The last time the Arizona Cardinals started a season 3-0, was in 2015. That season they made an exciting run to the NFC Championship game. As the Cardinals prepare for week three action, they hope to replicate another aspect of the 2015 season, a beatdown of the winless Detroit Lions. Today we preview Sunday’s matchup in State Farm Stadium and focus on the three keys to an Arizona victory.
For the better part of the 2015 season, the Cardinals sported one of the elite defenses in the league. While this season’s iteration isn’t anywhere close to that team, the early part of the season has shown the potential is there. Arizona’s defense currently ranks second in fewest points allowed per game (17.5), seventh in fewest total yards allowed (682), eighth in fewest passing yards allowed (442), and tied for third in sacks (7). This matches up well against a pass-first Lions offense. Through the first two games, Detroit has a pass to run ratio of about 3-2. Detroit has also surrendered five sacks through the first pair of games. The Cardinals are in an opportune position.
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Detroit’s Matthew Stafford has been without his leading receiving, Kenny Golladay as a result of a hamstring injury. Golladay was limited in practice on Wednesday. Picking up the slack has been tight end, T.J. Hockenson. Hockenson torched the Cardinals last season in just his first regular-season game. He finished with six receptions for 131 yards receiving and a touchdown. However, the Cardinals have fared much better this season against opposing tight ends. Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell has led the way in coverage. Arizona has limited opposing tight ends to less than 100 yards receiving, combined. With such tight coverage, the Arizona pass rush should cause issues for a struggling offensive line. It would not surprise anyone to see Chandler Jones wreak havoc and collect a few sacks.
With Kliff Kingsbury as the head coach, it is no surprise that the Arizona offense leans towards the passing game. It is the specialty of Kingsbury as the former Texas Tech quarterback and head coach. However, the Cardinals have effectively run the football through the first two games. During the 2-0 start, Arizona has averaged 170 rushing yards a game. They’ve also averaged 250 yards of passing a game. Quite the balanced attack for the Cardinals. Much of that can be attributed to quarterback Kyler Murray. The 2019 offensive rookie of the year, Murray has used both his legs and arm to carry the Cardinals. He has already accumulated three rushing touchdowns to go along with a pair of passing scores.
Detroit’s defense has surrendered the fifth-most yards on offense at 851. The defense is surrendering a staggering 34.5 points per game. That is more than double of what Arizona’s defense has surrendered. The Cardinals offense is perfectly suited to take advantage of a shaky Detroit defense. The quality depth at wide receiver for the Cardinals will test the Detroit secondary. Five members of the Arizona offense boast at least 45 yards receiving or more, led by wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The newcomer has been the favorite target of Murray and presents a unique challenge to the Lions secondary. Double coverage on Hopkins allows for the Cardinals to spread things out offensively and creates large running lanes and mismatches in the passing game for Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, or Andy Isabella
Avoid the Let Down
The 2015 Cardinals finished the regular season with a 13-3 record. They began the season by winning their first three contests. Those Cardinals were buoyed by a head coach who had been in the league for more than a decade, in addition to veterans at nearly every position group on the roster, including at quarterback. Conversely, the current iteration of the Cardinals has a second-year head coach, a second-year quarterback, and young starters at other important positions. As a result, it is paramount that the team does not get overconfident and overlook a talented Detroit team. This is where the current veterans must step up and help the youngsters grow. Veterans like Larry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson.
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Both players are near locks for trips to Canton in the not so distant future. Both players are holdovers from that 2015 team. However, Peterson and Fitzgerald serve as team captains and leaders for the new group of Cardinals. Specifically, Fitzgerald’s consistency and intensity can be seen in each game. His awareness helped the Cardinals at the end of the first half of the season-opening victory against the 49ers. Fitzgerald alertly picked up the ball after completion to Hopkins and quickly passed it to an official. It allowed the Cardinals to spike the ball and leave enough time on the clock for a field goal attempt.
Follow Through Potential
In summary, the Cardinals are teeming with potential. Kyler Murray continually grows with each passing game, as does the rest of the roster. On offense, the Cardinals are poised to truly break out and become a juggernaut. Defensively, Arizona has received key contributions from role players and stars alike. The 2015 Arizona Cardinals ultimately fell due to injuries late in the season. However, they were an impressive team that could have won a championship. These Arizona Cardinals still have a lot to prove but they are on the right track thus far. A victory on Sunday would go a long way to pushing them further down that road.
Prediction: Arizona victory, 33-21
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Cardinals and covers the San Francisco 49ers for Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada