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Superunknown: What can Cardinals fans expect in Josh Rosen’s first NFL start?

Chicago Bears v Arizona Cardinals
After an auspicious 4th-quarter debut last week, Josh Rosen will make his first start against the Seahawks on Sunday.
Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The Sam Bradford experiment is, mercifully, over. I suppose I would be considered something of a Bradford apologist, hoping we would see the highly accurate and turnover-averse player he was with the Vikings. Instead, we got a scattershot turnover machine who played even worse than he did during his rookie season with the Rams. Whether this was more due to health issues, Mike McCoy’s scheme, or something else entirely is immaterial.

It’s time for the Chosen One here in the desert.

The timing is a bit earlier than the team was planning—and a bit later than many Cardinals fans may have wanted—but 1st-round rookie QB Josh Rosen is making his starting debut on Sunday against the Seahawks.

So what can Cardinals fans expect from the rookie in his first start? Better than Bradford? Almost certainly. Second coming of Deshaun Watson? Not likely.

The truth is, we don’t really know what we have with Rosen, who’s barely played during his short NFL career—just two brief appearances in the preseason and a handful of crunch-time snaps last week. But that’s enough to get us started—as well as a look at his opponent’s passing defense stats.

Here’s what Cardinals fans can expect from their prized rookie in his first start.

Different Playcalling

It’s hard to say if the playcalling will be improved, given that MCoy is still in charge of the offense, but it at least should be different. The 2018 version of Bradford was a much different QB than the younger Rosen is—practically immobile, less arm strength, more likely to settle for the easy throw. Even from his limited snaps, Rosen has shown that he is willing to move around both in and out of the pocket, can whip the ball around, and isn’t afraid to make throws into tight windows. Those characteristics alone should give McCoy more options in the passing game than he had with Bradford under center, even if the playbook is still “scaled down.” (And even if the offense is still as impotent with Rosen at QB, maybe Wilks/Keim will realize that McCoy is the problem, as he has been in his last couple stops. Win-win.)

A Whole Lotta DJ

Cardinals fans should be hoping to see Rosen do more handing off than throwing on Sunday. We’ve been preaching “More David Johnson” for weeks—and so has his former coach for that matter—so hopefully the new coaching staff will finally listen now that there’s a rookie under center. After all, the Seahawks are one of the few teams in the league to have allowed more rushing yards than the Redbirds. If we can control the clock and force Seattle to keep more defenders in the box, it’ll make Rosen’s life much easier. Oh, and the “More DJ” mantra doesn’t just go for the running game—let him line up as a WR more like he did during the season when he led the league in scrimmage yards.

The Kirk Connection

There has been an obvious connection between Rosen and fellow rookie Christian Kirk since the preseason. Between Rosen’s two preseason appearances and last week’s 4th-quarter action, Rosen has targeted Kirk 11 times, resulting in 7 completions, including this slick preseason TD. (Although it’s worth noting that Rosen was targeting Kirk on his first interception as well.) For comparison’s sake, Rosen has gone 13/25 when looking elsewhere with the football. Expect a healthy dose of Kirk against Seattle—and he might even be worth a spot in your fantasy lineup, especially if you play PPR.

No Legion of Boom, No Problem?

Not quite. While Seattle’s secondary doesn’t have the big names it once did (with the exception of Earl Thomas), it’s still been pretty stingy this far in this young season. Yes, they’ve only faced Case Keenum, Mitchell Trubisky, and Dak Prescott—hardly a murderer’s row—but two of those matchups were on the road, and these guys all have a lot more starting experience than Rosen. By the numbers, they’re eighth in the league in passing yards against (just 215 a game), sixth in passer rating against (74.4), and tied for first in interceptions (7). That last number should especially concern Cardinals fans. Rosen threw a number of near interceptions in the preseason, and would have thrown two picks last week had one not been called back by an offsides penalty. And that INT that was called back was as bad a throw as any Bradford has made this season. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the Seahawks added an INT or two to their league-leading total on Sunday.

Mystery Man

So, McCoy should be calling the game a bit differently, and DJ and Kirk should be heavily involved in the offense on Sunday against a pass defense that’s been in the top 10 of the league thus far. That much we know.

But there’s so much more we don’t know. As Walter and I have pointed out previously, HC Steve Wilks erred in playing Rosen as little as he did in the preseason. Those lost reps were incredibly valuable, and they might limit Rosen’s ability to succeed in the early going of his NFL career.

For example, he got no time on the field with Larry Fitzgerald in the preseason—and Rosen didn’t target Fitz at all last week. The infamous Chase Edmonds 3rd-down play last week was doomed from the get-go; if Rosen was a bit more comfortable in the offense, would he have changed the play at the line? At least we know from his first preseason game how he’ll fare behind a shaky O-line.

But the fact remains that Rosen has seen far less NFL action—preseason or regular season—than any of his fellow rookie QBs. How much of that will show on Sunday?

Final Thoughts

While we may not know much about our “golden” rookie QB, the mere fact that Rosen is starting on Sunday has Cardinals fans the most excited they’ve been since a few minutes into our Week 1 loss. And with the season likely already over (given the historical odds of 0-3 teams making the playoffs), Rosen’s progress is about the only thing we have to look forward to for the rest of the season.

So what kind of numbers will he put on up Sunday? Here’s a quick, off-the-cuff prediction, as much gut feeling as based on tape/stats: 20/33, 246 yards, 1 TD/1 INT. Again, better than Bradford, but not setting the world on fire. Reasonable—just like our expectations should be.

Your turn, Cardinals fans: What do you expect out of Rosen on Sunday? How will the offense look in general? Any predictions for the game? Give us your Rosen stat lines in the comments.