2018 seems like a distant memory.
The Arizona Cardinals have now won their last two contests against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Atlanta Falcons and better days could still be on the horizon. This is not something any Cardinals fan could have found themselves saying at this time just one year ago.
Kyler Murray looks like a #1 overall pick. Kliff Kingsbury is showing more than just flashes of being the genius playcaller that he was touted to be. Larry Fitzgerald, the future Hall of Fame receiver, is rejuvenated. As is the entire fanbase.
It’s truly amazing what a little hope can do for everyone involved with a professional sports team. It is what has kept most of us from jumping ship and becoming Patriots fans like everyone else. But as Murray gains more wisdom and Kingsbury begins to take on more duties as a true NFL head coach, hope will no longer be enough to satiate the hunger that everyone has.
Growth. That is what needs to come next.
So far, we have seen plenty of growth. It’s obvious with both Murray and Kingsbury, but it has bled over into other facets of the game as well.
For example, the Cardinals offensive line gave up zero sacks on Sunday against the Falcons. Zero. That is the first time all season that the offensive line kept their young quarterback completely clean. And the last time an Arizona Cardinals offensive line gave up zero sacks? Week 9 of the 2017 season against the San Francisco 49ers. Drew Stanton was the Cardinals quarterback.
The red zone kinks are beginning to work themselves out as well. The Cardinals scored a touchdown on 75% of their red zone appearances against the Falcons, a very welcome sight. Their average for the season is only 30%, not including the game against Atlanta. As GM Steve Keim mentioned to Arizona Sports, if those red zone issues can be figured out, things could become very dangerous for their opponents.
Players on an individual level are buying in to Kingsbury’s offensive philosophies. David Johnson is beginning to show us flashes of 2015/16 DJ and Chase Edmonds is having a huge breakout season. Larry Fitzgerald, at 427 yards receiving through six games, is set to crush his output of 734 yards in 2018.
In short, things are all starting to come together.
With all of that said, the Cardinals have had a somewhat favorable schedule up to this point. Four of their first six games have been at home. Their only two wins have come against teams with a combined one win between them. As the Cardinals start to see more games against good divisional opponents and get out on the road more, their win-loss column figures to suffer.
But as long as the growth is not stunted, the wins and losses probably don’t matter too much. This wasn’t a year anyone expected the team to make a playoff push anyhow. If Kyler Murray, Kliff Kingsbury, and the rest of the offense continue to show growth, even in their losses, that will be the beacon of light that everyone can keep pointing to.
And what does growth lead to? Success. And success is what builds sustainability for many years to come.