PFF lays out best and worst cases for Arizona Cardinals in 2020

Jul 11, 2020, 6:40 AM

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals look on ...

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals look on during the second half of the NFL game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at State Farm Stadium on December 08, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Steelers defeated the Cardinals 23-17. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Cardinals could be the X factor in the NFC West in 2020.

Will Kyler Murray take a leap in year two with an improved defense on the other side of the ball? Or might the lack of a true offseason and the new pieces on defense failing to gel be the demise of hopes for 2020?

Pro Football Focus examined the floor and ceiling for the 2020 Cardinals — and every other team — by running simulations and determined the low-end (10th percentile) and high-end (90th percentile) results.

Here’s what they found:

Low end: 5-11 record

How they get there: The defense just doesn’t have enough talent to stop opposing offenses. Chandler Jones doesn’t get enough pass-rushing help from his teammates to worry opposing quarterbacks, and additions like Isaiah Simmons and Robert Alford aren’t enough to significantly improve a defense that finished the 2019 season ranked 30th in expected points allowed per play. Even with an offense that is expected to be improved in Kyler Murray’s second season, a bottom-five defense would make things difficult for the Cardinals in a competitive NFC West.

The addition of Jordan Phillips on the defensive line could help the pass-rushing in theory, but 9.5 sacks from him last year is way above what’s been normal for him in his career. For that reason, it may be a one-off.

Conversely, if what made Phillips successful in Buffalo is present under defensive coordinator Vance Joseph in Arizona, maybe he and the rest of the defense can step up and shoo opposing offenses off the field. In the best-case scenario, the defense holds up and Murray takes a Patrick Mahomes- or Lamar Jackson-like leap forward in year two.

High end: 10-6 record

The sophomore jump for Murray is real and beautiful. He cleans up some of the mistakes he made as a rookie, and his talent ─ both as a passer and runner ─ shines in his second season in Kliff Kingsbury’s system. DeAndre Hopkins gives him a true No. 1 wide receiver to work with, something that can’t necessarily still be said of Larry Fitzgerald at this stage of his career. That offense is enough to balance a defense that still has some holes.

The defense is improved, though, thanks to Byron Murphy looking more like the guy PFF was high on coming out of Washington and Simmons thriving in a multi-faceted role as a rookie.

Murray showed promise in his first year, and important but realistic improvements — like not taking a league-high 48 sacks, many of which were self-inflicted — could take his game from good to great. He also could benefit from making the simpler, more obvious plays, former Cardinals QB Kurt Warner said in May.

“There were just a lot of easy throws that could’ve been made that he didn’t make,” Warner said in Doug & Wolf’s QB1 roundtable on Arizona Sports. “It wasn’t the throws, it’s more the mental side of it, not seeing easy completions and big completions on the field — often times with what I would consider a simpler concept.”

On defense, even beyond the aforementioned Phillips and Simmons, Arizona saw the addition of Devon Kennard and De’Vondre Campbell at outside and inside linebacker, respectively, this offseason. Campbell and Simmons could be the cure for covering opposing tight ends, something that plagued the 2019 Cardinals and did them no favors in close games.

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PFF lays out best and worst cases for Arizona Cardinals in 2020