The number of exceptional wide receivers in the NFL only seems to be growing, which makes the long-term pact between the Rams and Jalen Ramsey all the more important. With DeAndre Hopkins, DK Metcalf and Deebo Samuel in the division, that’s six games where LA can feel a little bit more confident that they can tit-for-tat with the best weapons in the league.
But what happens away from Ramsey-vs-Hopkins this Sunday in Arizona as the Rams face the Cardinals?
I sent five Qs to Seth Cox of Revenge of the Birds and in kind he sent me five corresponding As.
Q - I have recently felt some ignorance when it comes to understanding the career and value of Patrick Peterson as a cornerback. Last season was Peterson’s first without a Pro Bowl bid (which I only bring up to emphasize his glowing resume, no doubt impacted last year by missing games for the first time ever) and now at 30 I’m sure some questions would arise to his current talent level. Please fill me in on how Peterson has played in 2020 as compared to his last full season in 2018 and how comfortable do you feel with him as a number one corner as compared to others in his position around the league?
A - He’s not the same player he was two or three years ago, and he hasn’t shown the willingness to be an aggressive tackler still, which makes him a bit of a conundrum now. The PED suspension last year really put a damper on the player overall.
This year, if you subscribe to Pro Football Focus’ grading, he’s been bad, with a 51.1 grade overall, by far his lowest grade since his rookie season.
If you use the PFF scale, he is the 71st best cornerback to have played 50% of the snaps in the NFL this season, which is less than optimal, especially when you consider this team has not exactly struck gold with corners.
Peterson is in the twilight of his career and still has high level games, his first game against the Seahawks this year was really good, but he’s not a lockdown corner anymore.
Q - Setting aside Peterson, since he was the subject of question one, and Budda Baker, who appears to be Arizona’s best defensive player who is currently healthy enough to play, who is the Cardinals next best defensive player after him? Conversely, who is the player or what is the position on defense that appears to be easiest to exploit?
A - It has been an odd year. The guy most expected to be the best defender not named Baker or Chandler Jones (who everyone knows) was Jalen Thompson. Well, he was hurt two snaps into the first game of the season, missed until after the bye week, then came back and played two really good games then was hurt in the Seattle game with another ankle injury. He is still on the injury report with an ankle issue, so who knows if he plays this week, but he and Baker form a really dynamic safety duo who are versatile, young and physical.
From there, based on snaps and health it would either be Byron Murphy who is developing into a good slot corner, or Haason Reddick, who after three disappointing seasons is finding his way as an edge defender in year four.
The x-factor for this defense is rookie Isaiah Simmons. He has been a dynamic player when given the opportunity, but it seems like he has a short leash. He had two massive penalties against the Patriots in 16 snaps played last Sunday, they resulted in points for the Patriots. They need him to make plays and clean up mistakes, but he can be a big asset.
The defensive position easiest to exploit right now has been the defensive line. It has been in shambles this year, and it is finally starting to get healthy, but now it is a bunch of young guys who haven’t played in weeks. The big offseason signing in Jordan Phillips delivered three solid games, but hasn’t played since the loss to the Miami Dolphins, veteran stalwart Corey Peters was lost with a knee injury. It has been a problem as of late and will likely continue until all the non-Peters players get back.
Q - Kenyan Drake’s three longest runs of the season — 69 yards, 22 yards, 20 yards — all came against the Cowboys in Week 6. He also had a 20-yard run against the Bills and Drake’s only two rushing efforts this season to top 90 yards were against Dallas and Buffalo. Do you feel comfortable with Drake as a back to get carry after carry after carry or has he boosted his overall numbers with a few explosive runs against the Cowboys?
A - He’s been a workhorse, but someone who is not hitting big plays. He is on pace for just over 1100 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has become a grinder that allows for Kyler Murray, when healthy, to be the outside threat. It isn’t what we expected from Drake, but he is doing it and being effective at it. I don’t know if this is the role he’ll want for his one big contract of his career, because he’s being asked to run inside the tackles at a high rate, but it could get him the contract he wants.
It has been an odd season for Drake, but he is working hard and doing so without complaining, so I guess you are getting what you want out of him. I am interested if they change things up if Murray continues to not be able to run the ball.
Q - Staying with Arizona’s offense, let’s imagine that Jalen Ramsey covers DeAndre Hopkins and does a fair job of containing him. When Hopkins is held under 8 yards per target, the Cards seem to struggle and they are 1-3 in those games. If Ramsey can stick on Hopkins and force Murray and Kliff Kingsbury to consider alternatives, who would you expect to step up next, if anybody?
A - They need Christian Kirk to develop into a weekly weapon instead of a guy who produces once every three games. If Kirk can become a reliable second weapon who is able to produce when Hopkins is being “locked down” then you’ll see this offense get even better.
Kirk has not stepped up continuously, but they have a couple of other options.
Larry Fitzgerald is likely out due to Covid-19, but the sneaky player to watch is Chase Edmonds.
Edmonds is a dual threat guy who is just as good out of the backfield as he is as a change of pace back. When they are able to get Edmonds incorporated into the game they tend to have the ability to be multiple, and that takes pressure off of both Drake and Hopkins. We’ll see how that goes this week against a really good Rams defense.
Q - If you could think of one moment in 2020 — including the entire offseason — that made you believe the Cardinals could win the Super Bowl, what would that moment be? And on the other side, if there was one moment that made you question the direction of the team entirely, what would that moment be and why?
A - The first Seattle game. The Cardinals offense has not been a concern, not saying it is Chiefs like but they typically give the team a chance to win, but the defense has been questionable.
When the team came out and held the Seahawks to one score in the second half and gave the offense a chance, it showed me that there may be enough talent to make a run.
Then the next game against the Miami Dolphins happened, and the Dolphins were starting Tua Tagovailoa and instead you got a game where the defense looked lost against a rookie in his second start. It was embarrassing on a number of levels, most of all the defense looked out manned against a Dolphins offense who had no running backs and a rookie quarterback.
That is the crux of the Cardinals this year, the roller coaster of week-to-week and not knowing what team will show up and what you will get. At least it has been entertaining, sans last week against the Patriots.