2-0 and getting national attention, this is where every Arizona Cardinals fan hoped they would be two weeks into the season. Maybe too much national attention? In week three, the Detroit Lions came into Arizona and played the team tough and handed them their first loss of the year. Kyler who has generally taken very good care of the football threw three ugly interceptions. Losses aren’t always bad, and an early-season loss can be a great reminder to a young team to not get too comfortable. Here we will dive into the things the Cardinals need to continue to do well, improve on, and watch out for in this upcoming matchup against the Panthers.
Throwing the ball to Nuk
DeAndre Hopkins leads the league in receptions and receiving yards (two stats he’s never led the league at in his illustrious career). He’s also the number one rated receiver per PFF and number one in effective yards by football outsiders. This man is balling. Kyler Murray has looked early and often to Hopkins who is playing most of his snaps wide left. His ability to get open on his routes have been a big difference-maker for this team this year.
Front 7 pressure
One of the surprises of the young season is how well the front seven is playing, particularly against the run. Newcomers Jordan Phillips, De’Vondre Campbell, and Angelo Blackson have helped this team increase pressure on the QB as we sit fifth in sacks three weeks into the season. Along with the teams 11 sacks the team has:
- Only allowed one 20+ yard rush
- T-8th in % of runs stuffed
- 6th in opponent drive success rate (1st down or TD)
- Top half of the league in all Football Outsiders defensive line metrics
More important than anything, TEs have been held under 53 yards in the first three weeks of the season.
What needs to be fixed
Where is the run game?
In 2019, the Cards ended the season second in rushing efficiency. Right now they are 7th although that is buoyed by Murray’s increased rushing performance. Kenyan Drake is currently 9th in the league in rushing but is 17th in rushing DVOA (how much better he’s performed over the average NFL RB). Particularly, Drake has had a tough time running between the tackles as can be seen clearly in his rush charts from the first 3 weeks below.
This one is obvious, Kyler can not throw 3 interceptions. The ones against the Lions were particularly egregious like the 3rd one below.
That was a rookie undercutting his route to Hopkins. Here is a good dive into the 3 interceptions. With the Cardinals defense struggling to create turnovers themselves (0 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles), Kyler has to be better than he was this past Sunday against the Panthers.
What to watch out for
The Panthers are coming off their first win of the season where they played an extremely disciplined game with no turnovers and very few penalties. Their defense is still rated 30th in Defensive DVOA so points shouldn’t be too hard to come by for the Cardinals. With Christian McCaffrey out, the Panthers offense must find a spark to make up for his absence. That spark will have to come from a very talented receiving core.
Robby Anderson is currently fifth in the league in receiving yards, D.J. Moore is 14th. Curtis Samuel is also a huge threat as he has elite speed (4.31 40), as well as the versatility from the backfield (he has 4 rushing attempts in each of the last 2 weeks). All 3 present their own type of issues, and that may cause a problem with the Cardinals top 3 safeties out this week. The Cardinals need to stop the Panthers receivers from breaking this game wide open.