The 5: Things we’ve learned about the Arizona Cardinals through Week 2

Sep 21, 2020, 11:19 AM | Updated: 7:55 pm
Quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals is congratulated by Larry Fitzgerald #11 and J...
Quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals is congratulated by Larry Fitzgerald #11 and Justin Pugh #67 after scoring a 21 yard rushing touchdown against the Washington Football Team at State Farm Stadium on September 20, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

We’re two weeks and two wins into the Arizona Cardinals’ season, and it’s starting to look like we have a real worst-to-first candidate on our hands.

Arizona has wins over San Francisco and Washington, two teams that have found success against opponents not from Arizona this season. The Cardinals have so far avoided the plague of injuries that hit other NFL teams, and with that, the themes seem consistent enough to make some determinations after two games.

In the aftermath of a 30-15 victory over Washington where it felt like Arizona dominated and left quite a few points out there, here are some leftover thoughts now that we’ve gotten a sense of the 2020 version of the Cardinals.

Kyler’s room to grow

The highlights led to audible gasps from Washington reporters in the State Farm Stadium press box.

The man will be featured on Monday sports talk shows across the country.

Murray is the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to throw for 500 yards and run for more than 150 over the first two weeks of a season. He’s also the first QB to rush for more than 150 yards and score three rushing touchdowns to start a year.

It’s his threat from 30 yards from the end zone or less that has stood out. He’s helped Arizona’s ridiculous red zone efficiency, highlighted when DeAndre Hopkins got wide open for the opening touchdown against Washington.

What are defenses to do when he hits them with the hesi to make the decisive cut?

Murray is completing 66.7% of his passes and has 516 air yards with 158 rushing yards to go with five combined touchdowns.

And here’s the thing: He has so much room to grow.

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Murray remains “a work-in-progress” after Sunday’s game.

Murray pushed Arizona back with delay-of-game penalties and had one throwaway that didn’t reach the line of scrimmage. He made the same obvious mistake in Week 1 against the 49ers.

“You can’t really make excuses. I think we should’ve been better today,” Murray said Sunday. “This is the NFL. They have a great front seven over there. It wasn’t easy by any means, but at the same time, I feel like we practice hard and we expect to execute when we go out there on the field on Sunday. We left a lot out there, I think that was pretty evident to see.

“I feel like once we limit those penalties, limit going backwards, the negative plays, we can hopefully reach that full potential.”

Emphasizing the blocking game

Murray causing problems has a direct impact on the balance for the Cardinals offense.

Running back Kenyan Drake isn’t breaking big runs at this point, but the Cardinals’ tempo and offensive line have finished two wins leaning on the bell cow.

Arizona is second in the NFL by averaging 75.5 plays per game so far. The Cardinals have thrown 78 passes to 68 rushes and are averaging 5.0 yards per carry. They have used 10 personnel (four receivers, no tight ends) on only 11 plays so far, continuing a trend that caught on through the first four games of Kingsbury’s first year on the job.

The Cardinals are second in the NFL by using 12 personnel (two tight ends) 32% of the time.

On Sunday, Arizona knew from past history that Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio tends to lead off drives by using heavy amounts of pressure, Cardinals tackle Kelvin Beachum told Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf.

So Arizona went big.

Even with starter Maxx Williams ruled out for the game, that meant we saw a triple-tight end personnel grouping involving Dan Arnold, Darrell Daniels and practice squad call-up Jordan Thomas.

At other points, backup tackle/guard Justin Murray was utilized as an extra blocking body. Murray played six snaps in a similar role to the one Mason Cole, who was a backup last year, was used in 2019.

Washington’s talented front that includes 2020 second overall pick Chase Young got pressure on 15 Kyler Murray drop-backs out of 46 total, according to Pro Football Focus. The quarterback got out of pressure many times, but the protections weren’t bad.

It’s not just the big men, either. Receiver Trent Sherfield and back Chase Edmonds made key blocks to spring Murray for a 14-yard score on Sunday.

Defensive roles have been defined quickly

DT Jordan Phillips (97), Rashard Lawrence (92) and Devon Kennard (42) (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

It’s taken just a few games for the Cardinals to firm up their defensive rotations, and that’s easy to do when they’ve held opponents to 20 or fewer points in three of the last four games dating back to last year.

Among the roles that appear to be long-term:

— There are three viable outside linebackers, with Haason Reddick capable of spelling Chandler Jones and Devon Kennard, especially in passing downs with his ability to drop. He has played in more than 40% of the snaps through the first two games.

— The Cardinals also feel good about three cornerbacks: Patrick Peterson, Dre Kirkpatrick and Byron Murphy.

— Free agent defensive tackle pickup Jordan Phillips has appeared in 50% of the snaps so far this year and made his presence known with a strip of Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins on Sunday.

— Defensive end Angelo Blackson has been the surprise of the year so far after being picked up before Week 1. He chased Haskins into a sack with penetration this week after tallying a sack last Sunday. Blackson played nearly half of the snaps in Week 2 as second-year pro Zach Allen’s opportunities fell off significantly.

— Raise your hand if you picked nose tackle Rashard Lawrence as the most impactful rookie through two weeks. Lawrence was praised all camp as a ready-to-go, mature tackle, and he’s been just that. He played 32 snaps on Sunday and is firmly in the D-line rotation.

Don’t worry about Isaiah Simmons

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Isaiah Simmons talk since the 2020 NFL Draft was warranted, and it’s far too soon to start discussing a mistake with that pick.

Sure, it would be nice to move him all over the field like he did in college, but the fact of the matter is learning at inside linebacker will challenge him to learn the functions of the entire defense as a rookie. Doing so behind De’Vondre Campbell is not a bad thing.

Yes, it was against tight end Logan Thomas, but Campbell was the defensive standout against the Washington Football Team.

And remember: Campbell is on a one-year deal. Arizona very well might not re-sign him, regardless of how good he plays this year.

Niners running back Raheem Mostert hitting 23 mph once he got Simmons sideways in Week 1 might heighten the concerns about the Cardinals’ No. 8 pick more than they should be. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Simmons’ other 17 snaps last week were promising and that he bounced back strong from the Mostert run and a horse-collar of tight end George Kittle (that Simmons was in coverage against Kittle was improvement on last year).

Simmons played only seven snaps against Washington in Week 2, mostly filling in as a third linebacker in short-yardage situations. Like it was for Byron Murphy and Jalen Thompson last year, these things take time.

If the team is winning without him, it’s hard to reason forcing Simmons onto the field.

His time will come.

The Streveler package can get wild

Round 1 of backup quarterback Chris Streveler’s package was a quarterback sneak. Simple enough.

Round 2 got wild in a hurry.

This came with Arizona on its own 27-yard line and on 4th-and-1. They had a big lead, but Kingsbury kept his foot on the gas and showed his trust in the NFL rookie.

General manager Steve Keim told Doug & Wolf on Friday that Streveler outright won the backup quarterback job from Brett Hundley.

The Cardinals don’t want to find out, but it would be interesting to see if that is truly the case should Kyler Murray need to be replaced. Hundley has proven passing abilities against NFL defenses, after all.

For now though, Streveler is a valuable gadget weapon that can help limit Murray taking hits in obvious short-yardage situations where having that running quarterback adds another dimension.

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The 5: Things we’ve learned about the Arizona Cardinals through Week 2