Rapid reactions: Cardinals make statement vs. Browns

Oct 17, 2021, 5:43 PM | Updated: Oct 18, 2021, 1:03 pm

Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals runs with the ball during the fourth quarter against the C...

Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals runs with the ball during the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

(Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

Now 6-0, the Arizona Cardinals overcame a wave of absences among coaches and players due to COVID-19 to roll over the Cleveland Browns, 37-14, on the road.

Here are a few main takeaways from the victory that keeps Arizona as the only loss-less team in the NFL through Week 6.

Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: Adversity, shmadversity.

The Arizona Cardinals are for real. If you had doubts going into Sunday’s road game at Cleveland, you weren’t alone. A key injury to Rodney Hudson that has him on the sideline for at least three weeks. A positive COVID-19 test for Chandler Jones.

Oh, and then Friday happened. Head coach/offensive coordinator/play-caller Kliff Kingsbury returned a positive test and it was learned he’d miss the game, as would quarterbacks coach Cam Turner and defensive lineman Zach Allen.

Sunday, defensive lineman Corey Peters tested positive.

There was no way this team could overcome all that and beat a Cleveland team dealing with issues of its own, right?

Then, the game started and the guys in the red and white uniforms just rolled along, going about their business in a dominant 37-14 win over the Browns at First Energy Stadium.

Kyler Murray was in command from the outset, throwing four touchdown passes. The deepest receiving corps in the league had three members visit the end zone as DeAndre Hopkins (twice), Christian Kirk and A.J. Green all got ball-spiking opportunities. Oh, they’re adding Zach Ertz next week — you don’t say?

The defense forced three turnovers and made life generally miserable for Baker Mayfield and the league’s leading rushing attack, holding Cleveland to 73 yards on the ground. They did this by following the same blueprint they did in Week 1 against Tennessee, by jumping on the opposition early and big, rendering them one-dimensional in hopes of coming back. Oh, and the guys on the D made three more fourth-down stops — that’s seven fourth-down stops over the last two wins.

It wasn’t perfect, mind you. The Cardinals had the opportunity to absolutely blow out Cleveland in the first half. The defense forced back-to-back turnovers in the second quarter, giving them short fields to work with, but they could only turn the opportunities into two short Matt Prater field goals. There was another right-before-halftime lapse when they allowed Mayfield to complete a 57-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones.

It didn’t faze them too much. J.J. Watt’s first Arizona sack in the third quarter forced another turnover. This time, the Cardinals cashed in, with Murray finding Hopkins all alone in the back of the end zone to stretch the lead to 30-14.

There is a lot of football left to be played, but the focus of this year’s Cardinals, at least early on, has matched if not exceeded the 2015 team that played in the NFC Championship Game. That’s saying a lot.

Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Four road games. Four road wins. Average score of 36-17. Nothing about Sunday’s win over the Browns speaks to me more than that. The Cardinals have gone on the road against the Titans, Jaguars, Rams and Browns and scored 143 points and given up only 66 in those games.

Yes, the Browns were beat up going into the game and suffered more bruises over the course of the contest. But just imagine how hectic the last 48 hours must have been for the Cardinals with Kliff Kingsbury and multiple players and coaches testing positive for COVID-19 on Friday afternoon.

Who is responsible for this? Who is responsible for that? How is this going to work? It had to be a logistical nightmare, all with the possibility of further positive tests hanging over the organization.

That’s what made this win the second most satisfying of the season so far (nothing tops the Rams). The Cardinals were the epitome of cool in the middle of the chaos. A 14-0 lead just seconds into the second quarter. Three turnovers forced; 13 points scored off those turnovers. Three more stops on fourth down; those led to another two touchdowns. Another breezy four-touchdown performance from Kyler Murray. In addition to the turnovers and the fourth down stops, the Cards defense sacked Baker Mayfield five times and gave up only 290 yards.

So now at 6-0 and much like the Suns proving themselves during that late season East Coast road swing versus the likes of the Bucks, 76ers, Nets and Knicks, the Cards took this daunting stretch of the Rams, 49ers and the Browns and aced the quiz.

As play-by-play man Dave Pasch said right before kickoff, adversity shows itself in many forms. And surely there is more to come. But for now, the Cards are simply dealing with it. Magnificently.

Tyler Drake, editor and Cardinals reporter: So many question marks were answered in the Cardinals’ win over the Browns.

Arizona walked into Cleveland down a head coach and a handful of starters and left with a dominating victory over a decent Browns squad.

Kyler Murray didn’t miss a beat with assistant wide receivers coach Spencer Whipple calling the plays. Murray saw four fumbles throughout the day and didn’t lose one, while tossing four scores in the victory.

Defensively, the Cardinals went to work on a solid Browns offense missing a key piece in starting running back Nick Chubb. Arizona defensive coordinator and acting head coach Vance Joseph said earlier this week that he doesn’t fear fourth-down tries from opposing offenses. He almost welcomes it. Well, the unit’s fourth-down prowess was on display yet again Sunday, with the defense stopping all but one of Cleveland’s four fourth down attempts.

Like Joseph said after the game, “Nobody blinked.”

Arizona found a way to win against San Francisco in a gritty game. The Cardinals followed it up with a statement win without a head coach.

If their confidence isn’t at an all-time high after a win like this, I don’t know what will move the needle more.

Next up is a should-win matchup against the Houston Texans.

Kellan Olson, editor: My hot take on the NFL the last few years and what I think is the biggest secret about the league is that there are only a few good-to-great teams. There are a handful of terrible ones and then a huge mix of parity between 10-15 teams before you get to the contenders that actually have a chance in the playoffs. Right now, that’s probably the Bills, Ravens, Buccaneers, Cowboys, Rams aaaaand after a 6-0 start, I can put your Arizona Cardinals in there. (Just take a look at the league’s point differentials if you don’t believe me)

Just six of ’em, and the Cardinals being one is obviously a huge deal. A handful of team-oriented things are coming together enough around the orbit of Kyler Murray’s turn into a superstar. This defense has a knack for making big plays to stall drives and Murray takes care of the other side of the ball. That was the story against the Browns.

Admittedly, I remain nervous about Kliff Kingsbury’s decision-making and the evidence still popping up that this team is undisciplined but they’ve got so much going for them outside of that. It’s time to embrace another contender in the Valley.

Kevin Zimmerman, lead editor: Such a win against the Browns probably means more for Kliff Kingsbury and Steve Keim than it does for the team’s postseason hopes.

Cleveland had not played well against high-powered quarterbacks, and so Kyler Murray’s success was no surprise. But the lack of Kingsbury’s presence and Arizona’s relative competency (37 points!) said a lot about the leadership structure and the guys around Kingsbury — Vance Joseph and Sean Kugler among them.

The win also further legitimized many of Keim’s risky moves in the past two seasons. No, it doesn’t erase his drafting track record through the end of the Bruce Arians era, but his drafting, signing and trading of late has culminated in a 6-0 team. This team is damn talented, even when it loses several of its key players.

Again, we’re far from the playoffs. A lot can happen. But the culture, confidence and coaching by the Cardinals continues to shine across the board. If you don’t buy them now, you probably never will.

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Rapid reactions: Cardinals make statement vs. Browns