It looked every bit as rough as the national media hoped it would through the first three quarters of play Sunday against Detroit. The innovative, high-powered offense teased by the Cardinals throughout the offseason was MIA as the team mirrored much of what made 2018 so nauseating. Falling behind 24-6 early in the fourth quarter, Arizona’s harshest critics were primed and ready to declare the short-lived “air raid” experiment a massive failure.
Enter Kyler Murray.
Facing a 3-and-14 from his own 22, Murray launched a 41 yard strike to the ageless Larry Fitzgerald that seemingly changed the momentum of the game.
From there, the Cardinals would rally to score 18 fourth quarter points, with David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald hauling in scores from their rookie quarterback. The Arizona Cardinals would go on to secure a respectable tie against the favored Detroit Lions, watching numerous young players rise up in the process.
Game Ball: Kyler Murray
Murray struggled mightily throughout the first three quarters of play, appearing less accurate than we’ve ever seen the former Heisman winner look. It didn’t help that the team was breaking in a new RT (Justin Murray) following Marcus Gilbert’s knee injury suffered during Thursday’s practice . Justin Murray looked noticeably overwhelmed during the first several possessions, which greatly contributed to the lack of offensive production in the first half.
It wasn’t until quarterback Kyler Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury simplified the offense late in the third quarter that the rookie started to settle in. The former Oklahoma Sooner dazzled those in attendance at State Farm Stadium throughout the fourth quarter and overtime, finishing the day with 308 passing and two scores. This was Arizona’s first 300-yard passing game since Carson Palmer threw for 357 yards in a 2017 week four victory over San Francisco.
With Murray and Kingsbury looking like they’ve (hopefully) found their groove, I’m guessing the Cardinals wont have to wait nearly as long for another 300+ yard passing effort.
Game Ball: Jordan Hicks
The Cardinal defense played far better than many expected, especially when it came to stopping Detroit’s ground game. Free agent centerpiece Jordan Hicks was all over the field, netting 14 tackles, 2 TFL and 1 QB hit. The former Philadelphia Eagle commanded the defense exceptionally well, given the unit was starting what equated to two rookie corners in their secondary. The Lions averaged a mediocre 3.6 yards per rush, a far cry from the onslaught opposing ground game’s were hanging on Arizona throughout the preseason.
Vance Joseph’s job security may continually be a topic of discussion, but given the circumstances, this was a quality effort. Chunk plays will come with this defense, but a consistent pass rush and the occasional turnover will go a long way.
Game Ball: Trent Sherfield
The second year undrafted free agent put on a special teams clinic, highlighted by a punt coverage fumble recovery. In fact, Sunday’s special team’s performance (as a unit) has to rank up with some of the best in recent memory. Kicker Zane Gonzalez was a perfect 4-4 from the uprights, and Andy Lee averaged a respectable 47.5-yard per punt.
Where was this unit under Bruce Arians!?!?! (I’m kidding…kind of)
Rookie Spotlight: Byron Murphy
When Arizona used pick 33 on the Washington standout, I was frustrated given the plethora of talent available at offensive tackle. While Murphy can’t serve as blindside protection for Kyler Murray, he does have a chance to go down as the most physical corner the team has fielded since Aeneas Williams.
Outside of two broken plays in the first half, Murphy was phenomenal in his first NFL action. He netted four solo tackles, but it was the way he finished plays that was so impressive. In many instances, the rookie was left on an island, and his tackles were often the difference between a first down and a punt. Similar to his draft cohort, Kyler Murray, Byron Murphy shined when the game was on the line. He and his fellow cornerbacks deserve massive applause for the way they handled an experienced Detroit receiving corps, especially late.
- Lions TE T.J. Hockenson had the best (statistical) debut for any rookie TE in NFL history, hauling in an impressive six receptions for 131 yards and TD. He was a mismatch for both Cardinal linebackers and safeties alike. Haason Reddick projects as a player who should be able to run with a talent the caliber of Hockenson, but is still working his way back from injury. The Cardinals need Reddick to showcase some of what made him the 13th overall pick in 2017.
- David Johnson may have suffered from a slow start, but still managed to finish with 137 total yards from scrimmage (82 yards rushing, 55 yards receiving). While his 27-yard touchdown catch ignited the Cardinal offense, I was more impressed with how Johnson ran late into the fourth quarter (and overtime). After posting a career low in ypc (3.6) a season ago, Johnson finished Sunday’s contest with an impressive 4.6 ypc. Although he may never duplicate his record setting 2016 campaign, Johnson remains a key cog to Arizona’s offensive success.
- While the unit improved as the game progressed, the Arizona offensive line still allowed five sacks on rookie quarterback Kyler Murray. Again, some of this is attributed to the team missing it’s best overall linemen in Marcus Gilbert. With that being said, the Cardinals figure to see more daunting challenges ahead at DE/OLB, especially within their own division (Bosa, Clowney, Fowler).
- He didn’t jump off the stat sheet, however I thought rookie DE Zach Allen played well in his starter/rotational role on Sunday. He had several stops at the LOS and looked like he belonged against an underrated Detroit interior offensive line. The Cardinals lack impact defenders at the 5-technique and the emergence of someone like Allen would go a long way toward rebuilding this defense.