Settling into work on a Monday often brings conversations of the weekend’s distractions. This Monday feels different, likely due to the NFL’s opening Sunday, taking place less than 24 hours ago. For the Arizona Cardinals, Monday brings reflection and hope. A hope that the final 20 minutes against the Detroit Lions are more indicative of what the season has to offer, rather than the first 50 minutes. Today we take a look at Sunday’s performance as part of our Monday musings.
Kyler Murray was not the best rookie on the field on Sunday. The honor went to Lions tight end, T.J. Hockenson. Detroit’s first-round selection finished the game with six receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown. The Lions targeted Hockenson a total of nine times, often finding the rookie wide open. Detroit’s defense received a boost from rookie linebacker, Jahlani Tavai. The Lions’ second-round selection started the game due to an injury to Jarrad Davis. Tavai featured all over the field in alignment and finished with three tackles and his first career sack.
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Arizona’s rookies were led by Murray. The first overall selection started slow, before coming to life in the game’s final quarter. Murray finished the game with 308 yards through the air, completing 29 of 54 passes, for two touchdowns and an interception. After an ugly interception in the first half, Murray settled down with two touchdowns in the final few minutes of the fourth quarter. Murray targeted fellow rookie, KeeSean Johnson a total of 10 times, completing five for 46 yards. Defensively, Zach Allen started at defensive end and finished with three tackles.
A Strong Defense
Surrendering 27 points does not typically lead to praise for a defense. In total, the Cardinals defense gave up 501 yards, 385 of which came through the air. The defense kept Arizona in the game. Arizona’s offense struggled through much of the first three quarters, while the defense allowed just 10 points for the final two quarters and the overtime period. The turnaround was aided by two takeaways by the defense. A third turnover could have set up a game-winning field goal, but the interceptions slipped through the hands of cornerback Tramaine Brock Sr.
Vance Joseph’s defense showed no signs of a being a tough defense, during the preseason. The Cardinals struggled to stop the run, a glaring hole that became the norm in 2018. On Sunday, the Lions found early success but struggled to maintain the advantage. As the game progressed, the defensive line found their footing and held up well at the point of attack. The pass rush gradually increased with help from Terrell Suggs and Chandler Jones. Suggs finished his Cardinals debut with two sacks and five total stops. Jones finished with the other sack and chipped in with four tackles of his own.
The Foundation is Coming Together
Arizona may not have won the season opener but the team showed the fortitude necessary to turn around the franchise. The Cardinals have an interesting mix of young players with tremendous potential and veterans looking to prove doubters wrong. Arizona faced an 18-point deficit in the fourth quarter and did enough to force overtime. Murray and the offense came to life in the fourth quarter. The rookie took control of the offense and played with poise during a hectic time. The offensive weapons are coming together and the offense looks potent. Running back David Johnson averaged 4.6 yards per carry and added six receptions.
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Defensively the Cardinals will continue to get better. Arizona was beaten on a couple of big passing plays where Matthew Stafford extended the play with his legs. The broken plays led to receivers redirecting. A veteran secondary is able to contend with those plays, something the Cardinal lack at the moment. Regardless, rookie Byron Murphy performed admirably, not backing down against a talented Lions receiver group. The early season playing time will go a long way for the Cardinals and the defense.
A tie is better than a loss. To make it sweeter, the Cardinals finished strong and looked like a functional outfit. The Cardinals offense finished strong after a pathetic early showing. There is much room for improvement, but Murray and the offense turned a corner on Sunday and the potential is obvious. Defensively, Arizona showed grit and battled on every play. They lack quality depth at cornerback but did a solid job of tightening up in the red zone. The trip to Baltimore brings new challenges. That game will be soon upon us, take time on this Monday to enjoy the hope that Sunday’s tie afforded everyone.