It would probably be frustrating for the Cardinals to hear this right now, because Arizona has seemingly been trending upward since making the bold decision to reset and draft Kyler Murray two years ago, but every “ascension” eventually has to have a corresponding descent. Sometimes that happens after a Super Bowl, but most of the time it happens well before then.
The Cardinals have improved from 3-13 to 5-10-1 to going 8-8 and barely missing the playoffs last season, but is that the peak of their run? In another division, Arizona might be setting up to win a division title — something that the franchise did zero times between 1976 and 2007 — but in the NFC West, I believe they might have fallen back into fourth.
Here are the reasons why:
- In another division, like maybe the AFC South or the NFC North, Kliff Kingsbury could either fit into the mix of the other head coaches or even be the most intriguing innovator in the bunch, but in the NFC West he’s number four. He’s a clear number four. Kingsbury’s last winning season was when he went 7-6 with Texas Tech in 2015. That’s also the last time the Cardinals had a winning season.
- Kyler Murray is exciting, but he’s not going to be picked to do better than Matthew Stafford or Russell Wilson, and he’s in danger of falling behind another quarterback in the division if Trey Lance turns out to be a better high draft pick than he’s been.
- Arizona ranked 13th in DVOA last season. That should be great news. Here’s where the other teams finished: Seahawks (5th), Rams (9th), and 49ers (11th). The Cards are on the come-up? So are the other three teams and they’re more talented.
- With Nick Mullens, Jimmy Garoppolo, and C.J. Beathard, the 49ers ranked 20th in offensive DVOA. With the 2019 first overall pick, the Cardinals ranked 19th in DVOA.
- Arizona’s defense ranked 10th in defensive DVOA and seventh in weighted DVOA. Again, this should be good news, but the Rams were 1st in weighted DVOA and the 49ers were fifth. Not even Seattle was far behind, ranking 11th.
- If the Cardinals don’t trade for Julio Jones, then their number two receiving option — not just number two wide receiver — is A.J. Green. Green has the lowest yards-per-target average in the NFL over the last two seasons. Rondale Moore is a second round rookie. Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella, and Maxx Williams are not beacons of hope. How much does one DeAndre Hopkins make up for zero reliable number two options?
- I’ll actually go to bat for D.J. Humphries as the most exciting left tackle in the NFC West, and I believe his next contract will bring the rest of the world up to speed once they see how much he signs for, but the rest of the offensive line is suspect. I like the Rodney Hudson addition but Humphries will be the only starter who is under 30 and the Cards do not appear to have great depth.
- In a division loaded with questions at cornerback (for every team except the Rams), the Cardinals managed to be far and away the team with the most obvious holes in the secondary. Robert Alford (hasn’t played since 2018), Malcolm Butler (15 TDs allowed in last three seasons), Byron Murphy (11 TDs allowed in last two seasons) will be the ones tasked with guarding the likes of Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk.
We could continue with other ways in which Arizona seems to be lagging behind their NFC West counterparts but this should be enough to start seeing why a good offense might not be good enough as compared to the head coach-QB combinations that they must compete with. And an improved defense that added Zaven Collins in the draft, J.J. Watt in free agency, and Chandler Jones from IR, must somehow become elite in spite of huge red flags in the secondary if they want to help carry the Cardinals to a winning record next season.
Every year there are teams that win at least four more games than expected because of unexpected improvements in areas like the ones I’ve noted. But if we’re playing the odds, it appears that the Arizona Cardinals have fallen back into fourth place.
Where in the NFC West standings will the Cardinals finish in 2021?
This poll is closed