Rapid Reaction: Five Takeaways from Preseason Game 1
Kliff Kingsbury is 1-0 in his (preseason) coaching career after defeating the Los Angeles Chargers 17-13. Here’s what stood out to me
Kyler Murray is the real deal.
Even with all the hype surrounding Kyler Murray throughout the duration of the offseason, I think the general consensus was that the many Cardinal fans were still holding their collective breath prior to Thursday’s kickoff. Murray, of course, did not disappoint only throwing one faux incompletion (thanks to a penalty from KeeSean Johnson). He finished the evening a near perfect 6-7 for 44 yards. Statistics aside, the former Heisman winner looked every bit like the franchise savior the Cardinals hoped he’d be when they selected him first overall last spring. His arm strength jumps off the screen, his accuracy is deadly and his ability to evade pressure is already elite.
The most important takeaway, however, was how comfortable he looked in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. This playbook was made for Murray and it shows. The command Murray displayed in a single preseason possession (which began on his own two-yard line) already eclipsed anything we saw from Josh Rosen a season ago (through no fault of his own).
The only thing disappointing about Kyler Murray’s first live NFL action was that we couldn’t see more of it.
The defense could struggle.
After taking multiple steps back as a unit under former head coach Steve Wilks, many are expecting a return to form now that the Cardinals are reverting back to a 3-4 defense. That revival, at this point, doesn’t appear close as the Cardinals’ starting defense struggled to contain Tyrod Taylor and a hodgepodge of Charger 1s and 2s. Yes, Jordan Hicks had a nice strip and recovery near the goal line, but the horrific run defense from a year ago was back to rear its ugly head. Austin Ekeler, doing his best Melvin Gordon impersonation, gashed Arizona for 40 yards on just five touches. Perhaps that’s more of a reflection of the personnel, specifically up the middle but it doesn’t change the fact this unit could experience some ugly growing pains early on.
In defense of their effort, however, the team was missing CB Byron Murphy who is currently nursing a recent foot injury (which is said not to be serious). They can also expect Haason Reddick back at some point before the regular season, although I question the kind of impact he can make especially after missing most of camp.
The best case scenario, at least early on, is for the offense to score points and the defense to play complimentary ball. This is a unit that’s going to give up a lot of yards, but if they can force turnovers with the likes of Hicks, Suggs and Jones, they’ll be in a lot of games.
Trent Sherfield is making the team.
Kevin White was inactive, as was second round pick Andy Isabella. That left the door wide open for the former undrafted free agent to make his mark both offensively and on special teams. Fast forward to the end of the first half and Sherfield did just that, securing the Cardinals’ lone touchdown (he finished with 4 catch for 44 yards) while also making a highlight tackle on punt coverage.
Sherfield was the favorite target for both Kyler Murray and Brett Hundley, as his improvements as a route runner are significant compared to a season ago. With a lack of experience in the receivers room behind Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, Sherfield could prove to be a capable option as a third/fourth receiver.
White, meanwhile, could be on the outs sooner rather than later considering his extensive injury history combined with his inability to contribute on special teams.
The offensive line remains a liability.
Already down starting LG Justin Pugh, the Cardinals needed to escape this game with minimal injuries upfront while also showcasing an improvement over the egregious offensive line from 2018. While Kyle Murray’s protection was solid, he did have several plays in which he was forced to leave the pocket due edge pressure. On Murray’s last attempt of the night, he was ambushed by both edge rushers thanks to minimal help from offensive tackles DJ Humphries and Marcus Gilbert.
The second team offensive line faired much worse, leading the way for multiple hits on QB Brett Hundley. Second year OT Korey Cunningham was overpowered on several occasions by the Chargers’ second and third team defensive line. Cunningham surrendered a sack and was also called holding penalty.
The team’s run game (outside of a late fourth quarter surge) was essentially non-existent, especially when compared to what the Chargers produced.
This is a unit that’s already thin on talent but more so thin on depth and that was on display against Los Angeles.
Brett Hundley is a capable backup.
The majority of attention will go to Kyler Murray and rightfully so, but it was Brett Hundley who threw the Cardinals’ lone touchdown pass Thursday night. The former UCLA Bruin looked comfortable operating out of the shotgun, making plays with both his arm and his feet.
Hundley finished the evening 10 of 14 for 104 while netting an additional 14 yards on the ground.
The signing of Hundley (back in March) went relatively under the radar, but could pay dividends down the line should he develop under Kingsbury. He was identified by this coaching staff early on as a candidate who could have immediate success operating out of Kingsbury’s “air raid” attack”. After what we saw last season from the two veteran quarterbacks signed in free agency (Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon), Brett Hundley and his athleticism are a breath of fresh air.
The same can also be said for Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.