Before the Arizona Cardinals open their 2021 campaign on Sunday, we asked the Arizona Sports ask some insightful questions about how the third year of the Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray era unfolded.
Here’s the first in a two-part series to preview the season.
What’s one decisive thing that will rock the Cardinals’ season one way or another?
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: It’s not a revolutionary answer, but it’s about the ongoing development between the caller and the quarterback. I think if you asked most of the people who paid attention, they would rate Kyler Murray’s performance way ahead of Kliff Kingsbury’s in the first two years of their union. On too many occasions over the past two seasons, it has appeared (at least to me) that Kingsbury’s often passive play calls limit the Cardinals’ offense to a rectangle just four or five yards deep. It’s time for Kliff to take the governor off the offensive and let Kyler (and others) shine by stretching the pitch more vertically.
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: The secondary. If the opposing teams pull hard enough on this wire, the problem here is that it will unravel the whole operation. I wasn’t too comfortable with high school before Malcolm Butler’s surprise resignation, and now I’m afraid the opposing attacks will be feasting. Byron Murphy Jr. will have to be awesome – not good but awesome – because everyone is a question mark moving forward.
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Let’s go with the development of Kliff Kingsbury as a coach. The talent on the list is there. They are stacked. Of course, the cornerback is a concern and a question, but every team has at least one – except maybe Tampa Bay. You see how Bruce Arians had all of his timeouts with less than two minutes remaining last night – he was even able to use one to save a second round on a false start penalty. He used two of his timeouts to save the clock when Dallas had the ball. Kliff cannot waste any time out as the game clock ends at the start of the third quarter. This stuff is coming back to haunt you.
Ron Wolfley, co-host of Wolf and Luke: The development of the two young linebackers should be the linchpin of the season. Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins, and how quickly they level up and learn their respective positions, will dictate their defense play. If they develop quickly, they will win matches. If they’re struggling to learn the game of the NFL, the Cards offense will have to be one of the best in the league to win games. It puts too much pressure on the offense to be perfect, and without seeing that offense play out in real games, it seems like a big request.
Luke Lapinski, co-host of Wolf and Luc: A few months ago, I would have said the evolution of Kyler Murray in third year. And it is still important. But we already know Murray is good – now it’s just a matter of how much better he can get. Since the question is ‘make or break’, I will focus on the rookies. The Cardinals rely heavily on three of them, and how quickly they adapt to the NFL game could define this season. Rondale Moore may experience growing pains and they should always be fine, but if Marco Wilson looks like an island rookie in high school, that’s a problem. And Zaven Collins is probably the most important of all. He enters the center of defense as a starter, calls the pieces and is asked to do all of this with Derrick Henry running over him in week 1. And then Dalvin Cook in week 2. If the recruits get up to speed quickly, they will fill important roles on this team. But if they struggle to live up to expectations, Arizona could be vulnerable in some very important positions.
Arizona Cardinals reporter and editor Tyler DrakeSports.com: Health! Shout it from the rooftops: Health will be the deciding factor for the Cardinals this season. GM Steve Keim has stepped out and added a number of faces this offseason that have proven over the past years that they can do it. when healthy. Thanks to an offseason loaded with meshing new and old, Arizona looks like a playoff team on paper, but if you can’t miss out on key pieces like JJ Watt, Chandler Jones or AJ Green during the most of the season, there will be a fall in play. We’ve already seen Jordan Phillips head to the injured reserve for the third time in his short Cardinals career. Hopefully that’s not the tip of the iceberg for an Arizona team with a ton of potential.
ArizonaSports.com Editor-in-Chief Kellan Olson: How young talents come together in defense. I know it’s wide, but however you stack it, the Cardinals depend heavily on it.
Let’s start by defending the race. On the defensive line you have Zach Allen (24), Leki Fotu (23) and Rashard Lawrence (23) joining JJ Watt as the guy trying to prevent the creation of holes. If they are created, it is Zaven Collins (22) and Isaiah Simmons (23) who try to connect them. In the air, Malcolm Butler’s development suggests the Cardinals were ready to start fourth-round pick Marco Wilson (22). It’s cool to be excited about where he is at, but it would be a lot more exciting as a whole concept if he started alongside a proven pro Bowler. Instead, it will be the solid Byron Murphy Jr. (23) and Robert Alford.
So after you zoomed out to get the big picture, if we get close, you basically need one of those players at each group of positions to exceed expectations. Allen, Fotu, and Lawrence have all been encouraging at times. We don’t know much about linebackers. Murphy going from reliable to really good is no fool to suggest. If that happens, you have average defense, maybe a little worse. And that’s totally fine considering what the offense is expected to do and what it is capable of, with Murray set to be a full-fledged star in the third year.
ArizonaSports.com Editor-in-Chief Kevin Zimmerman: At best, I think the Cardinals’ offense goes from disappointing to excellent. In the worst case, it’s halfway. Maybe Kyler Murray hitting the gas makes the attack explosive, but that doesn’t go any further.
I think of all the units to swing this thing, it’s the defensive line. We know the cornerback situation and we expect the inside linebackers to take pieces while making up for mistakes with their athleticism. But if that defensive line led by JJ Watt and a fun young core of Allen, Fotu and Lawrence can cause trouble inside the proven passers on the roster, it suddenly leaves the defensive players behind in a much better position for tackle a steep learning curve without putting the team in a bad spot.