Arizona Cardinals 2019 season preview
By Scott Geelan
After the comforting stability and success of the the Bruce Arians era, the Arizona Cardinals returned to bottom feeder status in the NFC West under Steve Wilks. Ultimately, 2018 will have to go down as a completely wasted season for the Cardinals. They switched (temporarily it has now become clear) to a 4-3 defense, drafted a new quarterback and ran an offense that turned stud running back David Johnson into Trent Richardson. To his credit, owner Michael Bidwill did not double down on his flawed appointment. Instead he pressed the reset button. This offseason they installed another entirely new coaching staff, led by college football’s best McVay/Shanahan style young offensive genius, Kliff Kingsbury.
The appointment of Kingsbury, despite him going 35–40 in his six seasons in Lubbock, was the pivotal event in the Cardinals’ offseason. Not least because of the knock-on effect it had at the Cardinals quarterback position. Josh Rosen was traded away after only one season as a Cardinal and Kyler Murray was drafted first overall.
Generally, the Cardinals have added a lot more than they have lost this offseason. This should help the team improve somewhat on their dire 2018 performances, even if the impact on their record is not substantial, in no small part because of an extremely tough looking schedule.
They have added numerous interesting pieces pieces on both offense and defense through free agency and the draft with the only loss of note being Markus Golden. On the addition side of things veteran highlights include Terrell Suggs and Jordan Hicks.
Whether a Cardinals supporter or not, this is the phase of the game everyone will be looking forward to seeing. Kingsbury crafted some of the most potent offenses ever seen in college football, despite never really having a hugely talented team. Unsurprisingly, they were at their most overwhelming when Patrick Mahomes was playing quarterback.
Given the offensive line situation in Arizona, it would be unfair to expect Mahomes level performances from Murray. Nevertheless, there is an array of receiving talent and a high calibre running back who can ensure Murray won’t have to put the offense completely on his back. Murray’s own mobility could somewhat offset the Cardinal’s poor pass blocking, the offense’s greatest weakness.
Although the Cardinals may well be a little undermanned at tight end, it’s their wide receivers and the rapport they establish with Murray that will make or break this offense. In Larry Fitzgerald, Pharoh Cooper, Kevin White, rookies Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler, plus breakout candidate Christian Kirk, the Cardinals have loaded up on a variety of body types and styles for any situation. Throw in running back David Johnson, who can line up everywhere, and Kingsbury could have some fun.
After years of drafting players for a 3-4, man-blitz scheme, last year’s switch to a 4-3, predominantly zone coverage scheme didn’t really help anyone, not least 2017 first round pick Haason Reddick. Arizona will be hoping the switch back to the 3-4 helps Reddick live up to his billing, having already traded their 2018 first rounder to another team and cut their 2016 first rounder. He can become a versatile chess piece alongside stud pass rusher Chandler Jones and newly signed veterans Terrell Suggs and Brooks Reed. They should more than cover for “biggest offseason loss” Markus Golden, who in the grand scheme of player departures in the NFL is hardly a significant one.
The aforementioned cut of their 2016 first rounder, Robert Nkemdiche only emphasises the teams recent draft issues. The middle of the Cardinals defense has been somewhat problematic, and they decided the best fix was to move on from Nkemdiche this preseason. Instead, the Cardinals will be relying on several solid but less exciting options, such Corey Peters and Rodney Gunter, to keep new signing Jordan Hicks clean.
Hicks’ addition, plus the safety duo Budda Baker and DJ Swearinger, should remind Cardinals fans of their recent heyday with their talent against both the run and pass. They also added Deionte Thompson in the draft, who should be able to push the two starting safeties this season.
At corner, they added Robert Alford and drafted Byron Murphy to play opposite Patrick Peterson. However, the team were hit with the news that Peterson would miss the first six games of the season. Those six weeks could offer a glimpse of the Cardinals’ future as the former LSU star looks keen to move on. If Alford and Murphy impress, the team will feel far more confident entertaining trade offers for Peterson as they look to continue a re-tooling process that looks promising on paper in its inaugural season.
The important thing for Arizona is to show patience with the new staff. Having jettisoned Rosen in favour of Kingsbury’s choice at quarterback, the early signs are that the Cardinals’ brass are committed to their new Head Coach’s vision. Kingsbury’s offense has the pieces to be explosive. However, inexperience will likely hinder them a little in year one. In that case there is likely still not enough quality on defense to carry the team. Hopes for breakout seasons from the likes of Reddick are just that; hopes, not expectations. However, the likes of Chandler Jones, Baker and Peterson do have a little more help than they had last season. They’ll be better than last year, but their schedule is extremely difficult. Losing Peterson for several of their most winnable games will not help.
Record Prediction: 5-11
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