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.
Quarterback Kyler Murray must become a leader while J.J. Watt and Chandler Jones will lead a hopefully devastating front line.
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 third of a four-part preview as the 2021 NFL draws closer.
Week 10: Vs. Carolina Panthers
Matt Rhule enters his second year as Panthers coach, with the squad looking to make another big jump. The team was much more competitive than their 2020 record shows. Several of their losses were quite close and their defense is still growing. But the addition of former Cardinal linebacker Haason Reddick ough to add more consistency to that position.
Perhaps home-field advantage will be what the doctor ordered after Arizona fell in Charlotte last season. Overall, the Carolina defense held Kyler Murray to 133 yards passing and three touchdowns. But it became clear that a pass-heavy approach wasn’t going to cut it over time. Hopefully, Chase Edmonds can accomplish with James Conner what he couldn’t with Kenyan Drake as both were held to a combined 51 rush yards in the loss.
Week 11: @ Seattle Seahawks
Games against the Seahawks never get old, as indicated by last season’s two close contests. Contests in the Emerald City have largely been single-digit finishes since 2015, with the Cardinals 4-2 against Seattle in that timespan. So, the most crucial key to victory needs to be consistency in scoring.
Seattle now has a potential three-headed monster at wide receiver, D.K. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and rookie D’Wayne “Dee” Eskridge. The Cardinals secondary is still lacking a solid starter to compliment Budda Baker and Byron Murphy now that Malcolm Butler appears to have retired. Plus, the Seattle o-line now has Gabe Jackson to give Russell Wilson the quality protection he deserves. J.J. Watt and Chandler Jones have to be healthy for this one.
Week 13: @ Chicago Bears
Coming out of the Week 12 bye, the Cardinals will possibly get their first experience with rookie QB Justin Fields. Only time will tell if Andy Dalton is still starting at this point, but who is under center may not matter much. The Bears in 2020 did a decent enough job limiting sacks, only giving up 36; yet, the Cardinals are at advantage for now. They’re carrying into 2021 their 48 sacks, tied for fourth-best in the league a season ago. Did the fact that Watt is with Arizona get mentioned yet?
The Chicago defense features a stout linebacker corps led by Khalil Mack, but that’s their major strength for now. The rest of the defense still needs work. Cornerback Kyle Fuller is now in Denver and that leaves safety Eddie Jackson in charge of a unit that was 13th in the league in passing yards allowed (233.4 YPG). It wouldn’t hurt the Cardinals to be liberal with the pass to see if this unit can still hold together.
Week 14: Vs. Los Angeles Rams
The last time the Cardinals beat the Rams at home, the latter was still playing in St. Louis(!). That was November 11, 2014, and all six home games since have been losses. 2020’s home match saw Jared Goff play like a man on fire, passing for 357 yards and strangely enough, just one touchdown. Remember, that was Jared Goff. The large majority of football pundits agree Matthew Stafford is a substantial upgrade over Jared Goff.
A positive to look at against L.A.’s defense is that defensive backs Troy Hill and John Johnson are both in Cleveland, meaning a young secondary needs to earn Jalen Ramsey’s confidence by this game. The Cardinals still have a pass rush to worry about, center Rodney Hudson needs his group to play exceptionally well against Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd. It is possible to do so considering both men combined for just three tackles in Glendale last year.
That’s it for part three, the final piece will come out Thursday and cover road trips to Detroit and Dallas. Plus, home games versus Indianapolis and Seattle on a Thursday night.
Featured photo courtesy of Rick Scuteri/AP Sports
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