Cardinals preview roundtable: Kyler Murray’s Year 2 and upgraded defense

Sep 11, 2020, 7:11 AM

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, left, speaks with head coach Kliff Kingsbury, right, in...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, left, speaks with head coach Kliff Kingsbury, right, in the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

(AP Photo/Gary Landers)

Following a 5-10-1 debut season, expectations have risen dramatically for Kliff Kingsbury’s Arizona Cardinals.

A trade for DeAndre Hopkins set off a chain of upgrades that bring back core pieces while patching holes. On paper, it’s a more talented roster than a year ago.

Quarterback Kyler Murray’s expected ascension could put Arizona under the spotlight in 2020.

We asked our Arizona Sports hosts, reporters and editors a series of six questions to preview the Cardinals’ 2020 campaign. Starting with Murray, here is Part 1 of that roundtable.

1. How would you quantify the leap that you expect Kyler Murray to make in his second season?

Ron Wolfley, co-host of Doug & Wolf: Season 1 to season 2 will be a metaphorical leap-year for Kyler Murray. Just as leap years give us more days in a year, Kyler Murray will give us more wins. His decision making will improve significantly, and it wasn’t like it was bad last season.

Doug Franz, co-host of Doug & Wolf: If the voting for MVP in the NFL was like it is in MLB (which it is not), I think Kyler would receive votes but not win it.

Paul Calvisi, anchor on Doug & Wolf: We know Kyler has a quick release (with accuracy) plus he possesses quick feet, but what happens when K1 can make quick decisions?! #TickTock

Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: I think there will be an expected jump in statistical production — 4,000 yards passing, 30 TD passes and 500-600 yards on the ground are all reachable. But the important number in terms of Murray’s growth is what is in the win column. I see at least three more wins for the Cardinals this year if Murray stays healthy.

John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Last year, Kyler got by on talent alone. He was a deer in headlights just trying to get everybody lined up in the right position and make plays without any real understanding of what he was seeing. He missed reads, open receivers and failed to recognize coverages. And he was still really good. This year, the experience factor, knowledge of the offense and confidence will allow him to go through his progressions and make plays that he did not last season.

Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & GamboIt will be hard to quantify in numbers, but I think he’ll have at least 4,200 yards passing, probably closer to 4,400 yards passing. Touchdown passes will be up around 25. Interceptions will be down but only a little. That wasn’t a huge problem for him last year. He’ll see the game so much better, manage the game so much better.

Luke Lapinski, host of The Rundown with Luke Lapinski and reporter: To me, it’s not so much about numbers as it is about his stature around the league. He’s a former No. 1 overall pick who plays a fun brand of football at the most important position in sports. That’s something we don’t see around here very often. The hype is building nationally, and he has a chance to really put Arizona on the map. He’s not going to unseat Patrick Mahomes as the face of the league anytime soon, but he does have a real shot at becoming a household name for football fans everywhere. That hinges on wins more than hitting certain yardage or touchdown benchmarks though.

Kevin Zimmerman, editor and reporter: Analyzing and emphasizing negative plays taken in his rookie season, Murray said he believe he hopes to cut his 48 sacks taken in half in Year 2. How does he do that? I think the offense is going to work at a faster pace with Murray getting the ball out of his hands faster than a year ago. Throw in the occasional deep shot and consider the better weapons he has to work with and that should most help the intermediate passing game.

Kellan Olson, editor and reporter: Big play ability. Year One seemed to be all about getting Murray acclimated as a rookie NFL quarterback, which isn’t the wrong way to go about it. But now Kliff Kingsbury can take the training wheels off, especially with more weapons, and hopefully that unlocks Murray trusting himself more and making a few game-changing plays a game. That’s what he was drafted for.

Tyler Drake, editor and reporter: To me, Kyler Murray makes a fairly large jump in 2020. Not only does he get another year with Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, K1 gets the addition of All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins. Throw in the experience factor from last year, an improved offensive line and a second season with head coach Kliff Kingsbury, and Murray has all the tools required to make that next leap.

2. After an offseason of additions, how do you think Vance Joseph’s defense does this year? Explain.

Wolfley: This defense will be the most improved defense in the league. Not because the Cardinals are the most talented but because they were so bad last year. Steve Keim addressed the issues that confronted Vance Joseph and the most improved part of this team will their front seven. You can’t add Jordan Phillips, Devon Kennard, Zach Allen (who was hurt most of the year), De’Vondre Campbell and Isaiah Simmons, and not get significantly better.

Franz: I think they improve up to average. The talent is there this year to be a top-8 defense. I think Joseph is one of the best men in the game of football. I’m just not sold Joseph is a great defensive coordinator. He didn’t have a ton of horses last year so I want to be fair but when every opponents’ tight end has a career day, can we mix it up a little bit?

Calvisi: The Cardinals’ 2020 defense will make the 2019 defense look like the preseason defense we didn’t see this year.

Marotta: I like the additions the Cardinals made on defense. Very intrigued to see how much of a disruptor Jordan Phillips can be on the line and getting Dre Kirkpatrick after the Robert Alford injury could be huge. But I think in this strange ramp-up to the season, it’s probable that the Cardinals’ defense will struggle early before finding its footing at the midway point.

Gambadoro: Vance deserved a chance to come back and lead this defense. The Cardinals basically didn’t have the talent necessary to be successful in his 3-4 defense last season. This year with major additions in free agency and the draft the Cardinals D should be much improved — if not Joseph will be out of a job.

Burns: I think that as long as they’re in the middle third of the league they’ll be fine. Ideally they’re top 15, but I don’t think they have to be to get where they want to go in 2019.

Lapinski: It’ll be better, simply because the guys that have been here finally get to play consecutive seasons under the same defensive coordinator. But it might take a little while as they work a few new starters in. Figure you get more out of Patrick Peterson this time around too, plus Isaiah Simmons has exciting potential. It may not look great at first but, if Joseph gets this group rolling, the Cardinals are a playoff team.

Zimmerman: Devon Kennard is not an over-the-hill vet like Terrell Suggs. Jordan Phillips, according to Zach Allen, is a top-five athlete on the team with his lateral quickness and motor at 335 pounds. Jalen Thompson could be the biggest surprise, and everyone is quick to talk about Isaiah Simmons when De’Vondre Campbell is the long, rangy and smart linebacker who is for sure starting. Joseph’s resume as defensive coordinator isn’t sparkling, but I believe that we should expect this defense to be average to good because of the talent.

Olson: It’s a far more well-rounded group that will be solid if there aren’t any cracks. The Robert Alford injury is a killer, and the defensive line probably has the most questions. Patrick Peterson and Budda Baker need to play at a high level, and they require some playmaking from the linebacker group outside of Chandler Jones. That should be Isaiah Simmons’ music.

Drake: I think the defense has improved greatly on paper. On the field, however, remains to be seen until Sunday. The addition of Dre Kirkpatrick helps fill the void left behind by Robert Alford and I feel the Isaiah Simmons pick was directed toward helping stopping the tight end issues from a year before.

3. With so many offensive weapons to distribute touches toward, which player are you most sure will meet expectations from a statistical standpoint? Why?

Wolfley: Kenyan Drake. Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid reputation and the prolific weapons in his offense will garner so much attention from defensive coordinators. Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk will force Kenyan Drake to become the secret ingredient in a stew of productivity.

Franz: Larry Fitzgerald. It doesn’t matter who’s the QB, the OC, or who’s in the huddle — Fitz always delivers.

Marotta: DeAndre Hopkins. He’s proven to be unstoppable in the past, so why wouldn’t playing in a wide-open offense with plenty of other options to loosen things up benefit him? He’s going to be huge this year.

Gambadoro: So many options for Kyler with Hopkins, Fitzgerald, Kirk, Isabella, Johnson, Drake, Edmonds and Arnold. Not sure anyone meets their expectations, but if anyone does I would go with Hopkins because he should be the main target on third down.

Burns: Larry. Easy. Because he’s Larry. Expectations for Hopkins are sky-high, he might not be able to live up to them all. The expectations for Drake are similarly high. I think Fitz — crazy as it may be to think that the most popular athlete in Arizona sports history doesn’t have high expectations — doesn’t have too many outrageous expectations on him this year. Have you seen his over/under numbers on catches and yards? He’ll meet them for certain.

Lapinski: Murray. What makes this offense so potentially dangerous is its ability to spread the ball around. DeAndre Hopkins could take over one game, Kenyan Drake could be the focal point the next week and maybe Christian Kirk has a big performance the week after that. But it’s all going to run through Murray.

Zimmerman: I want to choose Murray but the expectations might be out-of-this-world high. Kirk is going to find it a lot easier to get loose this year, and he and Murray already have a chemistry. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re halfway through the year and it’s that guy leading the team in receiving yards.

Olson: Christian Kirk. The required attention for DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald and Murray’s legs will bring more consistency to his looks. Kirk averaged 8.3 targets per game last year, a top-20 mark in the league. His 68 catches off 108 targets weren’t because of drops. Murray is going to be better at locating him and Kirk is going to have less of the defense around him. Yes, I drafted him in fantasy.

Drake: Dan Arnold. Call it a cop out since he doesn’t necessarily have a ton of expectations, but sign me up for the tight end as someone who will exceed the ones he has. The Cardinals are going to put more time into the tight ends this season and from what everyone’s said at training camp, the dude can ball.

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