Ed "Pi Double i" Henderson
The Los Angeles Rams concluded their 2019 pre-season by defeating the Houston Texans 22-10 last night. Rams head coach Sean McVay will have some tough decisions to make by reducing their 90-man roster down to 53 players. Having depth at just about every position, they will need to explore different options on returning to the Super Bowl.
General Manager Les Snead has worked out some magic in drawing veteran talent to the team. The past two seasons, the roster would only include 52 players as they sought out for trade or have signed a player from the practice squad of another team in the league. Currently, the Miami Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonzo have requested for a trade from the Dolphins. Acquiring Alonzo can be a great addition since the loss of Micah Kiser who will be out for significant time.
The offensive line depth, in our opinion, is not very strong in case of injury. Behind the starters, the line can use more help, and perhaps they may bring in a veteran lineman. Defensively, they have several defensive backs and a defensive lineman they can utilize as trade bait. Therefore, the roster short will become one player short and let us see how it works out this season.
Quarterbacks (2): Jared Goff, Blake Bortles
Jared Goff returns for his fourth season and third full season as the starting quarterback. After a very disappointing performance in Super Bowl LIII, the young talented quarterback will attempt to get the Rams back to the Superbowl. Goff will put up some significant numbers with this explosive offense, which was one of the league's highest-scoring offenses. Many of the Ram starters did not play one single down in the preseason, as he will need to be sharp in week one against a good Carolina Panthers defense.
The Rams will have a new backup to Goff, as Blake Bortles the former Jacksonville Jaguars starter signed with the team in free agency. This season will be the first year that Goff will have a backup that has experience playing in the league.
Brandon Allen battled with undrafted rookie John Wolford from Wake Forest, but after returning for his third consecutive season with the team, Allen seemed to have had the edge early. However, Wolford play seemed to be more impressive only by his ball security, unlike Allen. Wolford finished his preseason passing 25-44-249 yards and three touchdowns. On the other hand, Allen threw 44-59-426 yards, with no touchdown but threw three interceptions. Both players made active cases, but the team decided to advance with Wolford. Wolford seemed to move the offense and was consistent with protecting the ball. Wolford will be signed to the practice squad after clearing waivers.
(Practice Squad) John Wolford
Running Backs (4): Todd Gurley, Darryl Henderson, Malcolm Brown, John Kelly
All discussions have surrounded Todd Gurley and his arthritic knee since the Super Bowl. Analyst throughout the league seemed to have the Rams have written off the Rams run game primarily due to Gurley's non-participation in the preseason. In our opinion, Gurley is ready to return and run the ball with fresh legs to help explode the Rams offense. The Rams drafted rookie running back Darryl Henderson out of Memphis, who will be the clear cut favorite as the number two running back behind Gurley. Henderson did perform average; however, his explosiveness was able to be seen. Malcolm Brown will be in the mix behind Gurley, as they matched the Detroit Lions offer to bring him back. The was an uphill battle between Justin Davis and John Kelly, but expect one of the two traded by final cuts. Davis, the shifty of the two backs, do not be surprised as the Houston Texans make an offer for him after losing Lamar Miller for the season with a torn ACL.
(Practice Squad) (none)
Receivers (7): Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds, KhaDarel Hodge, Mike Thomas, Nsimba Webster.
The Rams potentially will return the best four wide receivers in the league this season with Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Josh Reynolds. They had their first two-1,000 yards receivers since the "Greatest Show On Turf," with Woods and Cooks. The team probably would have had three receivers had Kupp did not go out with a season-ending knee injury who was on pace as well. Josh Reynolds will be another weapon in his third season in this offense. Reynolds can easily be a starter on most other teams in the league but stepped up big when Kupp went down. Mike Thomas will continue to battle for action as seemed to have impressed this preseason. Thomas was lost last season after an injury to his ankle in the opener against the Oakland Raiders. Do not get too comfortable on Thomas, as he may become available for trade. If so, this will open the door for undrafted receiver Nsimba Webster from Eastern Washington. This preseason Webster has been impressive both as a receiver and return specialist. Webster hauled in his first NFL touchdown in his final preseason game against the Houston Texans. We believe Webster has done enough to outdo Jo Jo Natson, and will get the nod in the return game. If not, Rams will take the risk in cutting Webster and signing him to the practice squad. Let us not forget about KhaDarel Hodge who played well in the preseason while leading the Rams with 176 receiving yards on eleven receptions.
However, Webster led the team with 15 receptions for 150 yards in addition to his touchdown. It will be interesting to read when the Rams finally post their final 53-man roster.
(Practice Squad) Jalen Greene
Greene has earned himself a lock on the Rams practice squad, as he made several good catches against the Raiders in his debut. Greene also grabbed his first NFL touchdown last week to help defeat the Denver Broncos. Green returned home to the Coliseum where he once played as a USC Trojan.
Tight Ends (3): Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett, Johnny Mundt
Tyler Higbee will start but will be challenged for his starting position and playing time by second-year tight end Gerald Everett. Everett in his third year is expected to break out in this offense as Jordan Reed. Johnny Mundt will back up the two and will play on primarily on short-yardage plays.
Rookie Kendall Blanton who scored in the final pre-season game was the better of the reserves and will land on the practice squad.
(Practice Squad) Kendall Blanton
Offensive Linemen (8): Andrew Whitworth, Rob Havenstein, Austin Blythe, Joseph Noteboom, Jamil Demby, David Edwards, Bobby Evans, Brian Allen,
The Rams are optimistic for the first time in two seasons, as their offensive line will have a new look up front. An overhaul to their line created where they lost players at critical positions. They will return both starting tackles in Andrew Whitworth and John Havenstein, along with starting right guard Austin Blythe. Blythe who filled in last season as starter Jamon Brown received a suspension from the league for the first two regular-season games. They lost veteran left guard Roger Saffold to free agency as he signed with the Tennessee Titans. Center John Sullivan did not receive a contract extension as they look to succeed him in the lineup.
Second-year lineman Joseph Noteboom will start at left guard replacing Saffold, and as well as the second-year center, Brian Allen who replaces Sullivan as the new starting center. Reserved center Aaron Neary, who faces a four-game suspension stemming back to the last season DUI, he also fractured his ankle against the Broncos last week. The only natural center on the roster at this point is undrafted Vitas Hrynkiewicz from Youngstown State, slips onto the roster possibly until the return of Neary's injury and suspension. To round out the remaining linemen, will be second year Jamil Demby, rookies Bobby Evans and David Edwards.
The depth at reserve linemen will be of a bit of a concern as they struggled at critical times in pre-season. Evans, Edwards, and Demby seemed to struggle with powerful bull rushes and the speed from fast edge rushers. Do not be too surprised if the Rams seek a veteran presence for the offensive line.
(Practice Squad) Vitas Hrynkiewicz
*** (Unfilled Roster Spot)***
Defensive Linemen (5): Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, John Franklin-Myers, Greg Gaines, Sebastian Joseph-Day
The Rams with so much depth of the defensive side of the ball; here we have another tough decision. The easiest decision is the two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers shore up the three-techniques. In the middle, if healthy by week one, expect Sebastian Joseph-Day to start at the 0-technique position.
The Rams did not resign veteran defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, instead drafted Greg Gaines from the University of Washington in the fourth round. Gaines strength has shown early in the preseason and will provide an addition to its defensive line nucleus.
John Franklin-Meyers return as the same player last season with anything to show differently. However, still is disruptive this preseason and solidified another year on the roster. On the other hand, we see Tanzel Smart getting snubbed due to the talent, as he was inactive almost entirely last season.
(Practice Squad) none
Inside Linebackers (5): Corey Littleton, Clay Matthews Jr, Bryce Hager, Dakota Allen, Travin Howard
The Rams returned pro-bowler Corey Littleton at inside linebacker and were expecting second-year linebacker Micah Kiser to beside him on game day. Unfortunately, Kiser lost to a torn pectoral that required surgery and will miss significant time this season.
The Rams added six-time pro bowl linebacker Clay Matthews Jr. who has excellent pass-rushing experience. Due to the injury to Kiser, expect for Matthews to play predominately inside on early downs unless they can attract trade to in acquiring another linebacker. Bryce Hager returns as well, but not sure if he will start aside of Littleton.
Wade Phillips has to be very impressed of second-year linebacker Travin Howard and rookie Dakota Allen. Both Howard and Allen made active cases in securing roster spots as they played well in preseason. Lost to Kiser open ups a back-up for one of the two as well will perform on special teams. The pursuit of the ball carriers was violent as Allen dislodged on player helmet this preseason.
Rookies Landis Durham and Ketner Kupp showed signs but just too much talent in front of the two who lands on the practice squad.
(Practice Squad) Landis Durham, Ketner Kupp
**(PUP List)** Micah Kiser
Outside Linebackers (4): Samson Ebukam, Dante Fowler, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Morgan Fox
Samson Ebukam and Dante Fowler are the favorites in starting outside opposite of each other. Rams signed returned Fowler with a new one year prove it deal as he looked very explosive during preseason workouts. They had yet another tough decision on players to keep as they buried on the outside. Morgan Fox is finally healthy and making through the preseason deserves his opportunity to shine.
Second-year EDGE rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo finally was able to get in the field after being sidelined nearly the entire 2018 season. Okoronkwo did not disappoint once afforded the opportunity, as making his presence felt up in the last preseason game. Okoronkwo posted seven total tackles (six solo and two for losses), two sacks, one quarterback hit, and a pass deflection. Natrez Patrick also played well after converting outside but will casualty and end up on the practice squad.
(Practice Squad) Natrez Patrick
(PUP List) For the second year in a row, Justin Lawler will spend at least six weeks on the PUP list. He's still recovering from a foot surgery that was required early in the OTA's.
Corner-backs (6): Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Nickell Robey-Coleman, David Long, Troy Hill, Darious Williams
The Rams will return three starting corners in Michael Peters, Aqib Talib, and slot specialist Nickell Robey-Coleman. Last season, Peters and Talib were injured early; however, Peters remained in the lineup hurt. Peters struggled early and never used his injury as an excuse and gutted it out. As the season progressed he the corner that we were so familiar of the season as the Rams headed to the postseason.
They drafted David Long from Michigan whom they expect to take over for Talib once his contract ends. It was a robust decision making finalizing the roster as great talent is released. In four of the first five games, the Rams will play against teams that spread out the field. Rams will carry extra defensive backs to counter the offenses.
They rewarded Troy Hill to a new two-year deal as deserving, as he earned the raise. However, the most impressing of the corners was Darious Williams, who seemed to turn more heads as he made play after play. Rams signed him off the Baltimore Ravens practice squad, as he remained on the active 53-man roster. His effective play will overshadow other returning talent who deservingly should be on the team. Kevin Peterson shined with two interceptions, Donte Deayon, and Dominique Hatfield will not make the final roster.
(Practice Squad) Dominique Hatfield, Kevin Peterson,
Safeties (5): Eric Weddle, John Johnson III, Marqui Christian, Taylor Rapp, Nick Scott
The Rams did not resign safety LaMarcus Joyner as he departed and signed with the Oakland Raiders. Rams added veteran safety Eric Weddle to its backfield to accompany returning starter John Johnson III. Weddle adds a veteran presence in the defensive backfield that will assist Johnson to his first pro bowl selection.
The Rams have deep with their safeties and with young talent. However, they have just too many to make their final cuts. Marquise Christian returns in his third season with the team and will play all over the defensive backfield.
Rams rookie safeties Taylor Rapp and Nick Scott impressed while on the field. Rapp seemed to be already in regular-season form flying to the ball. Scott will excel on special teams and perhaps play some dime linebacker in coverage, as his speeds are recognized all over the field.
(Practice Squad) Steven Parker
Special Teams (3): Punter-Johnny Hekker, Kicker Greg Zuerlein, Long Snapper Jake McQuaide
This group of specialist never seem to amaze us, as they tend to have life-time contract and roster spots. Jake McQuaide, a pro bowl snapper to former pro bowl punter Johnny Hekker, takes the snap for pro bowl kicker Greg Zuerlein who put the Rams in Super Bowl LIII against the New Orleans Saints after making a 57-yard field goal.
Overview: The San Francisco 49ers were the ''trendy" pick among many to win the NFC West in 2018. Quarterback Jimmy ''Jimmy G:" Garoppolo, Tom Brady's former backup in New England, was hyped as the second coming of Joe Montana after a half-a-dozen stellar, albeit mostly meaningless, starts at the end of 2017. Many ''experts" considered Kyle Shanahan the equal or superior of the Rams' Sean McVay in terms of being an offensive mastermind. After all, Shanahan had once been McVay's boss when both were members of the Washington Redskins' coaching staff.
Throw in a defense loaded with former high draft choices, and what could go wrong?
It turns out that a whole lot could go wrong as it did.
So are the Forty-Niners contenders in 2019? Not for the division title, in my opinion. 8-8 or 9-7 and fringe contention for a wild-card spot in the playoffs is possible, but a lot would have to go right.
Offense: In late 2018 season, several NFL analyst compared as well as expected, Garoppolo to be the second coming of the legendary Joe Montana. Of course, Jimmy G has talent, but to have played against mostly meaningless games against teams with sub-par records does not necessarily give him that title. A little suspicious of "flavor of the month" declarations of a guy who has played a half-a-dozen games mostly. Keep in mind also that the Patriots are not known for trading future Hall-of-Fame players for second-round draft picks. So far in the 2019 season, he has been pretty bad after missing most of 2018 with an injury. He was somewhat better in San Francisco's third preseason game but still hasn't been the Jimmy G of 2017.
So who is the real Jimmy G?
He's probably not as bad as he has seemed this preseason or as good as he appeared in late 2017. And unless he is who the Niners thought he was when they signed him to a fat contract before last season, they probably don't have a breakout season in 2019. Let's not forget too that the NFL is very good at adjusting to what quarterbacks do well and what they don't. Remember when everybody thought RGIII was a future Hall of Famer?
The Niners are still hoping Jerick McKinnon can be '"the guy" at running back, despite the fact he has never done that at the pro level. San Francisco got him from the Minnesota Vikings before last season, only to have him get injured. He never rushed for more than 571 yards with the Vikings, but maybe Shanahan knows something that nobody else does. The Niners had also added Tevin Coleman, who flourished in Atlanta when Shanahan was the team's offensive coordinator. Matt Breida played well last year in McKinnon's absence before getting injured as well.
The talented 49ers backfield concerns of injuries amongst the backs need to be of interest. If McKinnon can't seem to emerge as the player they anticipated, the team probably will be no better than the third-best group of running backs in the division.
The 49ers arguably has the best tight end in football, who set a record for tight-ends with 1,377 receiving yards. The problem for San Francisco last season was an underwhelming group of wide receivers, and now Pierre Garcon is gone from that group. Wide-receiver Dante Pettis is expected to become a headliner, as well as the burner Marquis Goodwin, despite who was limited last season. The Niners selected Deebo Samuels from Clemson in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He brings a physical style that could complement Pettis and Goodwin. But overall this looks like a no better than average group, aside from Kittle.
Upfront the 49ers have one of the better tackle combos in league with Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey. There are some questions inside, where center Weston Richburg is coming off leg surgery. Guards Laken Tomlinson is solid if unspectacular players. There isn't a lot of proven O-line depth, and that could be a problem.
Offensive Overview: The Niners have a lot riding on Jimmy G being the elite quarterback that he was in late 2017. I'm not convinced that he is, but we shall see. If Garoppolo he is truly that good, and if the receivers can step up, this could be a good to great offense. It's even possible San Francisco could contend for the division. The other question here is whether the line can stay relatively healthy. If all of those things come up positive, San Francisco could have a good to an excellent offense. However, many questions surrounding that point, and a lot would have to go well for that to happen.
Defense: The 49ers tried to upgrade their pass-rush in a big way, drafting Nick Bosa from Ohio State in the first round of the draft and trading with the Chiefs for defensive lineman Dee Ford. Bosa has been battling injuries in the preseason, and the team is saying it's 50-50 as to whether he will be ready for the season opener. You never really like your rookies to miss the preseason, but obviously, a lot is expected of Bosa this season.
Ford, meanwhile, has a quick first step and notched 13 sacks last season. He is prone to offside penalties, and some think he is a one-dimensional pass rusher who needs to vary his approach a little bit, but 13 sacks are hard to argue. Of course, he was also playing for a team that featured a high-powered offense, forcing opposing sides into distinct passing situations. He may not have that luxury this season.
The 49ers have one of the best defensive tackles not named Aaron Donald or Fletcher Cox in DeForest Buckner, who had 12 sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl last season. Former First-Round pick Solomon Thomas has so far been something of a disappointment, but even so, this is potentially a perfect unit, especially when it comes to rushing the passer.
The 49ers potentially have at least two of the pieces needed for a pretty good linebacking crew, assuming free-agent signee Kwon Alexander, who came over from Tampa Bay, is recovered from a torn-ACL he suffered last October. Fred Warner is a rising star playing inside. But the rest of the linebackers on this roster are a little dicey. Malcolm Smith has played in only five games since 2017. Mark Nzoecha has made a name for himself on special teams, not so much at outside linebacker. As with a lot of the 49er units, depth is a question mark.
The San Francisco secondary looks like the relatively weak link on this unit. They do feature cornerback Richard Sherman, who brings a name and some attitude to the field. But at the age of 31, and a lot of people think he's not the player he used to be. Fellow corner Jason Verrett is a former first-round pick of the Chargers, but a variety of leg injuries have kept him off the field for most of the past three seasons. Safeties Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmy Ward have both played well at times but can't seem to stay on the playing field. There is talent here, and this unit should benefit from a better pass rush. But the injury history here is a problem, and Sherman isn't getting any younger.
Defensive Overview: The significant x-factors here are injuries and depth. The defensive line has a chance to be very good, maybe even elite if everything comes together. Fred Warner is one of the league's better linebackers, and Richard Sherman would still start for the significant majority of NFL teams. But so many of the linebackers and defensive backs can't seem to stay healthy that you don't know what this unit will look like, especially a few games into the season. The overall depth here is unproven at best.
Special Teams: The 49ers thought enough of placekicker Robbie Gould that they would have been willing to place the franchise tag on him, before reaching an agreement on a four-year contract. He's a proven veteran and a guy you can trust with the game on the line. The fact that the Niners spent a fourth-round pick on Mitch Wishnowsky, the rookie punter out of the University of Utah, tells you how much they think of him. Not everyone agreed with the pick. The rest of the San Francisco special teams don't look all that great going into 2019. As with the other units, this looks like a mixed bag. A very good placekicker, possibly a good punter, and a lot of question marks.
Coaching: Kyle Shanahan remains as a highly-regarded head coach, even though the results in San Francisco so far don't seem to support the idea that hen is some genius, at least for now. In fairness, this team has been plagued by injuries in the last couple of seasons, and he hasn't had a lot to work. Robert Saleh is generally well-regarded as a defensive coordinator, but with the infusion of talent this year on the D-line, he needs to show some better results.
Final Prediction: In some ways, this is a tough team to figure out. How good is Jimmy G? How many of the projected starters will finish the season? Theoretically, this could be a 10-6 team if everybody stays healthy and lives up to their reputation. But in the NFL, injuries are a given, and there are major depth questions in almost every unit.
7-9, Third in NFC West
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