The Arizona Cardinals open up the 2018 season at the newly renamed State Farm Stadium, formerly University of Phoenix Stadium. The name on the outside of the building means nothing if the team calling it home is unable to establish an advantage. The Cardinals welcome fellow NFC playoff hopeful, the Washington Redskins. Both teams feature new starting quarterbacks and have questions surrounding how well their respective offenses will perform. Today we take a look at the Cardinals offense and how it will attempt to attack a tough Washington defense.
Can the Offensive Line Protect Bradford?
The Cardinals offensive line underwent some changes during the offseason. Chief among them were the additions of tackle Andre Smith and guard Justin Pugh. Both are listed as starters, along with rookie center Mason Cole. Cole took over for veteran A.Q. Shipley who was lost for the season with a knee injury during training camp. The offensive line was a glaring weakness in the 2017 season and was tied for third worst with 52 sacks given up. Averaging nearly four sacks a game, the offense struggled with consistency and turnovers.
New offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is known for adapting his scheme to his players. The line has looked better in the preseason but the regular season is what counts. Washington was in the top ten in sacks last season with 42. The defense added pieces in rookie Daron Payne and have a healthy Jonathan Allen back for this season. Allen was a first round pick in 2017 but was lost after just five games. To mitigate the pass rush expect McCoy to use the short passing game. McCoy also employs multiple tight end sets and may use one or both to chip on rush linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Quarterback Sam Bradford is as accurate as any other signal caller and has the weapons in Chad Williams and Christian Kirk underneath as well as veteran Larry Fitzgerald.
David Johnson Must Feast
Washington struggled against the run in 2017. The unit finished last in the league with 2,146 yards surrendered on the ground. The Cardinals offense in the preseason focused on the run game. Arizona running backs consistently found open lanes to get to the second level with the offensive line and fullback paving the way. For many in the desert it has been a while since the fullback was routinely used. Derrick Coleman leads the way for David Johnson in the run game. Johnson is returning from a wrist injury which wiped out his 2017 season after just three-quarters of play. The run game will be necessary to relieve pressure on Bradford and the passing game and to avoid third and long situations for the Washington pass rush to get going.
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The Cardinals have two of the best run blocking guards in the league with Mike Iupati and Justin Pugh. Both are athletic and powerful blockers who excel at getting to the second level. Expect McCoy to establish the run early and utilize the play action to test the secondary on deeper throws. Johnson will also feature in the passing game as he is arguably the best pass catching running back not currently holding out. The offense has the ability to utilize various looks to catch the defense off guard. Johnson will be the key to doing so.
At the end of the day the offense is what held back the Cardinals in 2017. The team brought in new quarterbacks, added some starters to the offensive line, and have extra firepower at the skill positions. The Washington defense is tough and aggressive under coordinator Greg Manusky, but they can be beaten. The offense will need to find a healthy balance and establish a push along the offensive line early to open up future big play opportunities. Tomorrow we focus on how the defense will attempt to slow down the Alex Smith led Washington offense.