Football is back! Tomorrow night, the Arizona Cardinals will take the field for the first time since that thrilling victory in Seattle last December. But even though it’s only 8 months later, the team looks a lot different. Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer are retired, the Honey Badger is in Houston, and several other contributors aren’t with the team in 2018.
Replacing them are a whole slew of new faces—Steve Wilks, Sam Bradford, Josh Rosen, Brice Butler, Christian Kirk, Justin Pugh, Tre Boston. So, while tomorrow night’s game against the Chargers won’t count in the standings, it’ll be the first time for Cardinals fans to see these new players in action.
Of course, being the preseason, some of the new guys will play more than others. So what can Cardinals fans expect over the next 4 weeks? How will the team approach each of the next 4 games? We don’t know for sure how Wilks will handle each game, as it’s his first year as a head coach, but we can get a pretty good idea given what he’s already said to the press and how coaches usually handle each week in the preseason.
So let’s break down how each of the next 4 weeks will likely go, starting with tomorrow night’s game.
Preseason Week 1: Home vs. Los Angeles Chargers (Saturday, August 11)
Most coaches play their starters sparingly in the first preseason game, maybe a couple series at most. For the Cardinals, Wilks is already on record as saying some of our most important offensive pieces won’t even play that much—QB Sam Bradford, RB David Johnson, and WR Larry Fitzgerald. So Redbirds fans looking for a sneak peek at our first-team offense will have to wait. It wouldn’t surprise me if Wilks extended that plan to the big names on the defensive side of the ball as well—notably DE Chandler Jones and CB Patrick Peterson.
The game plan should be fairly vanilla, as the focus will be on the base scheme on both sides of the ball. The first preseason game is more about fundamentals, technique, and conditioning than really delving into the playbook, as most of the roster should see the field at some point.
What To Watch For
Everyone’s eyes will be on our top pick in this year’s draft: QB Josh Rosen. With Bradford getting minimal reps, it should come as no surprise that Wilks plans to get Rosen a lot of work. While he won’t be throwing to Fitz or DJ, he will get a lot of game time in with fellow rookies WR Christian Kirk and RB Chase Edmonds. These guys could all be key contributors for years, so it’ll be exciting to see them share the field for the first time. It will also be interesting to see how rookie starting C Mason Cole looks out there with the starters.
Elsewhere, it will be critical how the various players competing for the WR2 and CB2 jobs respond to their first game action. Will Brice Butler or J.J. Nelson get loose for a big play? Can Chad Williams haul in a few passes? Will one of Bené Benwikere, Brandon Williams, Jamar Taylor, or Chris Campbell begin to separate himself from the pack?
- Rosen and Kirk will hook up a few times. Look for Kirk to make at least one big play after the catch—or maybe in the return game.
- Chase Edmonds will score a TD.
- DT Robert Nkemdiche busts up a play or two in the backfield.
- Look for the Redbirds to win this one in front of their home fans in a low-scoring affair.
Preseason Week 2: Away vs. New Orleans Saints (Friday, August 17)
In the second preseason game, the starters typically play the entire first quarter as they get comfortable in the base scheme and start to go a bit deeper into the playbook before giving way to the backups. Will Wilks follow this approach or will he play the starters a little less like he did in the first week?
The second-string guys usually get a big run in the second game of the preseason, so look for Rosen to play a bunch again alongside the other backups. On defense, new S Tre Boston should be out there a lot with reserve DT Rodney Gunter, LB Scooby Wright, and the rest. The second-teamers will all be looking to lock down their jobs and hold off the third- and fourth-string guys.
What To Watch For
The last time Bradford took the field against the Saints, he looked like an MVP candidate. This will be our first extended look at the first-team offense, so hopefully he has a repeat showing. This will also be the first extended game action for DJ in almost a year. It’ll be good to see him back out there. Defensively, eyes will be on second-year players LB Hasson Reddick and S Budda Baker. Can they make a play or two against Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, and the Saints’ vaunted offense?
- Bradford leads at least one scoring drive, culminating in a TD toss to DJ.
- Rosen struggles a bit in his first road action, throwing his first interception as a pro.
- The first-team defense contains Brees and Co., but the backups don’t fare nearly as well.
- K Phil Dawson puts some distance between him and Matt McCrane, as the latter misses a FG.
- The Redbirds drop this one in the Big Easy, although the score is a bit higher.
Preseason Week 3: Away vs. Dallas Cowboys (Sunday, August 26)
The third game of the preseason is all about the starters, as they usually play the entire first half and into the third quarter, delving even deeper into the playbook and implementing more advanced personnel groupings/schemes. I can’t imagine Wilks will deviate from this common practice, as this lengthy evaluation is a key part of the preseason process. The backups and depth chart guys will get the scraps while trying to contribute on special teams.
What To Watch For
This game will have the look and feel of a regular season game, so this will be our first chance to truly see what these new-look Cardinals are capable of. On offense, ideally Bradford will be able to spread the ball around and complete 65% of his passes or so, while DJ will be gashing the D for chunks of yardage on the ground and via the air. The key, however, will be whether the O-line can gel. Are LT D.J. Humphries and LG Mike Iupati both healthy and moving well? Does Cole look the part of a starter? Can new RG Justin Pugh and RT Andre Smith fortify the right side of the line?
On the other side of the ball, can Nkemdiche and fellow starting DT Corey Peters hold their own against the Cowboys’ talented interior lineman, allowing the LBs to contain Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott? Can the Redbirds’ secondary keep the Cowboys’ less-heralded WRs/TEs in check?
- Bradford continues his strong preseason play, hooking up with Fitz in the end zone for the first time.
- DJ outperforms his counterpart, finding plenty of running lanes in Dallas.
- The defense mostly contains the Dallas offense, although Prescott makes a few plays with his legs.
- The Redbirds take this one in Big D by a touchdown or so.
Preseason Week 4: Home vs. Denver Broncos (Thursday, August 30)
If the third game is a showcase for the starters, the final game of the preseason is all about the guys toward the end of the depth chart. Don’t expect to see Bradford or even Rosen out there against the Broncos, as Mike Glennon (assuming he is still on the roster) and, especially, Charles Kanoff should get all the work on offense alongside the rest of the third-stringers and roster bubble guys. This game is where the end of the depth chart gets solidified, decisions on final cuts are made, and guys audition for the practice squad.
What To Watch For
Week 4 of the preseason is usually pretty entertaining, as guys leave it all on the field as they’re fighting for roster spots. Guys like practice sensation Trent Sherfield and Greg Little will be looking to stick on the roster at WR, while Elijhaa Penny and D.J. Foster will be hoping there is a spot for them in the RB room. They can make the team’s decision a lot easier with a big performance. The same goes for players like T Korey Cunningham, DE Cap Capi, and other training camp favorites.
- Kanoff is able to move the chains reliably, but struggles to connect with any of the WRs for big plays.
- Penny and Foster both have their moments, but neither winds up making the Week 1 roster.
- One of the deeper guys on the CB depth chart has a big game and sneaks onto the roster (perhaps over a more established name).
- The Redbirds drop a wild, sloppy affair at University of Phoenix Stadium to finish the preseason at 2-2.s
Although they’re just exhibition games, the next 4 weeks should be a lot of fun as the 2018 Cardinals start to take shape. The games might not count, but jobs will be won and lost—and those definitely do. It all leads up to the Week 1 game in D.C.—just under a month away!
So, what are you looking forward to this preseason? Any players you’re especially keeping an eye on? Any predictions? Drop us a comment and let us know!