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Know Your Foe | Arizona Cardinals, Week 7

When I was a little kid, I was always cutting up my knees, my elbows, whatever got torn up on my body after all kinds of sports on the fields and streets of my youth. Some cuts ended up needing band aids which I hated as much as vegetables. But, my mom hyped me up each time, just encouraging me to "RIP THE BAND AID RIGHT OFF!! It won't hurt that bad." Okay, YEEOOOWW! That stung but it was probably as good a piece of advice as she could've given me.

I couldn't help but think of my mom's advice as the Texans prepare to take on the undefeated Arizona Cardinals in Glendale on Sunday. Not only are they outstanding and undefeated...not only do they have some of the most explosive players on both sides of the ball...not only do they have a young, aggressive offensively focused head coach...not only are they HOT as all get out...there's also Hop and J.J. I've been dreading this game for a while, in large part, because of seeing those two but when you take into account ALL of the above, it makes this Sunday as tough a weekend chore for the Texans as any game this season. RIP THE BAND AID RIGHT OFF.

But, also when I was a little kid, I learned that there's nothing as important as facing a challenge head on, no matter how big or small. Sure, the Cardinals are talented, but let's dance, you know? You've got to sprint on in and bust the big ogre right in the mouth as tough as that might seem in every situation. So, let's go out west for the first time since 2013, play a clean/physical/smart game and see what happens. There's no avoiding how good they are so let's get to know this week's foe - the undefeated Arizona Cardinals.

2021 Schedule (6-0)
Week 1 - W @ Tennessee Titans 38-1
Week 2 - W Minnesota Vikings 34-3
Week 3 - W @ Jacksonville Jaguars 31-1
Week 4 - W @ Los Angeles Rams 37-2
Week 5 - W San Francisco 49ers 17-1
Week 6 - W @ Cleveland Browns 37-1
Week 7 - Houston Texans
Week 8 - Green Bay Packers
Week 9 - @ San Francisco 49ers
Week 10 - Carolina Panthers
Week 11 - @ Seattle Seahawks
Week 12 - BYE
Week 13 - @ Chicago Bears
Week 14 - Los Angeles Rams
Week 15 - @ Detroit Lions
Week 16 - Indianapolis Colts
Week 17 - @ Dallas Cowboys
Week 18 - Seattle Seahawks

Cardinals OFFENSE (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing Yards Per game - 130.7 ypg (6th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Per game - 272.3 ypg (9th)
Total offense per game - 403.0 ypg (7th)
Turnovers lost - 5 (1 Fumbles lost, 4 INT)

Expected Cardinals starting offense for Week 7
QB - Kyler Murray
RB - Chase Edmonds OR JAMES CONNER
WR - DeAndre Hopkins
WR - Christian Kirk
TE - Darrell Daniels OR ZACH ERTZ
LT - D.J. Humphries
LG - Justin Pugh
C - Max Garcia
RG - Josh Jones
RT - Kelvin Beachum

Key Offensive Non-Starter
RB - Jonathan Ward

Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021

Keys to winning v. the Cardinals Offense

  1. It's like... - I was trying to come up with the perfect idiom for stopping Cardinals QB Kyler Murray but they all seemed too pedantic. The fact of the matter is that Murray is doing to NFL defenses exactly what he did to college defenses at Oklahoma. He's doing it just as he did to high school defenses when he won 43 straight games and three state crowns at Allen HS (TX). Buying time. Scrambling from danger. Saving a poor play call. Designed play chaos. No matter what disruptive bucket Murray falls into on a given play, he gives every defensive coordinator in the league nightmares. Defensive backs have to plaster receivers for way too long. Linebackers are never sure whether to attack Murray or stay in coverage. To say Murray is dynamic is underselling how difficult he makes things for defenses in this league. I'd give a key to stopping him, but there really isn't one. The best thing that the Texans can do is take away as many escape lanes as possible and then to just stay in front of him, which is like trying to catch a greased football with oiled gloves on your hands.
  2. Hop - There's not much more to say about #10 that we don't already know. DeAndre Hopkins remains one of the top pass catchers in this league but one VERY underrated aspect of his overall game showed up last week that I always thought was a tremendous part of his receiving repertoire - his ability to run/make people miss after the catch. Against the Browns, he caught a pass at about the eight yard line with multiple Browns defenders in his way. Then, he shook one, jocked another one and before you knew it, he was in the end zone with an improbable touchdown. We all gawk at his amazing hands and out-of-this-world catches, but after the catch, he was always special and still is.
  3. Twins - Technically, WR Christian Kirk and Weapon X Rondale Moore aren't twins; it just seems that way. They can be used in similar ways on the field, but the most difficult aspect of this duo is when they're working together on route combinations that make the defense wrong no matter what. A great example was on Kirk's touchdown catch against Cleveland last week. These two were aligned nearly hip to hip and ran a scissors route that caught Cleveland's defensive backs one step out of position. That was enough to get Kirk open for a touchdown catch. Jet sweeps, option pitches, deep routes, combination routes, you name it, these two are down for it and that's not great news at all.
  4. Underrated - I remember studying Cardinals RB Chase Edmonds when he was in college. I was at that annual part of my draft study when I had seen all the top Power five conference players and was down deep with a handful of FCS prospects. So, let's turn on Fordham, yes Fordham and check out this running back Edmonds, I thought. About two plays into the game I was watching, my gosh, Edmonds tore off on a run that was jaw dropping. I ran it back at least ten times. Then, I saw him on screens and as a receiver and thought some team is going to get a quality offensive chess piece. Arizona was that team and Edmonds is making the most of his opportunity to add to the Cardinals' offensive war chest. He leads them in rushing, averaging six yards a carry. He's also tied for the team lead with 26 receptions. If asked to name the Cardinals that do damage on a weekly basis, Edmonds name may not even come up, but those that know, really KNOW how valuable he is to this Cardinals offense.
  5. Do simple and routine things sensationally well - Look, the Cardinals do enough to make things difficult on this Texans defense but it'll be even more difficult if the Texans don't play disciplined and do the routine/expected things dynamically well. Getting caught on hard counts for a free five yards? Can't do it. Being out of position in coverage? Never. Bad eye discipline? C'mon, that's taboo. Trying to do someone else's job? Even worse. Excuse the pun, but the Cardinal sins of defense can't be a bugaboo for this defense. When they've not been, the Texans have been knocking on the door of a win, but when sins win, it's been a rough afternoon. Quite frankly, I'm not in favor of any more of those days.

Cardinals DEFENSE (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 128.0 ypg (24th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 214.8 ypg (6th)
Total offense Allowed per game - 342.8 ypg (10th)
Turnovers generated - 13 (6 INT, 7 Fumble recoveries - Cardinals are +8(!!) in TO margin)

Expected Cardinals starting defense for Week 7
DT - Leki Fotu
DT - Rashard Lawrence
DE - Michael Dogbe OR Chandler Jones (currently on COVID-19 list)
OLB - Markus Golden
LB - Isaiah Simmons
LB - Jordan Hicks
CB - Byron Murphy
S - Buddha Baker

Key Defensive Non-Starters
S - Jalen Thompson
CB - Robert Alford
OLB - Devon Kennard
DT - Jordan Phillips
OLB/DE - Dennis Gardeck

Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021

Keys to winning v. the Cardinals Defense

  1. The Golden Ticket - I like my little title descriptions and as soon as I saw Cardinals Edge Markus Golden terrorize the Browns last week, I giggled. Well, only because I knew I had the perfect nomenclature for describing the problem that Golden presents, even though he's not always the feature player for this defense. He's second on the team with 4.0 sacks and leads the Cardinals with three forced fumbles. He attacks the rush with a variety of moves and relentlessly chases quarterbacks. There are many issues in facing this defense but #44 is a problem in the pass rush, without a question.
  2. Linebackers in name only - Earlier this year, Tampa Bay's GOAT QB Tom Brady went on a little bit of a tirade when the NFL allowed nearly all players to wear single digits. I understood his point that it's already hard enough to know who's a linebacker and who's a safety. Consequently, no team blurs this dilemma for quarterbacks more than the Cardinals. When LB #9 Isaiah Simmons was drafted, the question was whether he would be a safety or a linebacker because he's 6-4, 238 lb and has 4.38 blazing speed. The answer? Yes. Fellow linebacker #58 Jordan Hicks runs as well as any linebacker in the league and rookie #25 LB Zaven Collins is 260 lb., but runs like he's 235. So, are they linebackers? Are they big safeties? What are they? I can't answer the first two, but I can answer the last one. "Who cares? They're just freaking good."
  3. The Budda says so - It was so interesting talking to Houston Texans GM Nick Caserio about Cardinals All-Pro S Budda Baker this week on his weekly radio interview. Caserio's basic premise was that if it was based solely on his size and looks (5-9, 195 lb.), Baker wouldn't be at the front of the line. However, with all the alphas on the Cardinals sideline, the diminutive Baker is the lead alpha without a question. He's fearless in coverage. He tackles in space as well as anyone I've seen. He's fast. He's tough. He drives that defense from the back and he's all over the field. The Texans have their hands full trying to limit his impact.
  4. J.J. - For years, J.J. Watt stuffed the stat sheet unlike anyone I've ever seen, before or since. He put a number in nearly every single category and it used to be one of the things I looked at in the gamebook after every game. He's not the stat compiler that he once was, but he's just as dangerous. Teams have rightly doubled him as much as possible and I'd expect the Texans to do the same. But, the greatness of Watt became what he opened for others and that's happening in Arizona...unfortunately. And, that makes life for Davis Mills difficult to say the least, which leads me to...
  5. Comfortability, part five - It's imperative, yet again, that this rebuilt offensive line protects the Texans' rookie quarterback against another top notch defense. In Mills' five games, he's faced the number one (Bills), the number two (Browns) and the number three (Panthers) defenses, in addition to numbers 17 (Patriots) and 20 (Colts). Furthermore, this week it's the tenth best defense, statistically, so Mills will get another stern test with the Cardinals. As such, the Texans OL, RB, WR, TE and coaching staff must get him comfortable, while still putting pressure on the Cardinals defense throughout this game.

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