Kudos to Kyler Murray.
The young signal caller, clearly hampered by an ailing right hamstring, gutted out Arizona’s season finale against the LA Rams.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, when Murray isn’t at his best, neither is Arizona.
In uncharacteristic fashion, the Cardinal offense turned the ball over a season high five times which eventually led to their sixth straight loss to division rival Rams.
This one didn’t start out ugly, however, with Arizona playing sound defense in combination with some solid special teams.
Early in the first quarter, inside their own 30, the Rams called for a fake punt that was thwarted by the Cardinals.
Two plays later, a compromised Kyler Murray hit emerging target TE Dan Arnold down the seam for a 23-yard touchdown.
After an exchange of punts, the Rams would response with an 11 play, 50-yard drive that was capped off with a Malcolm Brown three yard touchdown to make it 10-7.
Two possessions later, with Arizona beginning their drive inside their own 15, a Kyler Murray pitch bounced off the hands of RB Kenyan Drake.
It wouldn’t take long for the Rams to cash in, as QB Jared Goff would find a wide open Cooper Kupp for a six yard score to make it 17-7.
Even with the turnover, Arizona would response by driving down the field inside LA territory (39 yard line) with under five minutes remaining.
It was then when center A.Q. Shipley snapped the ball early, catching Murray off guard, as the offense would lose yet another key possession thanks to more mental errors.
Thankfully Arizona’s defense would hold, and Murray would respond again prior to half, orchestrating a 33-yard field to make it 17-10.
Murray started the second half with an INT on an attempted deep ball to Larry Fitzgerald, but once again the Cardinal defense held.
Gifting their young QB another possession to cash in, Murray would respond with a 10-play, 88-yard draft capped off with a three yard touchdown pass to WR Damiere Byrd.
With the game suddenly netted at 17-17, the LA Rams would take over.
Goff and company put together back-to-back touchdown drives, with yet another Kyler Murray interception sandwiched in between.
Despite a late touchdown run via Kenyan Drake, Arizona’s turnovers were too much to overcome as they would fall to 0-6 against Ram’s coach Sean McVay.
The Cardinals finish the 2019 season with a record of 5-10-1.
Game Ball: Patrick Peterson
For the third consecutive week, Patrick Peterson looked like his old self. The cagey veteran cornerback did a nice job blanketing Ram receiver Brandin Cooks while also rotating on Robert Woods. The physical style of play Peterson has recently brought cannot be understated.
The future Ring of Honor and potential Hall of Fame inductee finished the afternoon with seven tackles (one for loss) and two passes defensed.
Peterson’s status with the team, with a single year remaining on his contract, will be a topic of discussion throughout the duration of the off season. Prior to his six game suspension to start the season, Peterson had been adamant on numerous occasions that he prefer to play elsewhere.
That leads you to believe that the veteran would scoff at the idea of resigning in the desert, despite their improvements in 2019.
So Arizona leadership must ask themselves if Peterson and his antics are enough to swallow in exchange for quality corner play in 2020. The other option, of course, would be to explore a trade that would net the Cardinals (at minimum) a first round selection next May.
Given the current state of the Cardinal cornerbacks, particularly the late season struggles of rookie Byron Murphy, I would venture to say the Cardinals keep Peterson for 2020.
Game Ball: Dan Arnold
When the Cardinals claimed Dan Arnold off the Saint’s practice squad in early December, the majority of Cardinal nation (and media alike) assumed the move was nothing more than filler for the injured Charles Clay.
Fast forward three weeks later, and the 24-year-old former undrafted pass catcher (out of something called Wisconsin-Platteville) has become a late year staple in Kliff Kingbury’s offense.
In only three games with the club, Arnold has surpasses 100 receiving yards, including a 76 effort Sunday against the Rams. He also had himself a nifty 23 yard touchdown catch in the process, which gives him two on the season via Kyler Murray.
Given his late season contributions, it would be hard to imagine Arnold not being brought back in 2020. Supposedly New Orleans was upset with Arnold being pouched, which would suggest that Sean Payton had long term plans for the 6’6 target.
That kind of endorsement bodes well for Arizona.
Game Ball: Cardinal Offensive Line
I may be reaching here, but I was fairly impressed with Arizona’s offensive line (sans the Shipley fumble) for much of the game on Sunday.
There’s no denying that the Ram’s front seven has wreaked havoc over Arizona’s offensive line in recent years, leading to several quarterback injuries in the process (Carson Palmer the most notable in 2014).
With Kyler Murray nursing a lower body injury, the Cardinal oline responded by allowing a mere one sack (a “give up play” by Murray) while also paving the way for yet another high ypc day for Kenyan Drake (12 for 60 for 5.0).
It’s fair to wonder, had the Cardinals not been so turnover crazy, if the Cardinal ground game that was so dominate a week prior against the Seahawks could have once again found their groove against LA.
Regardless, with questions abound regarding this unit’s status this off season, kudos to them for a solid finish to 2019 after what was a rocky start.
Needs Work: Cardinal Receivers
Arizona’s need for a top shelf receiver has been evident for the majority of this season, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that perhaps the team needs to invest even more beyond that.
Once again, in a key divisional contest, Arizona’s receiving core left much to be desired.
Christian Kirk, their default number one receiving threat, had several critical drops early that pinned the Cardinals deep.
Both of Kyler Murray’s targets to Larry Fitzgerald resulted in interceptions, while second round rookie WR Andy Isabella (yet again) failed to secure a reception.
With a premium draft pick in place (eighth overall), the noise will only grow of Arizona’s need to revamp the position unit.
What that means for Larry Fitzgerald I do not know.
- Even though he endured a rough day statistically (credited with four turnovers), rookie QB Kyler Murray hit several key marks to cap off a tremendous 2019 campaign.
- Murray became only the second rookie QB ever (Cam Newton in 2011) to throw for over 3500 yards passing while also running for over 500 yards.
- Murray also joins Andrew Luck (2012) as the only rookies in NFL history with five or more 300 yard passing games.
- For the season, Kyler Murray officially finished with 20 passing touchdowns to just 12 interceptions. He threw for a Cardinal rookie record 3,722 yards passing while tallying 544 yards on the ground.
- All stats accumulated, Murray ends 2019 with 24 total touchdowns and 4266 total yards. Those numbers should put him in contention for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
- David Johnson did not play a single snap in the team’s final at LA. Was that by designed to keep him healthy for what will be an interesting offseason? One would assume he has played his final game in the desert.
- Chandler Jones did not record a sack on the season, falling short of Michael Strahan’s NFL record of 22.5. It was clear early on in the game that Sean McVay and the Ram offensive staff would not allow Jones to beat them. Even so, Jones finished with a respectable two passes defensed and one tackle for a loss.
- Kenyan Drake finishes his (2019) time with the Arizona Cardinals by netting 643 yards rushing, which over eight games, is good for roughly 80 yards per contest. The more impressive number of course being his average per carry of 5.2. One would assume, with David Johnson’s departure all but inevitable, that Keim will make strong effort to keep Drake.
- The Arizona defense, following their strong outing from a week ago, was mostly bad again Sunday. Outside of a couple stalled drives, the Ram’s offense did what it mostly wanted against the Vance Joseph led unit. The stat that sticks out was on third down, with LA converting 11 of their 18 attempts. Not great.
- I won’t speculate on whether or not Joseph will be fired, but I do think he has developed enough clout within the organization to make an argument in staying. Arizona is, at minimum, 5-6 personnel upgrades defensively in stearing this unit back to respectability. Jones will use that to his advantage. He will also point out the unit’s “improvement” over the final month of 2019, all things considered.
- The special team’s duo of Zane Gonzalez and Andy Lee were fantastic in 2019. Special teams, in general, were mostly good this season and those two individuals were a large part in that success. Pharoh Cooper is also a key cog that I personally would like to see return.
- For the first time in his career, LT D.J. Humphries completed a full 17 game season. Kudos the big man who likely earned a large paycheck in his contract year. Whether or not that money will come from Arizona remains to be seen, but I lean on the notion that he will return (franchise tag).
- Brett Hundley helped orchestrate another key offensive drive Sunday in relief of Kyler Murray (funny bone). Hundley has been terrific as Murray’s backup in 2019 and should be Kingsbury’s long term answer at the #2 QB.
- Even with the offensive struggles Sunday, the Kliff Kingsbury’s led unit finished just shy of yet another 400 yard performance.
- He likely won’t win the award, but Kliff Kingsbury should at least receive some votes for Coach of the Year. What he did with the Cardinal offense this season can not be understated.
- It bears repeating that with the loss, Arizona will pick eight in next April’s NFL Draft.