Quarterback Kyler Murray is clearly the most important person in the Arizona Cardinals organization. As long as he’s on the field, the football team has a good chance to win a game. This week’s High Five will skip over the obvious and jump right into the under-the-radar storylines that will be deciding factors whether the team, which is coming off a bye week, will make a playoff run or not.
It seems like the back-to-back losses to Detroit and Carolina were forever ago. The Cardinals Pro Bowl safety played in the Lions game with a torn ligament in his thumb and missed the Panthers game following surgery to correct it. Baker has been nearly unstoppable in all the other games this season (all wins) and is the single most impactful player the Cardinals have had on defense since Tyrann Mathieu’s 2015 season. Baker is playing on a Defensive Player of the Year-type level right now and figures to wreak havoc on opposing offenses the rest of the season if he stays healthy.
This has been the most underrated unit in the NFL going back to last season. General Manager Steve Keim has been effective bringing in the right players to fill needs and fit into head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s scheme. DJ Humphries is as solid as any left tackle in the game and has shown his ability to lock down 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, one of the NFL’s best pass rushers. Adding Kelvin Beachum in the offseason to the mix of Justin Pugh, Mason Cole, JR Sweezy and Justin Murray has quietly made Arizona a dominant force at the line of scrimmage. The threat of Kyler Murray running the ball greatly factors in here, but this O-Line does not get the credit it deserves. Its ability to pass protect and create holes in the running game will pay off in the final weeks of the season when the Cardinals are fighting for a playoff spot and some opponents may be ready to pack in the season.
Not in a cheating or bending of the rules kind of dirty, but the slick-styled head coach needs to get messy and embrace the physical nature of his football team from time to time. Too often his playcalling falls back to pretty-boy football and it gets the offense in trouble. Newly designed formations and player substitutions (using backup QB Chris Steveler on 4th down, for instance) look rarely practiced – at least to the eyes of this blogger. Rather, we’d like to see Kyler Murray toss it up to the trusty wide receiver paws of DeAndre Hopkins or Larry Fitzgerald and not try to squeeze it to the third string tight end or the fourth receiver option, Andy Isabella. Also, trade in those sweeping run plays for more up the middle runs behind the offensive line. The Cardinals have shown they’re capable of physically exhausting opponents late in the game. It’s time for Kingsbury to embrace that, while still personally looking suave on the sideline.
The unsung hero on defense, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has brought a tenacity and fire to that side of the ball this season. The Cardinals secondary plays with a toughness and attitude that’s been rare around these parts, but it’s exactly what the Red Sea needs. Keim brought in the nine-year NFL veteran corner after Robert Alford suffered a season-ending injury in training camp for the second straight year. Kirkpatrick’s presence allows second-year defensive back Byron Murphy to cover the third receiver and make more plays this year. Murphy was thrown to the fire as a rookie because of a depleted secondary, but that has seasoned him perfectly for the role he’s in now thanks to the strong leadership and ability Kirkpatrick brings to the club.
Two players reportedly tested positive over the bye week – one was pass rusher Devon Kennard who tweeted a message on Monday asking for prayers for his family. No further positive tests came back so far this week as the team prepares to host the Miami Dolphins in front of 4,200 fans at State Farm Stadium in Glendale on Sunday. The Cardinals have raced out to a 5-2 start to the season on the backs of their stars and can’t afford to lose any for a week or two because of COVID-19.