It wasn’t pretty nor easy, but the Arizona Cardinals traveled to the east coast and secured their first victory of 2019.
Rookie quarterback Kyler Murray was sensational, playing perhaps his most complete game of the young season. The former Heisman winner amassed over 340 yards of total offense, which included a nifty little 4th and 2 touchdown run in the first quarter. Most importantly, he did not turn the ball over in a game decided by one possession.
The Cardinal defense, which has been much maligned all season, played a near complete game before collapsing in the final four minutes, allowing Cincinnati to rally. Andy Dalton completed touchdown passes to Auden Tate and Tyler Boyd on consecutive drives to tie the game up at 23.
The former Oklahoma Sooner orchestrated a masterful 6 play, 62 yard drive as kicker Zane Gonzalez netted his fourth field on the afternoon to secure a 26-23 Cardinal win.
Red zone issues aside, this was Arizona’s best offensive performance since 2017. The Cardinals rushed for a season high 266 yards (7 yards per carry!), as both Murray and Johnson eclipsed 90 yards apiece. Second year running back Chase Edmonds played his most significant role to date, securing 11 touches for 86 yards from scrimmage.
Kliff Kingsbury, who has been under fire in recent weeks due to his stagnant offense, responded by tallying 514 total yards.
The Cardinals remain a severely flawed team but their young building blocks (especially offensively) allow for hope moving forward.
Game Ball: Kyler Murray
After a series of up and down performances, Murray regained his early season poise against the Bengals. Passing touchdowns will come, but Murray’s effectiveness generating offense from a yards perspective can’t be understated. Arizona averaged 7.2 yards per play and was a respectable 7 of 14 on third and fourth down. Compare that to the historically bad offense in 2018, and patience can be anointed for the red zone woes.
Game Ball: David Johnson
His running style still leaves much to be desired, but David Johnson performed when Arizona needed him most on Sunday. The franchise running back accumulated 156 yards of total offense, including what ended up being the play of the game. Facing a 2nd and 2 from their own 33-yard line, Kyler Murray floated a beautiful touch pass to Johnson for 24 yards that would setup the game winning field goal.
With the Cardinals struggling to find capable pass catchers on the outside, games such as these are quality reminders of how elite Johnson is out of the backfield.
Game Ball: Chase Edmonds
The second year running back out of Fordham has slowly begun to reward Kliff Kingsbury for his inclusion in the offensive game plan. Edmonds remains the Cardinals most explosive running back and it showed on his 37-yard touchdown scamper that put the Cardinals up 14 late in the fourth quarter.
Edmonds averaged a ridiculous 8.5 yards per carry on the afternoon, which brought his season total to 6.7 yards per rush.
A combination of Edmonds and Johnson seems like a safe assessment moving forward, at least until Christian Kirk returns. The two back set was ultra effective for the Cardinals when you combine that with Murray’s elusiveness as a runner.
Could this be the emergence of a top running back stable in the NFL?
Game Ball: Pharoh Cooper
After being released prior to the start of the season, veteran return specialist Pharoh Cooper was brought back following Christian Kirk’s ankle injury. He responded with a big time performance against his former Bengal team, hauling in both targets as a receiver that included a phenomenal 28-yard reception near the goal line.
Cooper was also impressive in the return game, bringing a physical style that was sorely lacking in previous weeks. I would imagine he’s here to stay this time around.
Needs Improvement: Red Zone Offense
We get it; this unit has been horrific all season. The Cardinal offense managed only one touchdown in six red zone appearances on Sunday.
Yes, the play calling needs work from Kingsbury but it’s that same style of play that’s setting up these red zone appearances. I contribute the majority of their ineffectiveness to the lack of personnel, specifically in the receiving core. The Cardinals are playing with a (still dynamic) 36-year-old number one receiver and a bunch of young players who struggle to separate.
There were multiple red zone instances where either drives or potential touchdowns were negative due to ineffective breaks in routes or drops by non-Fitzgerald targets.
Once the personnel improves on the perimeter (and the offensive line), expect the Cardinal red zone efficiency to spike.
- Both the Bengals and the Cardinals entered this game with atrocious pass protection (39 combined sacks allowed). However, whether it was due to improved protection or poor front seven play, neither team allowed more than a single sack on Sunday. In the Cardinals case, this has become a troubled spot in recent weeks. The team has yet to see a sustained period of explosive pressure from both Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs.
- Byron Rookie had a typical up and down game from a rookie corner but the flashes of brilliance were there. The second round pick out of Washington led the team in tackles with nine and also secured one pass deflection. The Cardinal secondary remains in shambles but the team is only two weeks away from the return of All Pro CB Patrick Peterson.
- For the first time this season, the Cardinal defense managed to contain an opposing tight end. The inclusion of the rookie safety Deionte Thompson aided that effort, as did a slew of misplaced balls from quarterback Andy Dalton. Even so, this performance can serve as a building block for an otherwise struggling unit.
- Bengal running back Joe Mixon caught fire on the team’s opening drive, totaling 63 yards to kick off the game. From there, however, he was left completely in check by a well adjusting Cardinal front seven. Mixon finished with only 30 additional rushing yards following the team’s first possession. Kudos to Vance Joseph there.
- Recently acquired DE Jonathan Bullard continued his fast start for the Cardinals, as the veteran totaled seven tackles and including one for a loss. Rookie DE Zach Allen was inactive due to a shoulder injury, which makes Bullard’s contributions all the more needed.
- The Cardinals did not force a turnover Sunday and remain without an interception in 2019.
- Rookie receiver Andy Isabella saw increased snaps Sunday but remains without a catch season. He did, however, carry the ball twice for 11 yards. The Cardinals are in desperate need of perimeter receivers as we approach the trading deadline.
- The Cardinals accumulated 96 yards of penalties, two of which were holding calls on LT D.J. Humphries. Each was questionable.
- Punter Ryan Winslow was solid in his second consecutive start, averaging 50 yards per punt that included a 55 yarder. Veteran Andy Lee was also active and served as the holder for kicker Zane Gonzalez.
- Say what you will about Justin Murray, but the second year right tackle held up pretty well against a solid Bengal defensive line. This was following Jordan Mill’s recent trip to the IR. The Cardinals often had success running behind both Murray and J.R. Sweezy on the right side.