It’s a new season for the Arizona Cardinals. A 17-game season awaits the Red Sea in the third year of coach Kliff Kingsbury.
It’s a time where another playoff miss is not something the franchise can afford, so how far can the Cardinals go? Here’s the first of a four-part preview as the 2021 NFL draws closer.
Week 1: @ Tennessee Titans
The Titans are still a solid team in the AFC and are highly likely winning the AFC South again. Running back Derrick Henry presents a formidable test for the new-look Arizona defensive line. How well Watt and Jones, in addition to Isaiah Simmons and rookie Zaven Collins, react to Henry will be crucial. Arizona’s run stop was dead-last among NFC West teams (125.5 yards allowed per game) and halting Tennessee on the ground would work wonders.
Offensively, Kyler Murray has a lot more offensive stars to help him succeed. A stud veteran center in Rodney Hudson along with new wideouts in A.J. Green and rookie Rondale Moore. Plus, the run game, which was first in the division in 2020 (139.8 YPG), now has James Conner. The ex-Steeler alongside Chase Edmonds will battle against Tennessee defensive end Jeffrey Simmons and new linebacker Bud Dupree. The Titans’ passing defense was fifth-worst in the league (270.8 YPG) in 2020, so it would do Arizona good to test the pass and see if there are still exploits through the air.
Week 2: Vs. Minnesota Vikings
Things get personal quickly in the home opener; as longtime former Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson returns to the desert. Whether Peterson will be matched up against DeAndre Hopkins remains to be seen. But Hopkins is the premier threat for the Vikings to cover. Minnesota’s secondary now includes corner Bashuad Breeland and strong safety Xavier Woods in an effort to improve its pass defense.
The Vikings offense is not one to be underestimated, Justin Jefferson leads a receiver corps that now has Dede Westbrook plus some potential young stars. Rookies Whop Philyor and Imhir Smith-Marsette bring good Big Ten flavor to the crew, the latter can be very useful in the return game. As long as Kirk Cousins stays consistent with these receivers, Dalvin Cook can run with even more confidence that the Vikings are well-balanced.
Week 3: @ Jacksonville Jaguars
The Cardinals will be traveling to Jacksonville for the first time since 2013, a time when Jags legend Maurice Jones-Drew was still playing in the league. But the big man on campus for the Jaguars is rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Players like Laviska Shenault and veteran Marvin Jones will likely figure significantly into the passing game as well.
How Arizona’s defense will try to rattle the young QB will be of significance. Especially since his Clemson teammate, running back Travis Etienne, is out for the season following a Lisfranc injury in preseason play. As for Jacksonville’s defense, the Jags are coming off a league-second worst performance (417.7 YPG allowed) in 2020. If there is any game where one can say with confidence Arizona is winning, it might just be this game.
Week 4: @ Los Angeles Rams
Let the real test begin now. The Rams are anticipated to make an offensive jump in productivity thanks to the offseason acquisition of quarterback Matthew Stafford. Combined with the likes of wideouts Robert Woods Cooper Kupp, DeSean Jackson and rookie Tutu Atwell, it’s an offense destined to score.
Here is where the Cardinals secondary, a major point of concern in recent memory needs to prove its worth. Rookie cornerback Marco Wilson has received praise all throughout the preseason. Facing what looks like an intimidating passing game will be a necessary test for his growth. The same can be said for Byron Murphy and veteran Robert Alford, the latter has yet to play a snap as a Cardinal due to back-to-back season-ending injuries.
Week 5: Vs. San Francisco 49ers
Does Trey Lance start by this point? Will he be that ready to go? Regardless of the starting quarterback, there’s a strong set of receivers on San Francisco. The Cardinals secondary is definitely going to be in some trouble against Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and mighty tight end George Kittle. Plus, running back Raheem Mostert gets rookie Trey Sermon as a complement in the back field.
The 49ers secondary should also have its hands full as well, they have enough veteran depth acquired through free agency to support the likes of Jason Verrett and K’Waun Williams. But goodness gracious, that defensive front is stacked. Nick Bosa, Javon Kinlaw, Dee Ford, plus Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner on the outside? Kyler Murray is going to be running for his life.
That’s it for part one, the next piece will come out on Thursday and cover road trips to Cleveland and San Fran. Plus, home games versus Houston and Green Bay on a Thursday night.
Featured Image courtesy of The Arizona Republic
“From Our Haus to Yours”