The 5: Arizona Cardinals standouts through 6 games in 2021
Oct 18, 2021, 11:41 AM | Updated: 12:59 pm
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Another week, another win for the Arizona Cardinals.
Arizona moved to 6-0 on Sunday with a demolition of a win over a hosting Cleveland Browns team. The Cardinals also did so without head coach Kliff Kingsbury and a handful of starters due to COVID-19 and injury.
The Cardinals are the first NFL team to six wins in an expanded NFL season. It marks just the third time in franchise history Arizona has started out 6-0.
It’s certainly been a team effort across the board, but there have been more than a few key contributors to the Arizona’s early success in 2021.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
QB Kyler Murray
You can’t have a standouts piece without starting with MVP candidate and quarterback Kyler Murray.
The signal caller has taken a noticeable step forward in Kingsbury’s offense, completing 73.8% of his passes for 1,741 yards and 14 touchdowns.
His four interceptions through the first three games were about the only knocks on Murray’s game. The signal caller cleaned that up over the past three games, however, putting up a clean sheet in the pick department.
And while he’s looking to pass first, Murray’s chipped in 116 yards and three scores on 37 carries.
Kingsbury said at the beginning of the season Murray had picked up more of the intricacies of the offense, and it’s showing through six games as Arizona sits fourth in points per game (32.3) and seventh in yards per game (403).
WR A.J. Green
So far, wide receiver A.J. Green has lived up to the hype he garnered over training camp as being another capable wideout opposite DeAndre Hopkins.
Targeted the second most on the team, Green has caught 21 balls for 340 yards and three touchdowns in 2021.
Green has seen at least six targets come his way in all but one game and is one of three Cardinals wideouts to put up a 100-yard outing this season. He has led the team in receiving in three of the six games played this year.
The wide receiver’s presence has helped open up the field more for the offense, with Hopkins getting more advantageous looks.
The star wideout paces the team with six touchdowns and 367 yards.
DE J.J. Watt
Defensive lineman J.J. Watt may have gotten his first sack of the season in Week 6, but his impact on the Cardinals goes so much deeper.
Watt has been a terror for opposing offenses this season, picking up 10 QB hits (NFL high), 16 hurries and the sack through six contests, per Pro Football Focus. He’s second on the team behind only linebacker Chandler Jones in tackles for loss with four.
And as much as his on-the-field work stands out, the added leadership he brings to the locker room is evident at practice and in the games.
“I mean, those guys, Chandler, J.J., Rodney Hudson, all those guys have played so much football that they don’t blink in adverse situations, and we have some young really ascending players that I think they’ve been a great influence on them,” Kingsbury told reporters after the team’s win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 3.
CB Byron Murphy
The Cardinal secondary is in a much better place than many thought it would be in after Malcolm Butler’s sudden retirement before 2021 kicked off.
A lot of that can be credited to cornerback Byron Murphy’s continued ascent as the team’s unquestioned CB1.
Despite missing Arizona’s win over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5 with a ribs injury, Murphy is tied for second in the NFL in interceptions with three and fourth in passes defensed with seven.
Murphy’s play has helped an Arizona defense keep legitimate playoff contenders at bay, allowing no more than 20 points in all but one game this season.
With how the offensive line has responded to adversity this season, the entire group makes the cut.
Like offensive line coach and run game coordinator Sean Kugler said earlier this season, the unit has rolled on as injuries to starters piled up.
Kelvin Beachum was hit with a rib issue that took weeks to get right, forcing starting right guard Josh Jones to move over to right tackle for some time. Justin Murray and Justin Pugh were also hit with the injury bug this season, forcing the likes of Max Garcia and Sean Harlow into the fray.
Hudson has proven to be invaluable in the trenches and to the offense as a whole, but even he hasn’t been spared from injury, being placed on the injured reserve ahead of Week 6’s matchup with rib and shoulder injuries.
That left Garcia to pick up the pieces at center in Sunday’s win over the Browns.
Aside from a few miscues, the offense hasn’t missed a beat and has utilized a run game that has shown it can put teams away late in games. The Cardinals’ ground game is sixth in the league in yards per game with 130.7 and tied for third in touchdowns with eight.
RB James Conner
Five of those above mentioned rushing scores have come courtesy of running back James Conner. He’s provided a nearly automatic option around the goal line and has helped limit the wear and tear on Murray’s legs for that very reason.
LB Jordan Hicks
After he was told he wouldn’t be the team’s starting MIKE backer this offseason, Jordan Hicks has put his best foot forward. It’s paying off for both parties, with Hicks still in command of the defense while leading the team in tackles with 42. He has also recorded three sacks (third on the team), two pass deflections and a forced fumble.