5 Big Takeaways from Dominant Cardinals Win Over Browns

Matthew JohnsonOctober 18, 2021
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There is no challenge the Arizona Cardinals can’t overcome in 2021, it seems. The bird gang went into Sunday’s game at Cleveland without head coach Kliff Kingsbury, an assistant coach, and three starting defensive players — all with positive COVID-19 tests during the week. The Cardinals emerged with a dominant 37-14 win over the Browns to remain undefeated at 6-0 on the season.

Let’s dive into our biggest takeaways from this impressive victory.

Offense Doesn’t Skip a Beat Without the Regular Play Caller

With Kingsbury stuck back at home in Arizona, the Cardinals offense relied on a patchwork of assistant coaches to call the plays. That was not really a problem for quarterback Kyler Murray and his offensive weapons, putting up 37 points on the road — the fourth time this season the Cardinals have scored 30+ points in an away game.

Murray appeared to audible out of some of the calls which could be a major development and sign of maturity for the third year franchise QB. If Murray can learn to dissect defenses at the line of scrimmage, he’ll become nearly impossible to stop. This learning experience could be a game we look back on in a few years as the moment it clicked.

Defense is the Real Star This Season

Kyler Murray may get all the MVP talk, but the Cardinals are winning each game they play because of the guys on defense. J.J. Watt is proving to be one of the best free agent signings  General Manager Steve Keim has ever made. The performance of the secondary group is starting to rival the 2015 squad that featured Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Rashad Johnson. I’d say this year’s group of Byron Murphy, Marco Wilson, Robert Alford and Budda Baker is much more physical. Speaking of hitting harder, linebackers Jordan Hicks, Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins are punishing opponents more than ever this year. This may be the toughest, most physical defense the Cardinals have ever had since moving to Arizona.

Subs Step Up

It really wasn’t the worst thing in the world to not have pass rushers Chandler Jones and Zach Allen in the lineup this week, since the Browns offense has the top rushing attack in the league and Jones in particular isn’t good against the run. Losing defensive tackle Corey Peters to a positive test Sunday morning was the bigger concern.

Watt, Hicks and linebacker Markus Golden provided the pass rush, while backup lineman Jordan Phillips stepped up in Peters’ absence as the Cardinals defense held Cleveland to 73 yards on the ground. This was Phillips’ first game of the season. I forgot what a mountain of a human being he is.

The defense also forced three turnovers and we even saw linebacker Devon Kennard making plays. Playmaking is contagious right now on that side of the football. If not for the Hail Mary touchdown at the end of the first half, the Cardinals defense played a nearly flawless game.

Hopkins is Sneaky Strong

DeAndre Hopkins’ slender physique is one of the more deceiving things on a football field, for me at least. His hands, speed and agility are legendary, but it’s his physicality that always surprises me and I was honestly a bit shocked to learn he weighs 212 pounds (according to ESPN.com), the heaviest wide receiver on the Cardinals roster. Looking at him on TV, he seems smaller than that and perhaps the two Browns defenders that he ran over for his first touchdown of the game thought so too.

Teams Can’t Afford Mistakes Against Arizona

It’s truly the sign of a great team when your opponent needs to play a perfect game in order to beat you. That’s what I think is happening this season for teams playing the Cardinals.

The Browns committed nine penalties, turned the ball over three times and failed to convert on several fourth downs. Last week, the 49ers also failed on fourth down conversions. The Vikings missed a field goal and the Jaguars attempted a flea-flicker at the worst time — all examples of the mistakes that have cost the Cardinals opponents and led to their losses.

The Cardinals are not mistake free, but the difference is their offense and defense can make up for it. Arizona recovered all four of its own fumbles, they avoided disaster on a  couple bad snaps from backup center Max Garcia and Kyler Murray took five sacks, and they still put up 37 points.

It seems weird to write this about the Arizona Cardinals, but you’ll need to be perfect to beat this team this year.