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We can build on this: Four takeaways from the Cardinals’ first win of the season

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The first win of the season felt good. But the time for celebrating is over—it’s time to figure out how to get victory #2. What did we learn from the first one that can help us get there?

Arizona Cardinals v Cincinnati Bengals
Kliff Kingsbury got his first taste of victory last week. But if he doesn’t learn to get out of his own way, more victories might be hard to come by.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

It took longer than anyone wanted, but the 2019 Arizona Cardinals finally earned their first victory of the season in wild fashion over the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday. The offense was rolling for most of the day, the defense did just enough, and special teams came through in the clutch. All in all, it was an encouraging first win for Kliff Kingsbury, Kyler Murray, and the rest of the team.

But now that everyone has taken a few days to savor the victory, we can look back on the game with a more critical eye to figure out what went right, what went wrong, and—most importantly—what we can take away from the team’s performance.

What did this first win teach us about this team? What does the team have to do from here on out to build on this victory? Here are four things I took away from the team’s first win in 2019.

In Kyler We Trust

He didn’t put up the gaudiest passing numbers (20/32, 253 yards, 0 TDs), but it was still Kyler’s best game of the season. He got a solid 7.9 YPA, threw no interceptions, and only took one sack—oh yeah, and he went 10/93/1 TD on the ground. Add it all up and he put up his highest QBR of the season by far at 77.6.

But more important than the stats was the confidence and poise he showed all day—never more so than on the first game-winning drive of his career. (Hopefully the first of many.) Tyler Boyd’s game-tying 42-yard touchdown was deflating, but you just had a feeling that Kyler had some magic in store for the final 2:00. And man did he deliver, making the two biggest plays of the season so far—the perfect over-the-shoulder throw to David Johnson and the scramble to set up Zane Gonzalez. With an abysmal Atlanta Falcons defense coming into town, Kyler could put up even bigger numbers this week.

We Can Lean on the Run Game

Last week, I asked who would step up after Christian Kirk’s injury. It turns out the answer wasn’t another receiver at all—it was Chase Edmonds. Kliff Kingsbury installed a run-heavy gameplan (38 total rushing attempts) and gave his backup RB a career-high 11 touches. Edmonds responded with 86 yards from scrimmage and one scintillating touchdown. He added a new dimension to the offense and it would be shocking if he didn’t continue to receive double-digit touches from here on out.

But Edmonds wasn’t the only revelation in the running game. DJ himself went 17/91 (5.4 YPC), and Kyler’s 93 yards were a career-high. Andy Isabella (2/11) and KeeSean Johnson (1/3) even contributed on jet sweeps. The final team totals were 38 carries for 266 yards (7.0 YPC!) and 2 TDs. It was just a dominating performance. And, of course, none of it would have been possible without the O-line. The guys up front have been (fairly) maligned all season, but they bullied the Bengals (an admittedly inferior defense) for most of the afternoon. If Kingsbury can commit to the run more and this unit can continue to jell, the offense’s ceiling will go way up.

The Defense Is Still Leaky

The defense played intermittently well for stretches in Cincinnati—the pass defense was airtight in the first half, and the run defense improved greatly after Joe Mixon punched them in the mouth on the opening drive—but it was still a poor performance overall. The Bengals put up 370 yards (their second-highest total of the season) and 23 points (their new season-high) on a defense that did not record a takeaway and only had a single sack. And if not for some poor throws from Andy Dalton, they could have done even more damage, as we saw on their final two drives.

I’ll give the Bengals the TD drive that cut the lead to 23-16—you’re generally not going to keep a team out of the end zone all day in their own backyard—but the game-tying drive was just brutal. Boyd roasted not only Budda Baker but BOTH Thompson Twins on his TD, but equally egregious was the first play of the drive in which he easily beat Jordan Hicks(!) over the middle for a 29-yard run-and-catch. Hicks has miserable in coverage all season—what’s he doing trying to cover the team’s best WR in such a clutch situation? Vance Joseph’s unit has been a massive liability all season, which doesn’t bode well with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley coming to the desert this weekend. For all the Falcons’ struggles in starting 1-4, Matt Ryan is still second in the league in passing yards. Get him in your fantasy lineups this weekend.

Kliff Almost Cost Us the Game… Again

There’s an argument to be made that Kliff Kingsbury’s coaching—especially on 4th down and in the red zone—has already cost us a couple games this season (Detroit and Baltimore). Well, he almost cost us another one in Cincinnati. But before we get to his miscues, I will say that his day started out quite auspiciously with his gutsy decision to go for it on 4th-and-goal at the 2 on our second drive. Kyler’s TD on the naked bootleg gave the team a huge lift and had me thinking Kingsbury was turning the corner on his 4th down/red zone tendencies. That didn’t turn out to be the case at all.

Two drives later, there we were kicking a field goal from the 4-yard line on 4th-and-goal. The kick put us up 10-3, but with Andy Dalton playing poorly to that point, the risk of them driving 96 yards versus going for it to make the lead 14-3 should at least have made Kingsbury pause. But that wasn’t nearly his worst decision of the day—the Fitzgerald WR screen on the goal line with 14 seconds left in the 1st half and no timeouts was absolutely inexcusable. Just embarrassing. We should have had at least two shots at the end zone there and a chance at an imposing 17-6 halftime lead. Instead, we (barely) got the ball spiked and had to settle for yet another FG from inside the 5 yard line.

But Kingsbury wasn’t done yet! Up 13-9 at the beginning of the 4th quarter, he ordered yet ANOTHER kick from inside the 5 to push our one-score lead to… a one-score lead. Gonzalez’s FG was his league-leading EIGHTH kick from inside 30 yards, which is twice as many as any other kicker in the league. Some of these 3’s HAVE TO start turning into 7’s or we’re going to be seeing a lot more L’s than W’s.

Combine all that with the questionable playcalling on the drive before Cincy tied it (3 plays, 0 yards, 27 seconds off the clock) and this was a mostly abysmal game from a coaching standpoint. Yes, he gets credit for going for it on 4th down on the first TD drive and incorporating Edmonds into the gameplan, but he blew all that good will (and then some) with his other questionable decisions. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of his and I’m rooting for him—and I mostly love the offense between the 20s—but he’s off to a very shaky head start to his career from a decision-making standpoint. He has to get better at that facet of the game.

Final Thoughts

While there were some very encouraging signs from the win—Kyler’s play, the running game/O-line—the play of the defense and coaching are still worrisome, especially given that we were facing one of the worst teams in the league. It will be interesting to see how these dynamics play out with a more talented team (on paper) that has their own share of struggles coming into town in the Atlanta Falcons. The strong play from Kyler and the run game figure to continue against a wounded Falcons defense, but Matt Ryan and Co. figure to do plenty of damage themselves. It might come down to coaching. Have the Falcons quit on Dan Quinn? Can Kingsbury stop leaving points on the field? Some interesting storylines to monitor on Sunday.

Until then, let us know your thoughts on the team’s first victory. Are you still savoring it? Or are you hungry for another? Tell us how we get victory #2 in the comments.