Overview: The Arizona Cardinals were a mess last season. A team that some felt (Terry Bradshaw), though had at least a chance to contend for a playoff spot, but instead a disaster, finishing 3-13. Their ineffective season led to rookie head coach Steve Wilks job. It also led to the exile of the first-round draft selection quarterback Josh Rosen trade to the Miami Dolphins. Critics argued that neither men received fair chances with the 2018 Cardinals.
Now that both Wilks and Rosen have moved on, Wilks replaced by new Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury and Rosen by the number one overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft Kyler Murray at quarterback. Generally speaking, constant changes at the top in the NFL don't translate into success. We'll see how it plays out in Arizona.
Offense: There is some serious talent on this side of the ball for the Cardinals. There are more questions surrounding the offensive line and a rookie quarterback, albeit one that was the first overall pick in the draft.
Kyler Murray was a dynamic playmaker in college at the University of Oklahoma, and many see him as a faster version of Russell Wilson. The Cardinals would certainly accept that as would most other NFL teams. Murray stepped in for a Heisman Trophy winner (Baker Mayfield) with the Sooners last year and was phenomenal. Against a tight schedule, he threw for 4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns versus only seven picks. He also rushed for 1,001 yards and another 12 touchdowns. As with Wilson coming out of college, there are concerns about his size at 5'10 and 207 pounds. That's tiny by NFL standards, and at that height, he will have a hard time seeing over oncoming pass rushers and could be vulnerable to blocked passes. Presumably, the Cardinals will have him roll outside of the pocket quite a bit, such how the Seattle Seahawks does for Wilson.
The other concern for a quarterback of his size, of course, is whether he will his body take the pounding, especially as a running quarterback. Look at the beating Cam Newton has made, and Cam is Goliath compared to Murray. I guess that Arizona will try to limit his rushing attempts. The problem is the Cardinals offensive line may force the issue.
Saying that there is a whole lot to like about Murray. He has a live arm and throws an excellent deep ball. Murray may be the best pure runner as an NFL quarterback since Micheal Vick (yeah, he's that electric), and is likely the most elusive quarterback pass rushers will face whether he is buying time on passing plays or taking it upfield as a runner. Despite only one year as a starter in college, he has a reputation as a cool customer who doesn't rattle easily or wilt under pressure.
Murray also has some talent around him. Larry Fitzgerald is back at wide receiver, delaying the countdown to his enshrinement into the Hall of Fame by at least one more year. Besides being an all-time great player (not to mention a class act off the field), Fitzgerald is the kind of veteran influence you love to have with a rookie quarterback. Christian Kirk racked up 590 yards despite missing four games with a broken foot. He has some ability but would have to rate as a question mark going into his second season. The Cardinals drafted three rookies at wide receiver this year, investing heavily in giving their young quarterback some viable targets. Hakeem Butler (Iowa State), Andy Isabella (UMass), and KeeSean Johnson (Fresno State) are all receivers that were ranked in the top ten in college receiving yards and the hope is that at least one, preferably more, will emerge. There is a lot of talent there, but a lot of inexperience as well.
The Arizona tight ends are OK, but they don't scare anybody. Starter Jermaine Gresham left via free agency. Ricky Jones-Seals, the cousin of Ram great Eric Dickerson, had 34 catches for 343 yards last season. He's a smart player who scored a 27 on the Wonderlic test given to college players before the draft, and he has shown flashes of ability. Let's say he isn't someone who keeps defensive coordinators awake at night. The Cardinals also signed veteran Charles Clay, who played for Buffalo last season Clay is a heady veteran, but probably not a difference-maker.
The Cardinals have an elite to near-elite talent in running back David Johnson, who had an off-year last year, in part because of an inept offensive line. I would rate Johnson a little below backs such as Todd Gurley (assuming he's healthy) and Zeke Elliot but not far below. The problem for Arizona is that they don't have much depth. Chase Edmonds is expected to be Johnson's primary backup, and he's "just a guy." Functional, but not scary. If Johnson goes down or has another off-year, this could be a problem area.
That brings us to the offensive line, which may be the key to just how good this offense can be. The team was awful last year, which led to changes. Second-year man Mason Cole played the entire season at center last year after veteran A.Q. Shipley got hurt. They could battle it out for the starting job this season, or Cole could move to guard. D.J. Humphreys returns to the critical left-tackle position. Humphries is probably above average when he can stay on the field, but that has been a problem. The nominal starting guards are Justin Pugh and JR Sweezy who comes over from Seattle, while the Cardinals acquired Marcus Gilbert from the Steelers to play right tackle. Overall there is enough talent here for the makings of a decent line, but there are also numerous injury concerns and a lack of playing time as a unit. The good news for the Cardinals is that they probably can't be as lousy upfront as they were last year. The bad news is that this unit will feature five guys who haven't played together much, and that could get even worse if the injury bug bites again.
Bottom line, Offense: There is talent here, but a whole lot of new faces as well, not to mention an inexperienced starting quarterback. If any of the vital skill guys--Murray, Fitzgerald or Johnson gets hurt it's going to be a problem. The other question is the offensive line. Overall this could be an explosive unit at some point, but it may not happen right away. Barring significant injuries, this group should be significantly better than last year, which is not saying all that much. They were dead last in the NFL in total offense last season, so it can't get much worse.
Defense: One of the problems with constant changes in the coaching staff is that it also means constant changes in the scheme, and we see that with the Arizona defense. Last year they transitioned from a 3-4 base alignment to the 4-3 favored by coach Wilks. This year they are going back to a 3-4 scheme. You can be a good NFL; defense in either system, but continually asking people to learn new plans is not a formula for success.
On the plus side, the new defensive coordinator is former Bronco Head Coach Vance Joseph. While coach Joseph at times had that "deer in the headlights" look as the top guy in Denver, he is a respected defensive coach with a track record of success in that role in the NFL. He may well get another Head Coaching job at some point. Let's not forget that Bill Belichick once got fired in Cleveland. But for now, he's leading the Cardinals defense, and if you are an Arizona fan that is probably a good thing. The constant scheme changes, not so much.
You can't talk about the Arizona defense without talking about Patrick Peterson, one of the truly elite cornerbacks in the NFL a likely future Hall of Famer. Peterson is a lockdown corner, one of the best at his position. The problem for the Cardinals in recent years is finding another decent angle or two who can keep other teams from simply avoiding Peterson. Robert Alford is expected to be the other starting cornerback. The Falcons released him, only to sign a three-year, $22.5 million deal with the Cardinals. There is a difference of opinion on Alford, so we'll see how he pans out. Second-round pick Byron Murphy also will compete for playing time. The safety position seems to be in pretty good hands, with rising star Budda Baker and former Redskin D.J. Swearinger the likely starters. A lot of people were surprised when Washington released Swearinger; he has a reputation as a tough, hard-hitting player. Maybe he can inject some attitude into the Cardinal defense.
The Cardinals signed ex-Raven Terrell Suggs to help out at linebacker. Suggs has been a great player. Suggs at this point still has the name, but does he still have the game? We shall see. After 16 years in the league, he doesn't have much to prove career-wise. Whether he can still play remains a question though. Arizona also added Brooks Reid to man the other outside linebacker spot. Reid has been a quality player in this league and Arizona hopes he can team with Suggs to make life unpleasant for opposing quarterbacks. One of the inside linebacker positions is expected to be signed by former Eagle Jordan Hicks, a four-year starter for the Eagles. Hicks has been an outstanding player and could be a major help to this unit if he plays like he did in Philly. Hassan Reddick is the other probably starter at ILB. Reddick looked somewhat better last season compared to his rookie campaign, notching four sacks. He's still something of a question mark though. The other problem for the Cardinals at linebacker is a lack of proven depth.
The pre-season may be underway, but Arizona has already lost one of it's expected starters for, well, forever probably, Defensive lineman Darius Philon has been released by the team after being arrested for aggravated assault. They also recently cut former first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche, primarily for reporting to camp wrongly out of shape. The good news is that Arizona has a couple of stalwarts in Chandler Jones, one of the league's better defensive linemen, and nose tackle Corey Peters.
Jones has lost 20 pounds this season and has been a force to be reckoned. After Peterson, he may be the Cardinals best defensive player.
Peters may not be a big name, but he is a blue-collar "lunch bucket" type of player who grinds it out in the trenches and helps you win games. At 6'3 and 335 pounds, he has the kind of size you like in a 3-4 nose tackle.The problem here once again is depth, and losing Nkemdiche and Philon doesn't help.
Bottom line, Defense: The starting lineup here is pretty solid, but outside of possible cornerback, Arizona doesn't have a lot of depth. That is a problem in a league and a sport where injuries are just a fact of life.
Special Teams: Aside from punter Andy Lee, who is very good, this is a potential problem area. Placekicker Zane Gonzalez was pretty good in a brief stint last year, hitting 7 of 9 field goals, including two over 50 yards. He was the third of three kickers for the Cardinals last season. Can he keep it up over a full season? Who knows. Pretty much everything else related to the Cardinal special teams is one big question mark. Individual clubs may not get a lot of glories, but they do decide a lot of games. How the Cardinals answer the questions surrounding this unit could very well determine what kind of season they end up having.
Coaching: Kliff Kingsbury was something of a surprise hire for the Cardinals. Texas Tech fired Kingsbury after going 35-40. He took a job as the offensive coordinator with USC before ending up as the Head man with the Cardinals. The Cardinals expect they hired the next Sean McVay, a bright young offensive minded coach who can unleash his "air raid" offense from college and turn Kyler Murray into a star. Sometimes these things work, sometimes they don't. For every McVay, there is a Lane Kiffin, who flopped as the Raiders head man a few years back, going 5-15. You don't know.
The hiring of Vance Joseph as the defensive coordinator, it seems like a good move. Otherwise, we'll have to wait and see.
Final Thoughts: On paper, this is not a bad team, but questions about depth across the board and special teams are concerning.
Is Kliff Kingsbury the next coming of Sean McVay?
We all know how hard it is to win with a rookie quarterback in this league, and as gifted as Kyler Murray maybe, he is tiny to be an NFL quarterback and was only the starter at Oklahoma for one season. There is starting talent on this team, but with so many new faces, Arizona may not be ready for prime time just yet. They should at least double last year's win total though, and if they can avoid injuries may threaten to break even.
Prediction 6-10, 4th in NFC West