This is the first installment of a series previewing the NFC West. Here we’ll focus on the Cardinals.
The NFC West is arguably the most competitive division in the NFL with three of the four teams reaching the Super Bowl in the last six years. The lone remaining team, the Cardinals, have been in the cellar of the division.
Here's what needs to happen in order for Arizona to ascend.
Sources Of Excitement
The most efficient way to ensure a trip to the playoffs and home-field advantage is to win the division. For the Cardinals, it started with finding a tandem in coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray. They made tremendous strides offensively and ended the 2019 season ranked 16th in scoring. This was a vast improvement over 2018 when they finished last in scoring.
Arizona also added a perennial Pro Bowl player in wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins by way of trade and gives Murray another weapon in the passing game. With Kenyan Drake returning, Larry Fitzgerald still productive and the entire offensive line remaining intact, the offense is much further along than the defense.
The fastest route to ascension will be improving the defensive unit. The Cardinals ranked dead last in total yards allowed per game (402) and at or near the bottom in almost every other statistical category in 2019. What’s encouraging is Arizona has the cornerstone pieces at premium positions: cornerback and pass rusher. Although Patrick Peterson didn’t have his best year, he still has the tools that made him into a four-time All-Pro.
The Cardinals also still have one of the NFL’s best pass rushers in Chandler Jones, who seems to be in the top five in sacks every year. Arizona gave up more yards to tight ends than any team last season. The Cardinals added Isaiah Simmons via the 2020 NFL Draft. Simmons has the athleticism and length to help solve this issue. But they still have yet to find a good starting cornerback opposite of Peterson.
Kingsbury himself should be vastly improved as well. This is his first true coaching job in the NFL, so look for him to make a jump as most rookies do from Year 1 to Year 2. Kingsbury can particularly get better with clock management and time outs with regards to situational football. He should have a better handle of the entire team.
If the season continues as scheduled, Arizona’s first game in San Francisco will be a tough one. However, three of the next four games (against Washington, Detroit and Carolina) are winnable. It is important that the Cardinals get off to a good start and let that momentum carry them throughout the season.