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Arizona Cardinals: Air Raid Pioneers

Arizona Cardinals: Air Raid Pioneers

The Cardinals were a part of one of the most shocking transactions of the NFL offseason. They acquired DeAndre Hopkins and a 2020 fourth-round pick from the Texans and only gave up injury-riddled David Johnson and two picks in return. The Cardinals no longer had any need for Johnson after they acquired Kenyan Drake from Miami. Drake put up 814 scrimmage yards and eight touchdowns in just eight games in Arizona. If Kyler Murray can take a step forward in his sophomore year, the Cardinals will have one of the most well-rounded offenses in the NFL. However, in a tough NFC West, reaching the playoffs may be a challenge the Cardinals may not complete this season.

Spread Offense

With the acquisition of Hopkins, the Cardinals now boast one of the top-tier wide receiver groups in the league. With the never-aging Larry Fitzgerald and young stud Christian Kirk rounding out the receivers, defenses will have a hard time stopping the passing game. In 2019, the Cardinals ran four-receiver sets on 32 percent of plays, 24 percent above the next-highest team and far above the league average of 3 percent. With the addition of Hopkins, they may run this formation at an even higher clip, and with greater success.

Arizona Cardinals: Air Raid Supreme
Murray can get it done with his arm and his legs, making him a dangerous quarterback to defend. Image courtesy of Rick Scuteri, Associated Press.

For this “air raid” style offense to reach its full potential, Murray will need to have a better season than last year. He is being projected to have a breakout season and be an above-average quarterback. His performance last year does not suggest this, as he was below league average in both EPA/play and completion percentage above expected. But, a good offensive line can provide an excellent breeding ground for a young quarterback. Arizona had the 10th ranked offensive line in pass block win rate in 2019. Though center A.Q. Shipley is no longer on the team, Arizona retained the rest of its line. While Murray is largely over-hyped, the addition of Hopkins should be a catalyst in his development. Expect Murray to be a better passer in 2020, but not quite as much better as many sources are saying.

Improved Defense

Arizona Cardinals: Air Raid Supreme
Isaiah Simmons has the ability to play all over the field, making him a coveted prospect. Image courtesy of Richard Shiro, Associated Press.

To say the Cardinals’ defense wasn’t impressive last season would be an understatement. They allowed over 400 yards per game, worst in the NFL. And, opponents commonly translated these yards into points, scoring 27.6 points per game against Arizona. The Cardinals’ defensive line was not part of the problem. They ranked 10th in pass rush win rate, behind Chandler Jones and his 19 sacks. They doubled down on this strength in the off-season, signing defensive end Jordan Phillips to a three-year, $30 million contract. With 9.5 sacks in 2019, Phillips will complement Jones nicely on the opposite side of the line.

The Cardinals linebackers were a real void in the defense, with the best of the bunch being Jordan Hicks. Arizona smartly made a significant effort to fill this gap, drafting the versatile Isaiah Simmons at number eight overall. They also signed Devon Kennard, who was a decent outside linebacker for Detroit in 2019. While the Cardinals’ pass defense is still problematic, they are getting Robert Alford back from injury, and Patrick Peterson and Budda Baker are two of the best in the business. All told, Arizona’s defense has vastly improved from last season. However, they are still susceptible to the passing game and rely on their defensive line to take the pressure off of their back seven.

Not Quite Ready

Similar to the Dolphins, the Cardinals have budding talent that has yet to come into full bloom. While the Cardinals currently have more of the pieces together, they have the challenge of being in the NFC West. With Super Bowl runner-ups in the 49ers, the perpetual contenders in the Seahawks and the oft-overlooked Rams, the Cardinals do not have easy foes. Even with a last-place schedule in 2020, they likely will not post an impressive record. Their current over/under wins sits at 7.5 in Vegas, but they will more than likely fall on the short side of that. If they can develop their defensive backs some more, and Kyler Murray continues to grow under quarterback whisperer Kliff Kingsbury, they could be a fringe playoff contender in 2021.

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