ARIZONA CARDINALS

The Arizona Cardinals confidence ratings at midway point

Nov 10, 2021, 8:03 AM | Updated: 10:11 am

Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker, right, returns an interception during the second half of an N...

Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker, right, returns an interception during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

(AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

The only one-loss team left in the NFL through the halfway-ish mark has surpassed even the most bullish expectations from the preseason.

Overcoming adversity has aided the Arizona Cardinals to a 8-1 start, and it’s come with surprising performances helping them through unique sets of circumstances.

But as the 2020 season showed after Arizona got off to a 5-2 start, it’s about finishing what a team has started. How likely is it that the Cardinals will continue their winning ways?

To peek at where the Cardinals stand at this point in the year, ArizonaSports.com Cardinals reporter and editor Tyler Drake joins lead editor Kevin Zimmerman to take a glimpse at each position group. Our goal: With a 1-10 scale, determine how confident we should be in each position group and whether their relative success can hold up in the second half of 2021.

Let’s call these our confidence ratings.

Quarterback

Tyler Drake (9): If Kyler Murray was 100% healthy, I would be kicking this off with a perfect 10 right off the bat. Still, my confidence is high for the QB room, especially with how backup Colt McCoy looked in Week 9. If this exercise was done last year around similar circumstances, I would have put Arizona in the 5-7 range just because of its lack of a sturdy backup. Usually, the sky is falling when a starter of Murray’s caliber goes down for any amount of time. That’s not the case in the desert.

Kevin Zimmerman (8): The Cardinals pulled back Murray’s rushing role compared to a year ago to keep him healthy, but that hasn’t exactly panned out like it was supposed to. His leaps as a pocket-passer are noted, but if we’re talking playoffs, Arizona will need him to be mobile to advance. And, yeah, the Colt McCoy signing was a good idea!

Running back

Drake (7): James Conner is a bad man. The bullying back has quickly meshed with the offense and has fit into his role perfectly, pacing the NFL in total touchdowns (11) through nine weeks. Where my confidence wanes a bit is when looking at Chase Edmonds’ potential multi-week stint on the shelf. Eno Benjamin stepped in nicely for the injured back against the 49ers, recording his first career NFL touchdown, but can he roll for an entire game, and possibly multiple? Jonathan Ward has shown flashes, but can he get back on the field sooner rather than later after going down with a concussion? As much as I think Conner can be an every-down back, the offense operates the best with different looks in the backfield.

Zimmerman (7): I remain skeptical if James Conner and Chase Edmonds will be healthy enough at the end of the year, but at least Conner has saved his legs enough to look darn spry at this point. Then again, Benjamin and Ward could still change my thinking and boost this rating if they’re forced into heavy action.

Wide receiver

Drake (9): DISCLAIMER: Before you throw the kitchen sink at me, remember, there’s more than one play that decides a football game. With the Cardinals’ addition of A.J. Green and Rondale Moore to a WRs room that already featured DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk this offseason, the Cardinals have a plethora of capable pass catchers at their disposal. This group is exactly what Kingsbury needed to take that next step with his offense. The pick-your-poison, roulette-wheel of pass catchers is giving opposing defenses absolute fits.

Zimmerman (9): With all due respect, letting Larry Fitzgerald remain a free agent has unlocked the dynamic abilities of this group by going from zero to two effective slot options in Christian Kirk, who was outside most of last year, and rookie Rondale Moore. *Ducks* Again, that has to do with Fitz now and not Fitz’s legacy as a Cardinal great.

Offensive line

Drake (8): Amid injuries and COVID-19 list stints, the Cardinals offensive line has held together for the most part. The addition of starting center Rodney Hudson cannot be talked about enough, and the offensive output speaks for itself. The icing on the cake has been how the ground game has squeezed the remaining minutes out of games, giving opponents little to no shot of getting the ball back. The depth has been on display, with the likes of Sean Harlow and Max Garcia stepping in nicely when needed. Right guard has become an area to watch over the last few weeks, especially with Garcia getting the nod over Josh Jones, and the injury bug seems to just linger around this group.

Zimmerman (9): When an off-the-street signing like Harlow is hanging in there multiple weeks, it’s hard not to believe in the talent of this group. It’s why the Cardinals have been able to run all over opposing teams and put games away. Lots to like here in the starters and from the depth options.

Tight end

Drake (7): Zach Ertz is an impressive addition to an already impressive offense. There’s not much depth behind him, however, impacting how the offense utilizes personnel at times.

Zimmerman (7): Ertz will remain a formidable weapon, but the Cardinals are limited in what they can do in multi-tight end sets. Maybe that’s not a problem considering its hard to take all those wideouts off the field, I don’t know.

Safety

Drake (10): Well would you look at that, a perfect 10. Jalen Thompson and Budda Baker are arguably the best safety tandem in the NFL. Thompson in the open field is a nightmare for opposing offenses and Baker continues to get better with each passing year. There’s some decent depth behind them as well, with Chris Banjo and Deionte Thompson two formidable backups.

Zimmerman (9): There is a drop-off if the depth is tested, but Jalen Thompson is sneakily having his breakout year after an injury-plagued 2020. Budda Baker remains Budda Baker.

Cornerback

Drake (8): Byron Murphy has firmly grasped the CB1 title, Robert Alford is looking great and rookie Marco Wilson is outplaying his fourth-round price tag. This group had a big question mark over it entering the season and has since erased a ton of doubt. If the trio can stay on the field, this room can go far.

Zimmerman (7): Byron Murphy is holding it down in and out of the slot, but Robert Alford (23 receptions allowed on 301 coverage snaps, per Pro Football Focus) might be more of a story than Marco Wilson’s steadiness in his rookie year (36 receptions allowed on 302 coverage snaps). Wilson is understandably being attacked more, but the corners as a whole have blown past all expectations. Maybe they’re not above-average as a group, but it’s hard to see anything going south in a big way if they stay relatively healthy.

Inside linebacker

Drake (8): We haven’t seen the Zaven Collins takeover come to fruition and that’s OK! Jordan Hicks has looked reborn running the defense, while Isaiah Simmons is looking head and shoulders above what he was last year and that’s a very encouraging sign. Collins is getting moved along slowly and behind a guy like Hicks — it could pay off later down the line.

Zimmerman (8): Hicks has played stellar aside from when he’s caught covering tight ends, and  Simmons piling up experience and living through mistakes is going to only lead to him improving as the year grows old. Collins’ slower-than-anticipated start is not concerning at the moment. Arizona will be in good shape here.

Outside linebacker

Drake (9): Markus Golden has been a force to be reckoned with this season. Junk cannot be stopped! And with Chandler Jones on the up and up, the duo should be fun to watch in the second half of the season. Continued pressure on the QB is gonna needed more than ever with a J.J. Watt-less defensive line.

Zimmerman (8): Chandler Jones had a few quiet weeks, and regardless of being double-teamed, how he played Sunday against the 49ers will need to be the norm to help Arizona overcome issues with our next position group, the defensive line. I would say there’s a good chance of betting on this group with Markus Golden complementing him so well.

Defensive line

Drake (5): The defensive line took a gut punch with the loss of Watt. Corey Peters returning to the mix helps a lot and Zach Allen and Leki Fotu are improved, but another injury to the unit and there’s real cause for concern.

Zimmerman (5): Yeah — Peters’ return this past week should help matters, but even with a guy like Michael Dogbe flashing in limited duties, the Cardinals are an injury away from the depth here being a big problem.

Special teams

Drake (6): Matt Prater and Andy Lee are proven commodities, but with long snapper Aaron Brewer likely out for multiple weeks due to injury, there could be some major repercussions if his role isn’t filled properly. Long snappers are players, too! In the return game, Rondale Moore is going through it right now, but that’s to be expected from a rookie.

Zimmerman (7): Remember during a relatively dry 2016 season that began with the giant controversy of long snapper Mike Leach’s retirement and rookie Kameron Canaday’s very ugly start? The Cardinals should hope Brewer’s potential multi-week absence doesn’t make the long snapper position one that makes the headlines. Otherwise, Prater is very good, and Lee is reliable as usual.

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