Coverage is the Arizona Cardinals’ biggest necessity, PFF says

Mar 2, 2020, 10:35 AM | Updated: 10:41 am
Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting com...
Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
(AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Take a poll of anyone who paid attention to the Arizona Cardinals last season and ask them what the team needs most.

Here’s what they’ll say: Quarterback Kyler Murray needs a true No. 1 receiver or a sturdy offensive line to protect him, and the Cardinals’ No. 8 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft can shore up one of those needs. In a distant third place, a minority would claim Arizona’s defensive line needs an upgrade or two.

Mock drafts mostly support that.

Pro Football Focus’s Ben Linsey might see it another way. He says the biggest need for the Cardinals is “coverage across the board” with the offensive line and receiver listed as secondary needs.

No team had a worse defensive success rate (percentage of plays where they allowed positive expected points) than the Cardinals in 2019. A big part of that was just how bad they were in coverage, allowing a 117.9 passer rating on targeted passes and 75.5% of all those passes to be completed. Those were both league-worst marks during the regular season. Whether it be linebackers, cornerbacks or safeties, the Cardinals need to address that problem prominently this offseason.

Most strikingly, Arizona allowed an NFL-leading 73.3 yards per game and 16 total touchdowns to tight ends last season.

When it comes to the draft specifically, that brings up an interesting point. Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah, the clear-cut best cornerback prospect, is not expected to last until the No. 8 pick.

In terms of which other draft prospects are available to help the coverage, this is where things look to be going against Arizona. Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons is the only coverage player after Okudah who is firmly expected to be a top-15 pick.

The worse news for the Cardinals is that Simmons’ impressive NFL Scouting Combine performance might have leapfrogged him into the top five picks in the draft.

If that holds true, Arizona must then hope members of a young secondary plus some returning veterans can make the coverage performance in 2019 a distant memory.

Eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson is coming off a tumultuous season that included a six-game ban for PED use and several games of struggle before he shook off the rust. The Cardinals lost expected starting cornerback Robert Alford just before Week 1 after he looked to be a promising No. 2 with a strong training camp and preseason. Alford missed the entire season with a leg injury.

Alongside safety Budda Baker, rookies Jalen and Deionte Thompson will enter their second seasons with an understanding of the NFL grind and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s system. And also in the secondary, expect 2019 second-round pick Byron Murphy to make a leap if he’s able to remain exclusively in the slot after being whisked around the defensive backfield during his rookie campaign.

All of that is to say the coverage should be better.

Still, none of the hopefulness can excuse Arizona giving up the best passer rating (109.9) in the NFL last season.

There are holes, at inside linebacker especially. But general manager Steve Keim might have no choice but to go with receiver or offensive tackle at No. 8.

Then it’d be on Keim to track down the money and recruit the free agents to improve the defensive coverage.

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Coverage is the Arizona Cardinals’ biggest necessity, PFF says