Monday High 5: Cardinals Improved in All the Right Areas

Matthew JohnsonSeptember 14, 2020
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The Arizona Cardinals (1-0) are above .500 for the first time since the end of the 2015 season. Yes, that stat is hard to believe when you first hear it – but it’s reality today following a 24-20 Week 1 win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers. There are plenty of big takeaways from this game and the week in sports. Here’s our top five.

1. The Cardinals D is improved and helped win the game.

The Cardinals defense was able to get off the field on Sunday, holding the 49ers on nine of 11 third downs, and coming up with a fourth down goal line stop in the 2nd quarter. The secondary, led by Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick, held the depleted 49ers wide receiver unit to only four receptions and 41 yards (running backs and tight ends did the bulk of the work for SF). Finally, Peterson and Byron Murphy made big plays to knock down passes and stop San Francisco’s last drive to secure the win, the first season opening win for the Cardinals since 2015.

Big Takeaway: Fixing the defense was the single biggest issue the Cardinals faced in the off-season. One game in to this season, the fixes appear to be working.

2. DeAndre Hopkins is better than advertised.

The Cardinals’ new superstar wide receiver grabbed a career high 14 catches on Sunday. This stat surprised me a bit because Hopkins is widely regarded as the best at his position in the league. Grabbing 14 of his 16 targets showed he can be even better than Cardinals fans ever imagined. For context on how dominant Hopkins was on Sunday, Kyler Murray completed 12 passes on 24 attempts to other receivers and lead running back Kenyan Drake settled for 16 carries on the day.

Big Takeaway: Even for folks who’ve closely followed Hopkins’ career until now, Sunday’s performance shows he’ still getting better, which should frighten every opponent coming up on the Cardinals schedule.

3. Kyler Murray starts slow and finishes blazing fast.

Early in the game, the Cardinals offense appeared content with dinking and dunking short passes across the field, settling for three long field goal attempts in the first half. Granted, they took advantage of a brilliant blocked punt to score their first touchdown one play later, but the offense didn’t seem in sync until Kyler Murray stepped up and used his legs in the second half. Murray scrambled for a team high 91 rushing yards, including a 22-yard touchdown scamper to give the Cardinals the lead early in the 4th quarter. Murray’s ability to extend plays with his legs wore down the 49ers defense physically. His tenacity to pick up first downs when the play looks lost broke down the 49ers mentally.

Big Takeaway: NFL teams win a lot of football games by breaking the will of their opponent. Murray did this in the 4th quarter to San Francisco on Sunday.

4. On the job learning for Isaiah Simmons.

The Cardinals rookie linebacker/safety learned the hard way that a different speed exists in the NFL. 49ers running back Raheem Mostert caught a ball in stride in the 1st quarter, beating Simmons by a wide margin before racing a reported 22.7 miles per hour toward the end zone. (That’s the fastest reported speed by an NFL ball carrier in four years!) Simmons was on the field for only 18 of the 62 defensive snaps, recording three solo tackles in his NFL debut.

Big Takeaway: Simmons suffered his rookie moment early, as he was also flagged for a horse collar tackle on the first play of the game. However, he has a solid team behind him this season, which means he can afford to learn from mistakes. Not many 1st round picks of the Cardinals can say they’ve had that same luxury.

5. What are the other sports thinking?

There was a Game 6 in the NBA playoffs between the L.A. Clippers and Denver Nuggets on Sunday. There was also a no-hitter thrown by Cubs pitcher Alec Mills in Major League Baseball. The U.S. Open men’s final and a Game 4 in the NHL Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Final all happened Sunday, but who was watching any of that? Nothing can compete with Week 1 of the NFL season. Football is all anyone will talk about the next day. Are the Diamondbacks even still playing?

Big Takeaway: The first week of the NFL is special. Seven straight hours of commercial-free football on the Red Zone channel is enough to make most sports fans forget about all the other stuff going on in the world, including major NBA playoff games! Perhaps consider scheduling around this date the next time around.

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