Ready for some insights into this Cardinals team, especially its messy cornerback situation, how the offense has fared, and what this rebuilding timeline looks like? Seth Cox at Revenge of the Birds was kind enough to provide it, so let’s get into our five questions for the week.
Dave Choate: Let’s talk about Kyler Murray. How is he looking in the first several games of his young career, what are his greatest strengths and weaknesses thus far, and how have teams had success stopping him?
Seth Cox: Murray has been really strong for a rookie. He is developing each week, he is getting a feel for the game and things are starting to come together. He had his best game of the season last week against a bad Bengals team and showed the progression you want to see.
Murray is finding out how much faster the NFL game is and after taking a number of bad sacks, simply scrambling out of bounds or too early from clean pockets, he was much better last week. I think the most amazing thing we have seen with Murray is how excellent he is at avoiding turnovers. Through five games, he has four interceptions to six total touchdowns (four passing and two rushing).
His two biggest areas he needs to improve are the whole NFL pocket thing. He also needs to learn when to take some risks, especially in the redzone, where the Cardinals have been more than any other NFL team, but are ranked 30th in touchdown percentage. That is definitely been a combination of Murray and Kliff Kingsbury trying to figure out the NFL game together. We’ll see if it improves this week.
Dave Choate: If David Johnson is out, as it appears he might be Sunday, how does this ground game (and probably more importantly) passing attack change? Can Chase Edmonds pick up the slack if he is out?
Seth Cox: The answer is two-fold. If David Johnson is out and Christian Kirk is still limited, the passing game is going to be in some trouble. If Johnson is out and Kirk is 85% or better, they can cause some issues. The difference becomes they don’t have that one guy who causes matchup issues, which is what David Johnson does consistently. He is still one of the best receiving backs in the NFL and when you try and put a linebacker on him he’s too fast, when you try and cover him with a safety he’s too big.
That last part is where it gets interesting. Johnson has become a bit of a plodder. He is averaging 4.1 yards per carry, but he is not the big play threat in the running game he once was. He’ll get the yards that are there, but he’s not creating big plays as a running back.
That is why you could potentially see an uptick in the running game this week if it is all Chase Edmonds and Kyler. They are both dynamic, quick and shifty runners. The Cardinals will lack the big back, between the tackles runs that DJ provides, but they’ll have a bigger play threat back there in Edmonds.
Dave Choate: The Falcons have had an abysmal time stopping opposing passing attacks, and last week they allowed 53 points to the Texans. Who has to be contained in order to slow down this Cardinals attack, and who is capable of breaking huge gains if the Falcons, ahem, have struggles in coverage?
Seth Cox: Larry Fitzgerald as always is timeless. He seems to be owning the short and intermediate area of the field, but he’s not going to break huge gains. No, if David Johnson is out there, he’s going to cause issues in coverage, but Christian Kirk and Damiere Byrd (also returning from injury) are the guys who can spark big plays.
Kirk is a dynamic player with the ball in his hands that has just struggled with bad luck in ankle and foot injuries each of his first two seasons.
Byrd is the 4.3 guy that they like to use to stretch the field but also in quick situations to try and get him the ball in space to run away from defenders.
If someone is going to make a big play in the passing game, it will likely be one of Kirk or Byrd. If the Cardinals are using their short, quick passing game it will heavily rely on Fitz and…maybe David Johnson.
Dave Choate: All these questions have been about the offense, but I am curious about the defense as well. Is this Arizona secondary capable of putting the brakes on a Falcons passing attack finding its way?
Seth Cox: No. Next question.
This secondary was supposed to be the strength of this team. You have an All Pro in Patrick Peterson who is serving the final game of his six game suspension and then the guy they had hoped would finally solve the cornerback two problem in former Falcon Robert Alford.
Alford was maybe the best defensive player in camp, that’s not hyperbole, and his injury has been basically a death knell for the Cardinals hopes of having competent corner play.
Rookie Byron Murphy has assumed the mantle of cornerback one, simply by being the best active corner on the roster. He is a rookie, though, and has been exposed as such basically one time in each game. I don’t expect that to change against such a talented wide receiver group.
Tramaine Brock is a competent if underwhelming veteran presence who would be an ideal dime defensive back and will get there maybe in week eight or nine when Alford could potentially come back.
Finally, the Cardinals added Kevin Peterson from the Rams just before the season started and he has been solid in coverage, but again he is a cornerback three at best right now. So, you basically have two CB3 and a CB4 playing CB1, CB2 and CB3. That is a recipe for something bad to happen.
Then you add in that the Cardinals released D.J. Swearinger after a horrid start to the season and are now pairing third year safety Budda Baker with two rookies in Deionte Thompson and Jalen Thompson and you’re asking for trouble.
Oh, and they don’t get much pressure up front to help all these young players in the secondary.
Basically, it will look a lot like a 7-on-7 passing league game on Sunday.
Dave Choate: Prediction for the game, for the season, and perhaps most importantly for you guys, what this team looks like in a year or two?
Seth Cox: I have gone back and forth on this game. I don’t feel good about it, but I am trying to keep up the faith and so I am going homer and picking the Cardinals in a bit of a shootout 34-31.
This season was always a season to rebuild, that is what happens when you fire a coach after one season, except the GM never saw it that way and now things are a bit odd. Most fans saw this as a 6-7 win team. I am not sure that is going to happen after a 1-3-1 start (I had them at seven wins, for full transparency) but a win on Sunday can go a long way to get this team to the five win mark in 2019.
That’s the biggest question: Will this team find a way to build throughout the season? They need talent on the offensive and defensive line (who doesn’t?), but they also need a wide receiver one and an athletic linebacker who can cover (we didn’t even talk about Austin Hooper going for 8/160/3, in this game which he is going to do). The bad thing is they have spent a number of picks the last three drafts on those positions and there are still glaring, glaring holes on this roster.
So, I don’t know what the hope is for the future, but I know one thing: I feel confident they have a quarterback and that is something that can help you build quickly.