let’s not ignore Kyler Murrays ability to throw as a pocket passer this season. He’s every bit as responsible for the successful start to the Cardinals season as his weapons and the defence. The tape study I did on him following the Vikings game showed me some amazing improvements from Kyler standing in the pocket, reading the field and finding an open receiver, i was wowed by some of the things he was able to do in that game, albeit a couple of mistakes, but largely, an incredibly competent passer, who has the ability to dodge his way out of pressure more often than not, and then whizz off at speed for first downs, touchdowns, huge yardage, you name it. He’s turning into one of the most entertaining prospects the NFL has to offer, and I’m here for it.
While Kyler is putting on a display, props to the front office and the Cardinals organisation for putting together a host of weapons for him to work with. Bringing in Deandre Hopkins for the price they did will go down as one of the greatest trades in NFL history, at Bill O’Brien and the Houston Texans expense. To add to that, signing AJ Green seemed a risky move at the time, after he struggled in 2020, and looked behind the pace. However, his contribution to the Cardinals so far this year has been vital, and he looks energised and ready to go again.
Then there’s rookie Rondale Moore, who has been worked into that Arizona offence so perfectly, he looks like one of the best value picks in this years draft already. What stands out to me, is the target share amongst all the talent Arizona has. Currently, it stands like this:
Receiver Targets for the Arizona Cardinals:
Deandre Hopkins (23), AJ Green (24), Rondale Moore (18), Christian Kirk (18), Chase Edmonds (22), and Maxx Williams (16).
They’re not having to hyper target Deandre Hopkins, and we saw in the Vikings game that Patrick Peterson was so worried about Hopkins, Rondale Moore got himself wide open. That’s the issue. How do you guard them? You have Deandre Hopkins, who can beat just about any corner in the NFL in a one on one situation. AJ Green, who’s proving he still very much has it at the top level, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore with sub 4.3 speed, and Chase Edmonds as a legitimate check down option out of the backfield, and if all that isn’t enough, Maxx Williams is having a career year stepping up into a role at tight end, and should you cover all that, you have nobody left to cover Kyler himself, the fastest quarterback in the NFL, who’s figured out how to stand in the pocket and throw as well… yikes. Good luck. Rather you than me.
The offensive line is playing well too, and affording Kyler Murray a pocket to work with. Should it collapse, which at times it does, Kyler finds a gap, dives through it, and takes off and runs, or extends a play long enough to get one of his many weapons open down the field. Again, good luck covering it.
Then the defence, man we haven’t even talked about the defence yet…
Vance Joseph has been with the team since early 2019, and in his second season is really putting his stamp on that defence. The Cardinals gave up too many points in 2020, and the offence couldn’t keep up. Now while they might not be perfect defensively, guys are stepping up, and they’re doing more than enough to hold their opposition. In 3 of the 4 Cardinals games so far this season, the defence has held the opposing team to 20 points or less. Not only that, they’re forcing turnovers, and playing more aggressively as a unit in this campaign.
The Cards defence in only 4 games, has forced 7 fumbles, has 4 interceptions, and 9 sacks. Of course, 6 of those sacks came in game 1 against Tennessee, and if I had to choose I’d say a legitimate sack artist is what they’re missing, but JJ Watt is certainly doing his part to affect a game.
Against the Rams, while he might not have had a sack, JJ Watt led the team in QB pressures (5), and had 2 hits on Matt Stafford too. Markus Golden was right behind him with 4 pressures of his own, and much like AJ Green on the offence, the veteran additions defensively are contributing in a major way.
Possibly the most impressive performance on the defence so far this year though, Byron Murphy. With Cardinals all time legend Patrick Peterson leaving for Minnesota, my worry in the off season was the corners. Murphy hadn’t shown me enough yet to be a legitimate number 1, who you could leave against the leagues very best. Well on Sunday he helped to hold Cooper Kupp to only 5 receptions off of a whopping 13 targets, and Stafford instead had to turn to Van Jefferson. The Cardinals forced the same in week 2 against the Vikings, keeping Justin Jefferson to 65 yards, and forcing Cousins to target KJ Osborn. In week 1, AJ Brown had only 4 catches for 49 yards.
Yes these talents are still catching passes and getting some yardage, but the Cardinals have forced at least three incompletions on targets to AJ Brown, Justin Jefferson, and Cooper Kupp. They’re simply saying, we’ll take that option away, so what else have you got?
Byron Murphy has 3 interceptions already this season, and not only is he elevating his game, but third year safety Jalen Thompson had a great fame on Sunday too against LA.
And finally, to top it all off, they’ve finally found a role for Isaiah Simmons. Having struggled to fit into the defence in his rookie season, we feared he might be a square peg in a round hole in Arizona. The versatile top 10 talent fell into the Cardinals laps in the draft, and they simply couldn’t say no. However, he was never going to play a strong safety role with Budda Baker already settled there, so the question was where does he fit? He’s landed at inside linebacker, a role he also played at Clemson, and now leads the team in tackles, plus the 2 forced fumbles, an interception, and a pass break up. He can do it all, and he’s beginning to find his feet in the league.
One gripe, if I was to have one, I’d like to see them strengthen a little against the run game. They could be better there, and if teams are going to pick them apart, it’ll be after establishing the run against them. They currently rank the 2nd worst team in the NFL in run defence, according to PFF. Room for improvement, but overall, the defence is glowing.
Upholding The Standard?
Now, can they maintain it? It’s all working right now, but does Arizona have what it takes to be a 12+ win team this season? Yes, absolutely they do. Any time you can hold a team like the Rams to 20 points or less, with an offence putting points on the board, you stand a chance. The Kansas City Chiefs have given up points over the past few seasons, but with Mahomes and his arsenal, they know they can score 35+, win a shootout, and cover for the points their defence does happen to allow.
Arizona are now in that same conversation, but with a stronger defence. This is the beginning of a rise to power for Arizona. They’re healthy, they’re firing on all cylinders. They have veteran experience in the locker room, guys that have been doing it for years, and then the young guys making early contributions. The coaching staff in place is strong, Vance Joseph brings great experience, Sean Kugler works extremely well alongside Kliff Kingsbury on the offence, and if they continue in their current form, the Arizona Cardinals can beat just about anybody on their day. I’m all in, just make sure you re sign Larry Fitzgerald to the roster before you play in the Super Bowl. Nobody deserves a ring more…