The Arizona Cardinals showed glimpses in 2019 but still ended the year rock bottom of the NFC West at 5-10-1. However, with a new look on defence and additions on offence the Cardinals are within touching distance of a 2020 playoff berth. They have already matched last year’s win total but what has changed?
The increased passing threats
After finishing 24th in yards per game last year changes were needed in the Cardinals passing game. Therefore, in the offseason Arizona made a blockbuster trade for the consensus best wide receiver in the league DeAndre Hopkins. This trade has reinvigorated the Cardinal’s offence and has formed a dangerous multi-faceted offence.
They are up ten spots in passing yards per game and the addition of Hopkins has attributed to this leading the team in 707 yards (400+ more than any other Cardinals receiver). The threat of Hopkins has forced defences to double team and try and neutralise him. Freeing Christian Kirk to show of the assets that made him a second-round pick in 2018. The pride of Texas A&M has secured five touchdowns in 2020 already surpassing his season best.
How the pass helps the rush
Kenyan Drake is the starting running back but Arizona have another rushing threat in the backfield in quarterback Kyler Murray. Kyler Murray has already exceeded his 2019 rushing yardage in nine less games and scored seven rushing touchdowns in as many games. Drafting offensive linesman Josh Jones has also paid dividends.
This dual threat allows head coach Kliff Kingsbury to be much more adventurous in his play calls. Arizona can now call more play action to give more time in the passing game as defences worry about Kenyan Drake. Whilst also freeing up space at the line of scrimmage when they fake the hand-off so Kyler Murray can break through.
Vance Joseph’s defence
In the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft Arizona got a swiss army knife on defence in the form of Isaiah Simmons. His versatility playing in numerous positions has been integral to the rise of Arizona and changed a defence that was poor in 2019.
In 2019 the Cardinals ranked 31st in pass defence which has vastly improved in Vance Joseph’s second year. In 2020 the Cardinals rank 12 places higher after seven games thanks to a breakout year for Budda Baker. Baker in 2020 has become a playmaker in the secondary for Arizona. The pro-bowl safety signed a four-year contract extension worth $59 million in 2020 but already appears value after securing back to back interceptions against Seattle and Dallas.
This defence’s best night was on Sunday Night Football against Seattle where they came out overtime winners. Russell Wilson was having a monumental season in Seattle before they faced Arizona. The Cardinals managed to put pressure on Wilson all game long forcing him in to three interceptions and a game ender in overtime.
The plays Joseph called caused this by sending multiple Blitz’s all game long, but the most crucial part of the game was a masterful fake blitz zone he called in overtime. Arizona stacked the line of scrimmage with seven players but then sent three back into zone when the ball was snapped leading to the costly interception