Rapid reaction: Cardinals throttle Titans in season opener
The Arizona Cardinals opened the 2021 with a bang, blowing past the Tennessee Titans, 38-13, behind a career day for Chandler Jones and contributions across the board.
Here’s what our hosts, editors and reporters at Arizona Sports saw after Arizona’s Week 1 victory.
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: Saw it coming a mile away.
OK, not really.
We witnessed the most impressive win of the Kliff Kingsbury-Kyler Murray era and quite possibly the most complete and dominant win since the Cardinals’ run to the NFC Championship Game in 2015.
Even though the offense played very well, this win was all about Vance Joseph’s defense, spearheaded by a super-human effort by Chandler Jones. Five-sack games are pretty rare (although the Cardinals have two such performances in their last five games), but it’s even more rare that an offensive lineman tweets about how bad he got dominated like Tennessee’s Taylor Lewan did after Arizona’s 38-13 win.
It wasn’t just Jones. J.J. Watt made his presence felt early. Isaiah Simmons was all over the field with nine tackles and an athletic interception off of a tipped ball. Corey Peters’ steadiness helped the Cardinals’ D to render Derrick Henry a 240-pound non-factor. Byron Murphy looked very much like a CB1, and Budda Baker was Budda Baker.
Offensively, outside of a couple questionable decisions, Kyler Murray played very well and had the first four TD-pass game of his pro career while adding one on the ground on what was a beautiful play design by Kingsbury mixed with the illusion of having Watt and Leki Fotu as fullback decoys. Christian Kirk made two of the best catches of his career for touchdowns, DeAndre Hopkins is a magician and Rondale Moore provided his share of electricity. The running game was solid and the offensive line played well despite losing Kelvin Beachum to injury in the contest.
There was some early sloppiness, but the Cardinals overcame it and were in command pretty much all day. Nice way to start the season for Kingsbury and Co.
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: I guess that really did happen! The Arizona Cardinals went on the road in a hostile environment against a playoff team from last year and destroyed them.
Chandler Jones will be named NFC Defensive Player of the week. Maybe Kyler Murray gets offensive player of the week. All aspects of the Cardinals were great — take out the missed FG by Matt Prater. The offense rolled — so many weapons now with Rondale Moore in the fold. Hopkins was, well, he was Hopkins. Christian Kirk was great. The running game held onto the ball and had success. The defense shut down Henry, A.J. Brown and Julio Jones.
So much for the newcomers on defense struggling. Marco Wilson was fantastic, Zaven Collins was good. Isaiah Simmons, the second-year linebacker, may have been Arizona’s second-best defensive player; he was special. Maybe it was good getting Tennessee early? Or maybe the Cards are just flat out a good team. I know it is early, but that is a huge win versus a good team on the road.
You won’t hear about any hot seat this week. I did love how they put the Titans away in that second half and never let them think they were in the game. Overall, an A-plus performance.
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Eyes opened. Mouths dropped. Expletives (in a good way) were used. There were many possible outcomes to the Cardinals’ season opener vs. the Titans. Total domination by the Nashville visitors didn’t seem like the best bet. Yet here we are. There was very little Kliff Kingsbury’s crew did wrong on Sunday; that list begins and ends with the early penalties and timeouts. Everything else added up to the most impressive win of the K1/K2 era.
Kyler Murray and Chandler Jones were stars, earning every single one of the online atta-boys from LeBron James. Murray dazzled us with his escapability and pretty throws. Jones got a “thank you for exposing me” tweet from Taylor Lewan after the game. And you better believe Jones’ contractual status will become a very big deal over the next few days. But it wasn’t just those two.
Christian Kirk and DeAndre Hopkins impressed. The defensive line swallowed up Derrick Henry and dictated the terms of engagement all day long. Isaiah Simmons looked the part of a top 10 pick and Jordan Hicks was the definition of motivation. Rookies Marco Wilson and Rondale Moore had their moments. Heck, even the normally stoic Kingsbury was breathing fire early.
Reality says it’s early, but perceptually the Cards will get their share of Monday Morning Love. And most importantly, when you’re the projected fourth-place team in the toughest division in football, every moment matters.
Luke Lapinski, co-host of Wolf & Luke: Could this game have gone any better for the Cardinals? They shut down Derrick Henry, Isaiah Simmons was everywhere, Kliff Kingsbury’s play selection was significantly more innovative than it was for good chunks of last season, the offense moved the ball — both through the air and on the ground — and they hammered a good team on the road. And we haven’t even gotten to Chandler Jones yet.
Jones looked flat out unstoppable. To the point where Taylor Lewan tweeted after the game, both to apologize to Titans fans and to thank Jones for “exposing” him. Five sacks for one player in one game isn’t something you see very often — even though we just saw it in December with Haason Reddick. But this felt different. This felt like Jones reminding everyone what he’s capable of. He piled up 60 sacks over his first four seasons in the Valley, and many of those were strip sacks like we saw on Sunday. In short, he completely altered this game. Multiple times.
Kyler Murray had a monster performance, too. It wasn’t perfect, but he looked like he could do whatever he wanted to the Titans’ defense for most of the day. It’s just one game, and we saw this team seemingly let up when they started rolling last season, so they need to follow this up with another strong effort in the home opener next Sunday. There are 16 more of these but, if they keep playing like this, there will be even more than that.
Tyler Drake, ArizonaSports.com Cardinals reporter and editor: The Cardinals went into Tennessee, a team stacked with offensive firepower, and rose to the occasion. Jordan Hicks played a ton — I’m interested to see the snap counts — and Chandler Jones showed he has not lost a step after missing most of last season with a biceps injury. Vance Joseph called an incredible game defensively, limiting the reigning NFL rushing king Derrick Henry to just 58 yards on 17 carries. That’s it! Only twice last season did he post a worse rushing day. That is huge and something the Cardinals defense can build on.
As for the offense, the rust was evident with the amount of yellow flags thrown early on. But once they settled in, the Cardinals went to work before a five-touchdown effort from Kyler Murray. Rondale Moore was utilized effectively in different ways and D-Hop is D-Hop. I said the Cardinals had the potential to win 12 games this season. The way they looked today, and the caliber of the opponent they beat, that’s certainly a real possibility. Let’s see how they respond in Week 2.
Kellan Olson, ArizonaSports.com editor: Even if you had the highest of expectations for these Cardinals, which I certainly did not, I can’t imagine you foresaw them looking even that good.
Obviously have to start with the defense. Chandler Jones had games in 2018-19 where he was the best football player on the field, and if that guy is back, it changes a bit from the jump. But even beyond that, the entire group had a level of energy and pop to it that overwhelmed the Titans. It staggered them immediately, and Arizona showing that trait as a defense is super encouraging.
Offensively, Kyler Murray made at least a dozen plays that few other QBs can make, but we would need to merge those QBs together to get what Murray did. Because we’re talking about the speed to find gaps running the ball, improvising plays to keep them alive and putting awesome touch on a handful of passes. So, when you take all those skills together in one quarterback, Murray is 1-of-1 right now. That’s a superstar, and when you mix it in with promising starts for Rondale Moore and Christian Kirk, you can’t help but be giddy about the offense.
Overall, this was both an incredibly impressive shellacking and also a one-game sample size that makes it even more interesting to see how they look in the next two weeks against the meh Vikings at home and the real bad Jaguars on the road. If the Cardinals play anywhere near as good as they did in Tennessee, that’s an easy 3-0 start. That’ll show us they’re legit.
Kevin Zimmerman, ArizonaSports.com lead editor: Kliff Kingsbury was fiery during the game and sarcastic afterward. He used adult language with the referees and poked fun at media members who worried so much about the lack of offensive sharpness from the Cardinals starters in the preseason. It’s fun to win games!
The head coach’s spunkiness flashed in the play-calling, too. Kingsbury proved that equipping him with versatile tools like Moore in the slot with Hopkins and A.J. Green out wide would give his offense the pop that lacked last year.
Sneakily, the ground game was darn good, too, with Chase Edmonds posting 106 all-purpose yards and James Conner adding 53 more on the ground. Green’s easiest catch came as the Titans were dealing with both Edmonds and Moore in the slots, a fine example of the pick-your-poison matchups Kingsbury can now create.
And that’s without more than 20 rushing yards from the quarterback.
Defensively, Chandler Jones’ performance spoke for him — and he didn’t speak with reporters afterword. His play mirrored his social media edginess that showed his drive to rebound from a disappointing 2020.
More than that: The defensive front held up, allowing the cornerback worries to fade for a week.
Even if it’s a blip on the radar, a one-week anomaly, the win sure looked like all the success was about comfort. It looked like this team has been in the same systems for a full two years, and that’s a sign that lots of the things we say in Week 1 could last.