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 second of a four-part preview as the 2021 NFL draws closer.
Week 6: @ Cleveland Browns
The Cardinals know that the Browns’ offense will be ready to attack. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has reliable wide receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, plus the one-two punch of running backs Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb will deal effective rushing damage.
Defensively, the most significant aspect of the Browns defense on paper alone looks like the secondary. Just the names show the potential this unit has: Troy Hill and John Johnson back together, Denzel Ward and rookie Greg Newsome II, plus if Greedy Williams and Grant Delpit stay healthy. This whole unit is going to be a problem for the entire league.
Week 7: Vs. Houston Texans
What a mess the Texans are in right now. Not only is J.J. Watt now in Cardinal red alongside DeAndre Hopkins, but they’ll also need to defend *against* Watt. That’s not a phrase the Texans were used to hearing outside of practice until now. Along with Deshaun Watson’s ongoing sexual assault allegations, positives are hard to come by in H-Town.
The Cardinals should emphasize attacking the line through the ground game. Beyond DE Whitney Mercilus, practically no one on the defensive line is a legitimate threat or has proven themselves enough. The Texans had the worst run stop in 2020 (160.2 yards per game), so this may a prime opportunity to let James Conner and Chase Edmonds run wild.
Week 8: Vs. Green Bay Packers
It’s a primetime Thursday night game against a Packers team that has not had success the past few times they’ve rolled into town. Memorable playoff games aside, Aaron Rodgers is still a dominant threat. Even more so, he’s a man hellbent on getting his ring this season. This quarterback has proven time and time again to have the clutch gene and the Cardinals secondary could be a victim here.
Defensively, Green Bay returns the linebacker duo of Preston and Za’Darius Smith and defensive tackle Kenny Clark. Look for corners Jaire Alexander and rookie Eric Stokes to carry the secondary, but beyond them, it’s not necessarily a sound group. Perhaps it would do Kyler Murray well to target Kevin King considering his coverage issues during the 2020 NFC Championship.
Week 9: @ San Francisco 49ers
Going to the Bay is much different than playing a team from the Bay. Fortunately, recent history has been kind to the Cardinals; Arizona has won five of its last six trips to San Francisco, including last season. Kyler Murray frequently used his legs in that game, including a rush touchdown reminiscent of his Oklahoma days.
A recent criticism for the Cardinals has been their inability to properly defend tight ends, which is significant in the case of George Kittle. Kittle is a mismatch no matter what, but knowing the man behind the uniform is also crucial. He lives for the moment and feeds off the crowd. A crowd that is not only back in the Bay, but also loud. If Kittle can’t be contained, the Niners fans will know and it will only work to distract Arizona.
That’s it for part two, the next piece will come out next Tuesday and cover road trips to Seattle and Chicago. Plus, home games versus Carolina and the L.A. Rams on a Thursday night.
Featured Image courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals
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