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Exhibition enigma: What have we learned about the Cardinals’ offense this preseason?

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With so many new faces—and so little playing time for many key Cardinals—it’s hard to tell what we really know about the Cardinals’ new offense. Let’s find out what we’ve learned from three preseason games.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys
We haven’t seen much of starting QB Sam Bradford this preseason.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals have their final preseason game tonight against the Broncos, but what are we really gonna learn about the 2018 Cardinals by watching the third-stringers and bubble guys play for four quarters? Sure, the final few roster spots and the practice squad will be sorted out, but if any of those guys wind up playing meaningful snaps for us this year, something has gone terribly wrong. (Although hopefully the team will make a decision on the Chad Kanoff vs. Mike Glennon debate that has been raging in the RotB comments section.) So, everything we’re gonna learn about the Cardinals this preseason, we’ve likely already learned by now.

With the only three preseason games that matter in the books, let’s sort through the vanilla schemes, the limited playing time from the starters, and the statistical noise from the backups to figure out what we’ve learned about this team and how they’ll look in 2018. (Stats courtesy of ESPN and The Football Database.) We’ll cover the offense today, then the defense/special teams on Friday.

The Passing Game Is a Work in Progress

It’s hard to truly gauge the Redbirds’ passing attack thus far, given that our top two QBs have thrown a combined 40 passes this preseason. The results have been encouraging—free-agent signing Sam Bradford has been accurate, 1st-round rookie Josh Rosen looks like he belongs—if not anything to rave about, as they have just 1 TD and 5.5 YPA between them. I get that they’ve been running a fairly basic offense in the exhibition season, but I hope OC Mike McCoy can coax more out of them when he opens up the whole playbook.

But can the WR room can help them out more than they have? The guys behind Fitz and Christian Kirk have looked like a dumpster fire—and that might be being too harsh on dumpster fires. You know it’s dire when Jalen Tolliver has been the second-most impressive WR this preseason. Chad Williams has flashed, but he’s only caught 3 balls. J.J. Nelson can’t hold onto the ball—and might not be able to hold onto his roster spot. Trent Sherfield hasn’t been able to translate his training camp success to the field. Oh, and I almost forgot presumptive #2 Brice Butler—easy to do as he’s barely seen the field. This unit has provided no answers so far. I’d be shocked if we didn’t bring in a WR after the September cutdown. (I doubt it’ll be Dez though.)

But what concerns me the most is new HC Steve Wilks’s decision to play Bradford only 34 snaps over these three games. We’ve got a new QB, new OC, new WRs, new everything—and these guys need reps together, game reps, to jell. Plus Bradford hasn’t played in an NFL game in almost a calendar year. I understand Wilks’s conservatism given the grueling nature of the NFL season and Bradford’s injury history, but I think Wilks made a rookie coach mistake here. These guys needed more playing time together so that they’re running at full speed come Week 1 against Washington, not still feeling each other out. I hope this doesn’t come back to haunt us.

“No Risk It, No Biscuit” Is Out… Pound the Rock Is In

Given the uncertainty at QB and issues at WR, I think it’s safe to say we’ll lean on the run game more than we ever did when BA and Carson Palmer were in town. And given our RB talent, pounding the rock might be the identity of our team in 2018. Everyone knows about David Johnson and his potential to have a monster year. But fortunately for the Cardinals (and unfortunately for his fantasy owners), we might not need him to given the emergence of Chase Edmonds and T.J. Logan. And we might keep two fullbacks—a mythical creature under the BA regime—in Derrick Coleman and Elijhaa Penny. Our RB room is as good as any in the league.

Offensive Line Depth Could Be Our Downfall

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The starting O-line of LT D.J. Humphries, LG Mike Iupati, C Mason Cole, RG Justin Pugh, and RT Andre Smith has been competent—the QBs have been mostly kept clean (just one sack on Bradford—although he’s only thrown 11 passes), and DJ has found running lanes (6.25 YPC). If we can get league-average play out of this group for the better part of 16 games, which I think is an attainable goal, I think we’ll have a pretty solid offense.

But—and this was a huge issue last season, as I’m sure everyone remembers—OLs get hurt. And, if one of our starters gets hurt (sorry, another of our starters), other than maybe John Wetzel, does anyone have faith in guys like Evan Boehm or Daniel Munyer to keep our QBs upright and clear paths for our RBs? This might be another position we look to address after the cutdown. But that begs the question of why the depth was so poor in the first place. (I’m looking at you, Steve Keim.)

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, it’s tough to really tell much about a team from the preseason—and that’s doubly true for the Redbirds given the new coaching staff and its reluctance to play the starters much. But I feel confident in saying that the passing game is going to take some time to coalesce and that we’ll have to rely on the running game early in the season (and pray that our O-line stays healthy).

So, Redbirds fans, what have you taken away from the team’s offensive performance this preseason? Do you have confidence in Sam Bradford? Are you as worried about the WRs and O-line depth as I am? Do you want to see us feature the run more? Let’s talk offense in the comments.