Trends to note for the Arizona Cardinals 5 games into the 2020 season
A good football team always looks in the mirror. Great NFL franchises rely and invest heavily in the art of self-scouting. The best never stop searching for weaknesses within.
Here is what we think we know in Arizona after five weeks of the season:
Larry Fitzgerald is slowing down. He has just 18 receptions in five games. His impact has precipitously dipped to 6.8 yards per catch. Only once in the previous 16 seasons has Fitzgerald averaged less than 10 yards per catch, and that was the year he caught 107 passes.
That’s not happening this year.
In the second quarter of Sunday’s victory over the Jets, Murray seemed to badly overthrow Fitzgerald on a deep out route. But replays showed Fitzgerald was extremely late out of his break, and Murray was clearly disappointed with his target.
Nobody wants to say it and nobody wants to see it, but Fitzgerald looks heavy-legged in the early stages of 2020, and you hope he’s dealing with some kind of undisclosed injury.
If not, the arrival of DeAndre Hopkins and Father Time might conspire to make this Fitzgerald’s least productive and last season in uniform. Stay tuned.
The lack of home-field advantage is a big story in the NFL. Penalties are down and scoring is up. Silent counts are no longer necessary and false start penalties are no longer littering the red zone. And I sincerely doubt Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer makes a mistake by going for it on 4th-and-1 in Seattle on Sunday night if he can barely hear himself think, if the 12’s are in his headset, influencing every end-game decision.
The Cardinals are living a different narrative. They have struggled with energy yet are unbeaten in empty stadiums (at San Francisco, home against Washington, at the New York Jets). They are 0-2 with actual people in the stands, losing at home to Detroit before a quaint gathering of 750 friends and family members; and losing to Carolina before a sparse crowd of 5,120.
The trend does not bode well for a Monday Night Football appearance in Dallas, where nearly 25,000 fans will be in attendance.
The bigger trend is this: the Cardinals have beaten a backup quarterback (Joe Flacco), a benched quarterback (Dwayne Haskins) and an overrated quarterback (Jimmy Garoppolo). Meanwhile, they have been picked apart by the two decent quarterbacks they have faced in 2020 (Matthew Stafford, Teddy Bridgewater).
They catch a huge break facing Andy Dalton in Week 6, a career underachiever subbing for the injured Dak Prescott.
Kingsbury bemoaned how his team is plagued by ill-timed penalties that effectively derail a possession. The Cardinals actually lead the league in stalled drives, a statistical category I never knew existed. Arizona has 15 of these infractions, in a league where 15 teams have fewer than five stalled drives. That shouldn’t be happening when crowd interference is non-existent.
Kingsbury has had a roller-coaster tenure in 21 games with the Cardinals, blaming himself and changing his approach at various junctures along the way. But his fourth-down philosophy is pretty clear:
He’s going for it.
Kingsbury has converted 17-of-24 fourth-down conversions since taking over in 2019. He’s been successful on his last six attempts. Three of the last four decisions have come deep in his own territory, on Arizona’s 39-, 37- and 27-yard lines. It is proof that Kingsbury is living dangerously on fourth down, and for the moment, he’s living well.
There is reason why NFL teams should think twice about financially rewarding running backs who dazzle and delight in the short term. Once they get paid, it’s too easy for them to quit running inside, in between the tackles, where the punishment is severe, where every tackle feels like an encounter with a grizzly bear.
In other words, it’s time to start feeding Chase Edmonds, the one who is still lean and hungry and desperately searching for things like fame, status and money.
The Cardinals have dealt well with scheduling adversity. A game against the 49ers in Santa Clara was threatened by wildfires and poor air quality in Northern California. Meanwhile, Sunday’s game was threatened by a positive COVID-19 test inside the Jets organization on Friday, just as the Cardinals were preparing to leave for the East coast. They remain undaunted, 2-0 in games that were nearly rescheduled.
On paper, the Cardinals can easily replace the productivity Chandler Jones did not give them in the first five games of 2020. But they have precious few intimidators on defense, and losing Jones will only add to the comfort level of future opponents.
Dennis Gardeck can’t help us in this arena, and it’s time for Isaiah Simmons to do something.
Hopkins has 45 catches in his first five games with Arizona. He caught a touchdown pass with one hand on Sunday while a defender was clutching his other arm, just before a second defender pummeled Hopkins to the ground with a helmet-to-helmet tackle.
And he still held onto the ball. His game-day production and battlefield disposition is why it’s perfectly fine for Hopkins to practice when he wants, on his terms. His instant impact in Arizona is partly why Bill O’Brien lost his job in Houston.
But it still doesn’t forgive Steve Keim for drafting Andy Isabella over D.K. Metcalf.
Reach Bickley at email@example.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.