The Arizona Cardinals welcome the Oakland Raiders as week two of the preseason arrives. Both teams are looking to improve on abysmal 2018 seasons. After an impressive first drive of his NFL career, anticipation builds to see more of rookie quarterback, Kyler Murray. The Cardinals are looking to get additional information from fringe starters and round out the roster. For the team and fans, there are many things to watch for. Today, we take a look at the three things we’ll be focusing on when the Cardinals take on the Raiders.
What’s the Pitch Count
The first preseason game saw just one offensive series for Murray. Arizona’s first overall selection threw the ball seven times, completing six of them, for a total of 44 yards. Murray looked confident during his series. Decisions were made quickly and throws were typically well placed. On his lone incompletion, Murray scrambled right and threw a perfect pass to his wide receiver. However, the play was ruled incomplete due to rookie KeeSean Johnson stepping out of bounds, before making the catch.
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It will be interesting to see how long Murray is allowed to remain in the second preseason game. There has not been a definitive answer from the Cardinals. It would make sense for Kliff Kingsbury to add two drives for Thursday’s game. Injury possibilities aside, Murray would benefit from additional work with the first unit, in addition to seeing a different defense. While schemes will remain vanilla, defenses will want to get their hands on the dynamic rookie, preseason be damned.
Hold the Line
To put it nicely, the Cardinals offensive line struggled against the Chargers. Part of the issues is a result of the shuffling of personnel along the position group. Injuries to Justin Pugh and others during the preseason force players out of position or into difficult rotations. On paper, the Cardinals have a better unit than the one that finished the 2018 season. The return of center A.Q. Shipley brings a veteran presence to help stabilize a revamped unit in 2019.
Arizona has three possible starting linemen listed as questionable or worst. D.J. Humphries is nursing a knee injury and hopes to be available to start the season at left tackle. Max Garcia, a tackle and guard option signed in free agency, will start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Guard Justin Pugh is likely to miss his second preseason game due to an arm injury. The offensive line needs to improve. Arizona invested the first overall pick in the draft on a rookie quarterback. The Cardinals need the offensive line to protect the investment. Any sign of improvement is a win.
The Cardinals revamped the linebacker position during the offseason. Arizona brought back a 3-4 alignment and made additions at both the inside and outside positions. Veteran Terrell Suggs was brought in to serve as the bookend to Chandler Jones. Also joining in free agency was inside linebacker, Jordan Hicks, formerly of the Eagles. Hicks played well in the first game, at one point making a sensational individual play near the goal line. On the play, Hicks met the Chargers running back at the line of scrimmage, halting forward movement entirely. He then instinctually got his outside hand on the football, then wrenched it loose in a single, ripping movement. To finish off the play, Hicks fell on the football, recovering the forced fumble and preventing a Chargers score.
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Aside from Hicks, the first team linebackers struggled to make an impact. Suggs looked sluggish for most of his time, partially shielded by the pervasiveness of Hicks. Backups like Dennis Gardeck and Pete Robertson had their flashes against Los Angeles. It will be interesting to see if the Cardinals rotate more players in at linebacker to get a better understanding of what is behind the starting four. Ideally, Arizona can see the second level players finding success within the defense, growing comfortable with their roles. The starting four spots are set, but the next guys in line are in for a battle for playing time.
It’s a Process
The preseason is less about wins and losses, and more about evaluating individuals. With rosters upwards of 90 players, teams are trying to fill out their rosters during the preseason. While training camp practices allow for closer inspection, viewing how a player responds to the in-game competition remains the best tools for evaluators. For fans, this translates to watching individual players or position groups on each particular play, rather than following the football. The preseason is a time for learning, for both the team and fans.