CARDINALS CORNER

Isaiah Simmons among Arizona Cardinals who will make or break 2022

Sep 7, 2022, 7:50 AM | Updated: 7:07 pm
Arizona Cardinals star backer Isaiah Simmons (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)...
Arizona Cardinals star backer Isaiah Simmons (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)
(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

The Arizona Cardinals are a hard team to peg entering the 2022 regular season.

Just ask the numerous reporters and analysts who have been all over the spectrum in terms of where this team lands in the standings.

On one hand, they could very well emulate last season’s 11-6 mark.

On the other, there’s a real possibility the team’s injury history and gauntlet of a schedule wear Arizona down to sub-.500 territory.

But at the end of the day, the wins and losses come down to those taking the field.

A look at the most important players who will dictate Arizona’s season in 2022:

Star backer Isaiah Simmons

Let’s start with the obvious one.

Star backer Isaiah Simmons was already cracking this list before it was discovered that he will be relaying the play calls to the defense in Week 1.

Now, all eyes are on him.

Not only is he tasked with manning multiple positions over the course of a given game, he’ll be quarterbacking the defense regularly.

Simmons’ trajectory is on the rise after recording 105 tackles, 1.5 sacks, an interception and seven passes defensed last season.

He must continue on that path in a defense needy of consistent playmakers.

QB Kyler Murray

The Cardinals’ offense doesn’t operate as it should without quarterback Kyler Murray on the roster.

We saw as much last season.

Colt McCoy admirably took over starting signal caller duties for three games with Murray sidelined due to injury. He didn’t have that same juice that Murray brings to the table, however.

Murray has helped foster a winning culture in Arizona, with the Cardinals seeing their victories improve behind the QB.

And while Murray brings with him the ability to launch a bomb through the air or make defenders miss on the ground, it’s been his accuracy that has stood out over the past couple of seasons. Coming off a career-high completion percentage of 69.2% in Year 3, Murray has put his team in the position to win more times than not.

That growth, on top of improving on last season’s rushing totals, has to continue this season for the Cardinals to have a chance to make some noise.

DL J.J. Watt

Defensive lineman J.J. Watt doesn’t need much of an introduction. He’s a three-time Defensive Player of the Year who can still move with the best of them.

The biggest knock on Watt entering Arizona’s home opener is his health.

Watt was everything the Cardinals expected and more over the first seven games of the season before a nasty shoulder injury put him on the shelf until the postseason.

His injury played a big part in the team’s downfall in the second half of the season, with Arizona going 4-6 over its final 10 games before a Wild Card shellacking by the Los Angeles Rams.

Watt brings leadership, a no-quit mentality and is a known commodity. You know what you are going to get. But for him to truly make an impact on this roster, he has to stay upright for more than half a season.

CB Byron Murphy Jr.

The conversation this offseason surrounding Arizona’s secondary has largely focused on Cardinals cornerbacks not named Byron Murphy Jr. and rightfully so given the team’s state at No. 2 CB.

The onus is on the others to step up, but it’s also on Murphy to improve upon last year’s totals.

Murphy looked like an All-Pro cornerback early on last season, registering three picks and six passes defensed over the first four contests.

But like the rest of the team, Murphy fell off as the weeks drug on. Over the final 12 games of the season, Murphy recorded just one interception to go along with six passes defensed.

That cannot be the case this season with Arizona’s murky cornerback room.

OLB Markus Golden

Much like Murphy, outside linebacker Markus Golden is going to be counted on immensely with questions surrounding the pass rusher spot opposite him.

Golden paced the team last season with 11 sacks, 0.5 more than now-Las Vegas Raider Chandler Jones.

But gone with Jones went all his pressures from 2021, something that benefitted Golden greatly.

It’s on Jones’ replacements (Dennis Gardeck, Cameron Thomas, Victor Dimukeje and Myjai Sanders) to pick up the slack in some way, but Golden must bring that high motor every snap.

The questions don’t stop before Golden, either.

The linebacker was a nonparticipant over training camp and the preseason as he tends to a toe injury. There have also been rumblings that Golden is holding in as he searches for a new deal from the team.

Golden should be one of the last Cardinal players to be concerned about entering a season opener.

But with his absence on the field and no extension in hand, his status remains murky. And for a team that needs all hands on deck in the pass-rushing department, that is not ideal.

WR Hollywood Brown

Hollywood Brown got his wish this offseason.

He left a run-heavy Baltimore Ravens for a pass-happy Cardinals squad led by his college teammate in Murray.

It was expected that Brown would form a formidable duo with DeAndre Hopkins from the jump, but following the latter’s six-game suspension for PEDs, Brown must take over the No. 1 wide receiver reins.

We all saw what this offense looked like without a legit receiving threat like Hopkins on the field last season. In a few words, stagnant and nowhere near consistent. His injury was pegged as one of the biggest reasons for Arizona’s second-half collapse by Kingsbury, GM Steve Keim and owner Michael Bidwill.

Brown must be able to make up for Hopkins’ absence until the All-Pro’s return in Week 7.

Honorable Mentions

WR Rondale Moore

Wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson this offseason said Rondale Moore’s route tree was completely unlocked.

It’s now on Kingsbury to utilize the game changer in more ways than behind the line of scrimmage.

Remember, no D-Hop for the first six games.

OLB Dennis Gardeck

Dennis Gardeck figures to start opposite Golden this season.

He showed he can pass rush with the best of them in place of Jones in 2020 before an ACL injury cut his season short.

Getting back to that similar success, or at the very least applying consistent pressure, will pay major dividends for this Arizona defense.

ILB Zaven Collins

Zaven Collins enters Year 2 as the team’s starting MIKE backer. He won’t call the defense but will still have a hand in getting the unit set.

Nick Vigil provides a strong backup to Collins, but if the young pro can take a noticeable step forward this season, there’s going to be a whole lot of relief felt from the front office and the stands.

CB Marco Wilson

Marco Wilson was called out by Kingsbury this offseason as someone they weren’t sure could be an every-down starter before eventually losing the gig to Antonio Hamilton.

But following Hamilton’s freak cooking accident, it’s Wilson’s job to lose for the time being.

Showing he can roll with the punches and be a serviceable defender alongside Murphy will provide an added boost to a dangerously thin CB room.

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