The Arizona Cardinals offense needed to rebound against Minnesota. A porous Arizona defense needed a strong showing to inspire confidence. Saturday’s preseason game provided the best glimpse into the mindset and ability of the 2019 Cardinals. After a mixed-bag performance, we take a moment and focus on three areas where overreactions have come quickly and en masse.
Is that an Offensive Line?
It’s amazing how a single player can change the outlook of the offensive line. On Saturday, guard Justin Pugh did just that. Pugh has battled injuries since signing with the Cardinals in 2018. The guard started Arizona’s third preseason game against the Vikings. Against a talented front seven, the Cardinals offensive line showed major improvement. The offensive line did not surrender a sack on Kyler Murray. That said, the rookie quarterback used his elusiveness to bail out the offensive line on a few occasions.
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While not perfect, the offensive line looked considerably better. It was the first time, all preseason, where the first-team offensive line found themselves together on the field. Arizona continued its rotation of starting centers on the first team. On Saturday, the Cardinals started Mason Cole. There is currently an open competition between Cole and veteran A.Q. Shipley. As a whole, the line looked far more competent than what was seen for most of 2018. If healthy, it could gel into a solid unit, one capable of driving Kliff Kingsbury‘s offense.
Against the Raiders, Murray and the Cardinals offense looked impotent. In his first road game, Murray showed up to quell concerns over his poor play the week prior. The rookie quarterback played well. He finished with 137 yards passing, completing 14 of 21 attempts. It was important for the Cardinals to see a comfortable Murray, one who spread the football around and did not get caught in the moment. Murray’s performance in Minnesota was aided by the atmosphere during the game. The Minnesota crowd performed like a regular-season audience, providing a good test for the young quarterback.
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) August 25, 2019
In what would be his final preseason appearance, Murray expertly executed the offense. Passes came out quickly and accurately. Murray bought extra time when needed, showing a solid understanding of when to run or throw it away. As the regular season inches closer, the Cardinals are in good hands. If the Cardinals offense can remain healthy, Murray’s potential will be unleashed. Don’t be surprised to see the quarterback get offensive rookie of the year honors.
Heading into the third preseason game, the Cardinals’ defense surrendered more than 300 rushing yards thus far. To make matters worse, a large chunk of those yards were given up by the first unit. The issues were numerous, ranging from lack of quality defensive line depth to key contributors missing time. Arizona traded for line depth in Bruce Hector. The new addition made the field later in the game. It did not matter on Saturday as the Vikings ran for 190 yards. The first unit defense continued to struggle against the run. On the first three drives alone, the Cardinals surrendered just over 100 yards, capped off by an 85-yard run by Vikings running back Dalvin Cook.
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The play itself serves as a microcosm of how the defense has performed in the preseason. Cook took the handoff with the blocking dictating a stretch run to his left. However, Cook cut back toward the middle of the line. The open alley appeared after the defensive end failed to provide the backside contain. Making matters worse, the second line failed to get off blocks and fill the gaps. Arizona has struggled to play sound run defense, often finding themselves out of position. The defense is a legitimate concern heading into the season. Life comes at you quickly, the Cardinals take on the Ravens in week two.
They Are Who We Thought They Were
Former head coach, Dennis Green, once said: “They are who we thought they were!” Prior to the start of training camp, many felt that the Cardinals would finish 2019 in the five to seven range in wins. Training camp hype and the first preseason game emboldened many prognosticators. The dud of a game against the Raiders had the sky falling. In an extended look, the Cardinals displayed what to expect in 2019. It is a dangerous offense with the potential to move the football but will need to learn to finish drives. It is a defense, struggling with the fundamentals, but filled with talent all over the field. This is what the Cardinals are, a flawed but exciting team.