It’s been a busy week for Cardinals news with the trade chatter surrounding Patrick Peterson. So much so that it’s easy to forget that at this time last week the Cardinals finally fired Mike McCoy. (Better late than never, I suppose.)
That means new offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich has had a week to get his charges ready for this Sunday’s home game against the San Francisco 49ers. Leftwich was one of the few holdovers from the staff of Bruce Arians, who thought the former Jaguars QB was a potential future head coach.
Well, consider the next nine games his official audition.
We already know that the playbook won’t change, but the playcalling should be markedly different. So, what should Cardinals fans be hoping for from the team’s new OC? How much of BA’s influence will be felt on offense this Sunday? Let’s go position-by-position and try to figure it out.
Make no mistake—the move from McCoy to Leftwich was all about Josh Rosen. Although the decision was obviously a long time in the making, last Thursday’s disastrous 5-turnover, 3.0 QBR performance was the final nail in McCoy’s (very plain and shoddily constructed) coffin. Rookies are going to struggle, but McCoy never gave Rosen a chance against Von Miller and Co.
Leftwich would do well to make more use of Rosen’s athleticism rather than calling plays like an immobile QB like Peyton Manning or Philip Rivers is under center. Get him on the move with rollouts, waggles, maybe even a few RPO plays—whatever’s in the playbook. Enough of the “three-steps-and-fire-it-out” offense. Let the offense flow through Rosen rather than dictating when he should throw and to whom on every play.
Oh, and you can bet Leftwich will call more deep shots than McCoy seemed to be comfortable with.
The O-line had mostly held up in pass protection the first few games, but the levee has officially broken with 10 sacks given up in the last two games. It’s clear these guys need help, especially tackles Andre Smith and D.J. Humphries, who were abused by Miller and Bradley Chubb last week. Hopefully Leftwich will keep TEs Ricky Seals-Jones and, especially, Jermaine Gresham in more to block, as well as use T John Wetzel as an extra TE in jumbo packages. That would also allow some max-protect deep shots off play-action.
If he uses David Johnson in the running game like he should (see below), it’ll be up to Smith and Humphries (and the TEs as well) to set the edge in the run game and allow DJ to get outside. If they’re not up to the task, it might be time to plug Wetzel in (likely over Smith).
Other than Rosen, the biggest beneficiary of the change at OC should be DJ. We have griped endlessly about the misuse of DJ since the beginning of the season, but Week 8 might be the beginning of his 2018 coming-out party. Even more encouraging is that Leftwich has already said he hopes to use DJ like BA did.
Hopefully that means we see him used as a WR—both in the slot and out wide—much more than the handful of times McCoy used him there. It should also mean fewer runs up the middle and more runs outside. Before the injury and McCoy sapped his effectiveness, DJ was one of the most dynamic talents in the league. If we can get that DJ back, we should at least be competitive on offense from here on out.
If Leftwich can increase our pace of play a bit (it shouldn’t be hard—we’re dead last in plays run per game), that should mean more plays for guys like Chase Edmonds and, if he’s active, T.J. Logan. We have a lot of unused talent in this backfield. Hopefully Leftwich can take advantage.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
This is the area where Leftwich might have the least impact—if only because of the sheer lack of talent. Larry Fitzgerald has been hobbled, but if/when he’s fully healthy, you’d figure Leftwich would funnel targets his way, rather than McCoy’s approach of throwing to the open guy, whomever it is. Christian Kirk has flashed big-play ability but has also made quite a few mental errors, but he should continue to be an integral part of this offense.
Other than that, the cupboard is essentially bare. Chad Williams has done next to nothing, and I don’t see that changing. BA always had a soft spot for J.J. Nelson, so maybe Leftwich scripts a deep shot or two to him each game, but it’s hard to trust him. Perhaps it’s time to see what Trent Sherfield can do? Maybe that’s the way to shake up this WR corps.
I’ll be interested to see how Leftwich handles the TE position—a position BA never had much use for. Seals-Jones has obvious ability as a pass catcher, but is inconsistent, error prone, and can’t block. Gresham is more well-rounded, but offers no explosive potential. I wonder if he’ll experiment with playing them both at the same time more. That would potentially help the run game and pass protection as well.
Let’s be honest—there’s nowhere for this offense to go but up. At the same time, no one is expecting a monumental improvement right away. But I think it’s reasonable for Cardinals fans to expect the team to top 300 yards on offense for the first time all season. And given the 49ers soft defense, 20+ points should be easily attainable.
Let’s call it 24 points and 340 yards—with 125+ combined yards from DJ (a season high). There’s just too much talent on this offense to continue performing at historically inept levels.
What do you think, Redbirds fans? What kind of effect will Leftwich have on Sunday? Can the Cardinals set some season highs on offense? Let’s talk offense in the comments.