The Arizona Cardinals’ expectations are in a weird spot for the 2019 season.
With concerns mounting by the day on the play of key units like the offensive line, defensive line and secondary, the Cardinals appear to be trending toward being on the worst teams in the league for the second year in a row.
But don’t let that confuse you with the insurmountable buzz around the team and excitement to see No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray in Kliff Kingsbury’s system.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell tried to find the middle ground of this by examining what would be considered a “successful” season and labeling a few “realistic goals” for the teams projected to be in the bottom third of the NFL standings.
For the Cardinals, Barnwell starts where the hype is, labeling a top priority as “proof the Air Raid works.”
Barnwell wants to establish that this is not just some gimmicky college offense Kingsbury has brought in. A handful of NFL teams use some similar concepts.
The uniqueness of Kliff Kingsbury’s offensive scheme is overstated in a league in which teams like the Chiefs, Patriots and Rams have been integrating Air Raid concepts for years. Nothing Kingsbury is going to run this season is something that will blow the minds of opposing defenders, especially given that so many of them have come through the high school and college ranks against Air Raid offenses. He will have the smallest playbook in the league, though, likely by a considerable margin.
The key difference is pace.
Where the Cardinals can stand out is in their execution of those concepts and their ability to control games with tempo. The original concept underpinning the Air Raid was to beat teams with superior athletes and deeper playbooks by executing a thinner, faster scheme to perfection. If Kingsbury can continue to do that with his offense at the highest possible level, Arizona will be in great shape moving forward.
Through two weeks of the preseason, we haven’t received much of a clue at all, and that’s by design. Kingsbury has been notoriously secretive with showing anything from his offense. And even in what will be Murray and company’s longest look on Saturday before the bright lights of the regular season come, not showing much of the offense’s secret sauce is still expected to mostly be the case against the Minnesota Vikings.
For his other realistic goal in Arizona, Barnwell has his eye on a potential strong start for second-round pick Byron Murphy, noting the suspension of Patrick Peterson and Robert Alford’s injury requiring for more out of the rookie.
The cornerback depth chart consists of journeyman Tramaine Brock, special-teamer Brandon Williams, several undrafted free agents and Murphy, the 33rd pick in April’s draft. Murphy was regarded during the draft process as a player who could step in quickly, but rookie cornerbacks — even the ones who eventually turn into stars — often struggle during their debut campaigns.
It’s asking a lot of him to step in and immediately serve as Arizona’s top cornerback, especially given that the Cardinals might have realistically expected to start the season with Peterson and Alford on the outside while starting Murphy off in the slot. If he can turn into the No. 2 corner Arizona has long sought across from Peterson and do so by the end of the season, it would be a revelation.
For all of the preseason, Murphy has been listed behind Peterson on the depth chart at one of the corner spots. He missed the preseason opener against the Los Angeles Chargers and started at nickelback with Peterson and Brock at the main corner spots in Week 2 against the Oakland Raiders.