I’m still in shock from the Hail Murray. It was simply one of the biggest plays not only of the season, but in franchise history. From Kyler Murray avoiding the pass rush and uncorking a perfect throw to DeAndre Hopkins outleaping not one, not two, but THREE Buffalo Bills, it was simply one of the most impressive athletic achievements that you’re ever likely to see in any sport.
But Sunday’s win over the Bills was more than just that one play. With that in mind, here are five hidden takeaways from that instantly iconic game.
Zane Gonzalez Recovers Nicely
I still don’t know how Zane missed that 49-yard FG against the Dolphins. I still remember watching the kick approach the uprights totally on target. I had looked away from the screen—probably to text a friend something like “Clutch kick”—only to hear the announcers exclaim “And it’s short!” In a season where kickers are routinely nailing 50-yarders (see: Bass, Tyler), it’s almost inconceivable that a kicker could be short on anything less. But Zane rallied nicely last weekend, going 6-for-6 on kicks against the Bills, including two FGs from 40+. I don’t know how confident Cardinals fans are in him moving forward, but he’s still a capable kicker.
Kenyan Drake Retakes the Backfield
There were a lot of Cardinals fans—including yours truly—who weren’t impressed with Drake at the beginning of the season and who were begging for Chase Edmonds to take his turn in the catbird seat. We got our wish in Week 9 against the Dolphins, but Edmonds failed to take advantage of his start, turning his 28 touches into just 86 touchdown-less yards. It was somewhat of a surprise to see Drake active against the Bills, but he ran hard and decisively, hitting the century mark on just 16 carries. He continues to be a nonfactor in the passing game (just 1 reception for 9 yards), but Edmonds is better in that role anyway. These two form a productive backfield—without even taking Kyler’s prodigious rushing ability into account.
Jalen Thompson Is Back
Thompson actually returned to action against the Dolphins, when he had a memorable near-interception of Tua Tagovailoa. But I thought he didn’t look fully recovered from his ankle injury until Sunday’s game. He was all over the field, finishing third on the team with 7 tackles and looking like a miniature Budda Baker (covered in hair). His presence was sorely missed, as the other Thompson Twin, Deionte, just hasn’t developed as quickly. That’s borne out in the advanced metrics (74.5 PFF grade for Jalen, 53.7 for Deionte) and the relatively anonymous tape that Deionte has put together. With Jalen back in the fold, we have one of the better safety duos in the league, which should help somewhat offset the coverage struggles of the LBs and CBs.
Isaiah Simmons Is Coming On
Like Drake above, Simmons was another big-name Cardinals who had a slow start to the season. But unlike Drake, it mostly wasn’t Simmons’ fault—the team seemingly had no idea how to use him. He played less than 20% of the snaps over the first seven games (although he did have that huge INT against the Seahawks). But over the last two weeks, he’s up around 50% of the defensive snaps. He’s mostly been used in pass coverage, but he’s flashed some ability as a pass rusher as well. When I wrote that initial column, his PFF grade was a piddly 30.3. It’s now doubled, all the way up to 67.5. Let’s hope he’s earned Vance Joseph’s trust and that his role continues to increase.
Corey Peters Might Be Done for the Year
This might be the biggest takeaway of them all. At the time of this writing, we don’t have any confirmation of the extent of Peters’s injury, but Kliff Kingsbury has already said that it “didn’t look good.” Losing Peters for what is likely an extended period—if not the rest of the season—would be a huge blow to a defense that is already performing well above expectations. Especially considering that we were down to Angelo Blackson, Josh Mauro, and Trevon Coley on the D-line against the Bills. Yikes. Hopefully we’ll get Jordan Phillips and rookies Rashard Lawrence and Leki Fotu back soon. Either way, we’ll sorely miss Peters’s leadership and steady veteran presence. He may prove to be irreplaceable.
That was such a massive win that some of these takeaways may have gotten lost during the celebrations. (I know my dog Grace was howling right along with me as I lost my mind in the aftermath.) But these developments will all be critical during the second half of the season. Let’s hope that Drake and Gonzalez continue to produce, that Jalen and Simmons have strong second halves, and that we can find a way to overcome the loss of Peters. Keep an eye on all these developments on Thursday against the Seahawks. I’ll check in about that game later in the week.