The Arizona Cardinals exit September at 2-2 but on a two-game losing streak. After succumbing to the Carolina Panthers, the Cardinals travels to the East coast for a matchup against Joe Flacco and the 0-4 New York Jets. The team is dealing with injuries at safety and a lost identity on offense. In order to get back to a winning record, this team needs to once again find the urgency it had to open the season on both sides of the ball.
The QB on the move
Kyler Murray has taken a big step in his purposeful running this year. He’s currently 12th in the league in rushing, and 30 yards ahead of Lamar Jackson for the QB rushing lead. The first 2 games he 21 times for 156 yards and three TD. The last two games he hasn’t been rushing as often but it’s been just as effective. You can see that in his rushing chart for the game this past Sunday below:
Murray has been finding success in both designed runs and improvised scrambles so far this year. 1/4 of the way through this season he’s halfway to his 2019 rushing total of 544 yards. Now he needs to continue this rushing output while also trying to find his way back to more success through the air, he’s currently in the bottom quarter of QB performance by most advanced metrics after one month. Luckily for the Cardinals, the Jets just allowed Brett Rypien to put up 37 points so hopefully the reining offensive rookie of the year can also capitalize on the opponent.
What needs to be fixed
Getting Drake in space
Thanks to a local reddit user for the in depth research, it’s clear Kenyan Drake isn’t getting the ball in space as much as he was last year. That work has been doled out to Chase Edmonds, although still not to a degree we saw last year. Drake has only been targeted in the pass game five times, on pace for 20 targets. TWENTY. He had 70 targets last year and pass catching is one of the many reasons they kept him on the transition tag.
Surprisingly enough, Murray is tied for 13th in the league in rushing yards (1 spot behind Kyler). But we all know how poorly traditional stats are at indicating performance, per Football Outsiders DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) metric Drake ranks 25th in the league, which is below the average RB level. One reason not to panic is that in both traditional and advanced metrics Drake is grading out more positively than players like Josh Jacobs, Ezekiel Elliott and Chris Carson. So it’s not as if his peers are leaving him in the dust.
Most fans expected the defense to be a problem once again this year and faith in DC Vance Joseph was as low as ever. Teddy Bridgewater picked apart the odd, soft-zone-let-everyone-get-open scheme the team has been running under Joseph. The defense only has three turnovers in four games. Outside of sacks and 3rd down defense, there isn’t another basic or advanced stat the Cardinals are in the top half of the league in. The Cardinals have been pitiful at forcing incompletions, allowing opposing QB the 6th highest yards per completion (12 yards). Look at this completion % graph of the season so far:
Part of the excuses we’ve heard is our top three safeties being out and blitzing less because of that. Safeties aren’t that important. Budda Baker should be back this week but the defensive line needs to be able to force more pressure only rushing four, which should be easier this week going up against the 22nd ranked pass protection O-line.
What to watch out for
Joe started eight games for the Broncos last year, going 2-6 and throwing only eight TDs. He isn’t known for taking many chances or deep shots. As poor as a season as he had last year, his yards/attempt and completion percentage are still in line with his career with the Ravens. The Cardinals lost to backup QB Kyle Allen and the Panthers last year, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be ready for a team with a more capable backup.
Now the Jets are probably the worst team in the league across the board, and the Cardinals need to capitalize on an opponent like this to keep up in the loaded NFC West.