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Why this 2-0 Arizona Cardinal team is different than 2020

Johnny Venerable Avatar
September 20, 2021

Cardinal head coach Kliff Kingsbury approached Sunday’s post game presser looking like a man relieved.

“Gotta tip my hat to Minnesota. We knew we’d get their best shot, they were awesome…offensively, defensively…I thought they played their tails off.”

The Minnesota Vikings had just driven 58 yards in just over two minutes to setup a chip shot 37-yard field goal which would have given them the road underdog victory.

Yet in usual Vikings fashion, they missed the kick.

“We just got fortunate in the end,” said Kingsbury.

Except the Cardinals weren’t fortunate, they were just better.

Unlike their 2020 counterparts that also started 2-0 (before finishing a marginal 6-8), these Redbirds appear to far less fraudulent.

They are sure as hell more talented.

Their quarterback is currently playing at an MVP level to begin the season. The Cardinals also suddenly boast a receiving core in which all four starting pass catchers have secured at least one receiving touchdown through two games.

While they sometimes aimlessly ignore the run game, the unit again finished with over 100 yards rushing while averaging 4+ yards per attempt.

The defense was lackadaisical to begin the game, but rallied in the second half allowing a mere three points on five total drives. Considering Vance Joseph’s unit managed one measly sack while forcing zero turnovers, 26 points allowed is pretty promising.

“We came out flat, there’s not doubt,” said Kingsbury.

They did come out flat and then their talent took over.

The Cardinals showed they can screw around with early penalties while simultaneously losing the turnover battle and yet still come away with a win.

And it starts with their quarterback.

“When we score, it feels easy. It feels fun,” said Cardinal QB Kyler Murray.

Murray continues his record setting pace toward perhaps a potential MVP award. The third year Pro Bowl QB finished Sunday with a near career best 400 yards passing, which included three scores through the air. He also ran for 31 on the ground while adding another score.

“I think the game has really slowed down for him. You’re seeing him do things he did at the collegiate level,” said Kingsbury.

There were large portions of Sunday’s game in which Kyler Murray looked like the vintage Oklahoma Sooner taking absolutely zero prisoners en route to a Heisman trophy.

Through two games to begin the season, Murray already has nine total touchdowns compared to his three turnovers.

“Look at K1…look what he’s doing right now. It’s fun. I’m loving it,” said TE Maxx Williams.

Williams finished with a Cardinal career high seven catches for 94 yards, which included a zany 34 yard deflection reception that eventually led to an Arizona touchdown.

While much was made of the lack of quality resources put forth toward the tight end position this offseason, Williams is quickly reaffirming the team’s believe that he is good enough to fill that void.

“We just have to finish games…no matter how we do it…that’s a win. It doesn’t matter how we win, we won the game,” said Williams.

Kingsbury attributed the team’s finish to the first half, aided by Williams, as the catalyst for their eventual comeback victory. The Cardinals scored on their final three possessions to end the second quarter which included a 12-yard TD run by Murray, a 77-yard bomb to rookie Rondale Moore and a certain record setting field goal as time expired.

For the first time in recent memory, the Cardinals’ kicker is an absolute weapon rather than a complete liability.

The 2021 version of the Arizona Cardinals have the innate ability to erase large deficits in a matter of minutes. Murray is able to slice and dice defenses with his feet when needed, but can also unleash a vertical passing game not seen in the desert since Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer were at the helm.

Unlike so many Cardinal teams of years past, this Arizona squad doesn’t need their best to beat you on Sunday. While it’s obviously more beneficial to see an outing similar to Week 1, that’s not realistic in today’s NFL.

The difference in contenders vs pretenders is a team’s innate ability to secure wins when everything doesn’t go exactly to plan. Arizona’s NFC West counterpart in Seattle has made victories like the Sunday’s against Minnesota a calling card for their decade of dominance in the division.

That’s because when you have the horses, one of which is your quarterback, talent can serve as the ultimate equalizer.

Quick Hits

  • Right tackle Kelvin Beachum (ribs) and CB Marco Wilson (ankle) both left the game with injuries. Kingsbury did not have an update when he met with the media.
  • The Cardinals have not had a player in the mold of Rondale Moore since perhaps rookie year Anquan Boldin. They are different in play style, yet both carry the same confidence that translates to on field dominance. It is hard to recall such an electric playmaker in the open field like Moore. It’s like watching another Steve Smith.
  • Patrick Peterson’s return to Arizona was rather lackluster for the former LSU Tiger. On numerous occasions, Peterson was completely turned around by a member of the Cardinal receiving core. His run defense remains inept and unfortunately it looks like his coverage skills are trending the same way.
  • After a monster week one, it was a quiet day for Chandler Jones who was bottled up for a near complete box score shutout. He was credited with three quarterback hits, but made no headway on his quest to overthrow sack leader Michael Strahan.
  • J.J. Watt was also sack-less for the second consecutive game. The Cardinals need to find a way to generate more pressure from the interior of their defensive line.
  • Following a near dominant first quarter, WR DeAndre Hopkins was subsequently shut out for the remainder of Sunday’s game. Both Kingsbury and Murray lamented the fact that they needed to do a better job getting him the ball late in games.
  • A.J. Green secured his first Cardinal touchdown thanks to a nifty catch and run near the goal line. Unlike last week, Green looked much more comfortable against the Vikings while averaging a sparkling 14.7 yards per catch.
  • Six different receivers caught passes from Kyler Murray, with each hauling in at least three receptions.
  • The Cardinal running game remains effective (21 for 103) yet grossly underutilized. If the team hopes to improve their ability to put teams away late, the ground game with Chase Edmonds and James Conner is a good place to start.
  • Kyler Murray had underneath receivers open on each of his two interceptions. You get the sense that, even to a fault, Murray is constantly trying to hit the big play.
  • Outside of a blown assignment to begin the game (K.J. Osborn for 64 yards), I thought the Arizona secondary had another quality outing. Byron Murphy was good again late.
  • Left tackle D.J. Humphries had a day to forget, giving up multiple sacks to Viking standout defensive end Danielle Hunter. The Viking pass rush was a problem for the Cardinals in the second half.
  • Matt Prater and Andy Lee are as formidable of a kicking duo as the Arizona Cardinal franchise has ever had.
  • The Cardinals open up Week 3 a 7-point road favorite against the 0-2 Jacksonville Jaguars.

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