It was Christmas in September for Arizona Cardinals fans as Kliff Kingsbury was finally going to unveil his revolutionary offense for all of the NFL to see. All preseason we’ve been kept in the dark as the Cardinals left more questions than answers as they concluded each preseason game. Simplicity was key for Kingsbury as he was trying to acclimate his flashy Number 1 overall pick, QB Kyler Murray, to the NFL. Going into week 3 of preseason, when we get to see starters play significant minutes, Kingsbury was still reserved about the offense when speaking to the media “It’s still going to be not as complex… but I would just say we worked our processes more this week as far as game-planning goes.” And there was still some processing with the offense leading up to the week 1 opener against the Lions.
In a game that ended in a 27-27 tie, hot and cold would be the best way to describe the Arizona Cardinals on both sides of the ball. The first half started rocky for the offensive line, surrendering 5 sacks, 4 batted passes, and leaving a rookie quarterback uncomfortable for much of the first half as the offense only mustered 58 yards of total offense. Newly minted Cardinal and replacement RT Justin Murray was struggling all game against the Lions’ defensive front and only had a week of practice (since being claimed off waivers) in this supposedly complex system before an injury to starting RT Marcus Gilbert (knee) forced him into the starting lineup. The communication up front was clearly a weak point as Kyler Murray saw himself facing free runners way too many times for comfort and the blitz packages Detroit was utilizing often left AQ Shipley and J.R. Sweezy confused (So confused in fact, Sweezy had a nice sack on Murray).
We finally got a glimpse of what this air raid offense head coach Kliff Kingsbury brought with him to the desert could do towards the end of the 3rd quarter. The offensive line that was a concern all offseason held it together long enough to give Murray some breathing room and he was able to set his feet, build a rhythm, and get the offense flowing. This resulted in the Cardinals stretching the field and open up the playbook to fire off an 18-point scoring run that was punctuated by a 7 play, 70-yard touchdown drive that had the cleanest pockets Murray saw all night and gave this team the jolt they needed to get back into a game that seemed lost after the first half.
It was a lot less bleak for the Cardinals defense during Sunday’s matchup and they’re to be credited with keeping the Cardinals in this game through three lackluster quarters from the offense. This is big for a defense that ended the preseason as one of the worst in the league (30th overall, 366 yards per game). Though it was just the preseason, it did not instill much confidence in how this defense would handle themselves in games that actually counted.
The defensive line was able to pressure Stafford plenty, especially off the edge. Jordan Hicks had a nice debut for the Cardinals with 12 total tackles, Terrell Suggs introduced himself to his hometown crowd and Lions left tackle Taylor Decker with two sacks (one of which was a sack-fumble that the Detroit recovered), and Chandler Jones added a sack of his own, bolstering his standing as the league leader in total sacks since his arrival to Arizona in 2016. Overall the front seven did their best and the combination of Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs looks to be a fun one to keep an eye on.
The secondary was already operating at a deficit with starting corners Robert Alford (leg) and Patrick Peterson (suspension) out for a significant amount of time. Facing a quarterback in Matthew Stafford that loves to spread the ball didn’t make things any easier and it was a give and take performance for them. Their legs seemed lively and had a nice spring to how they were moving, but for every catch that ended with a group of Cardinals swarming the ball for a quick tackle, there was a blown coverage, or a linebacker left to cover areas of the field they had no business covering due to miscommunications. Those miscues allowed Lions rookie 1st round TE TJ Hockenson to start his career off with a bang, hauling in 6 receptions for 131 yards which included a 23-yard touchdown that didn’t have a Cardinals defender within 10-yards.
Situations like this highlight how veteran corners Robert Alford and Patrick Peterson were missed. Without their talent in the lineup the Cardinals were forced to play a softer coverage on the outsides at the line of scrimmage and couldn’t risk pressing. Tramaine Brock Sr. tried his best to fill the void but had a few too many busted coverages and gave up too many touchdowns to give Cardinals fans peace of mind and asking rookie 2nd rounder Byron Murphy Jr. to contain Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola proved to be too much too soon.
This debut for the Kliff Kingsbury run Cardinals encapsulates what a fanbase would expect when you bring in a quarterback that took the college football landscape by storm but also gives us a strong reminder of the flaws that have been plaguing this team since the magic of the 2015 season ended in North Carolina at the hands of the Panthers: a secondary devoid of talent and an offensive line that lacks consistency and elite play. They narrowly escaped a crushing defeat and clawed their way back to a tie this week, but if the Cardinals want to see more of the magic that Murray displayed to get them back into this game then they have to give him the protection he needs.