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Slow starts: Four big-name Cardinals who need to step up

The Cardinals are 2-1 even after Sunday’s disappointing loss. But there are a few big-name players who need to pick it up for the team to avoid more losses like that moving forward. Who are they?

Washington Football Team v Arizona Cardinals
Chandler Jones celebrating after his lone big play so far this season.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Sunday sucked.

I was going to write about how frustrating the loss was, try to figure out what went wrong, explore what could have been.

But you know what? Like the team is doing, I’m just going to move on. Chalk it up to a bad game and stop dwelling.

Instead, I’m doing to focus on a few of our underperforming stars, guys who need to play better so we don’t lose another game to a team we should beat. Let’s start with a guy who isn’t exactly playing badly, but needs to kick his game up into a higher gear.

RB Kenyan Drake

2020 stats: 54 carries for 219 yards (4.1 YPC), 1 TD, 5 receptions for 20 yards

PFF grade: 67.9 (19th/54 RB)

Okay, so Drake is on pace for an 1,100-yard season and he’s graded in the top half of RBs in the league. But he’s also averaging a middling 4.1 YPC, has a long run of just 16 yards on the year, and has only scored 1 TD. The running production is… acceptable, although we all know he’s capable of better and you’d love to see him get a 100-yard game soon. But what’s more concerning to me is the utter lack of production in the passing game. He’s on pace for fewer than 30 receptions and just over 100 yards—pitiful for someone with a reputation as a receiving threat. He’s been barely a whisper in the passing game since coming to the desert. And remember that the seemingly washed David Johnson caught 36 balls for 370 yards and 4 TDs last season (when he barely played in the second half of the year). Let’s see if Drake can equal that production over the rest of the season and give Kyler a short-range playmaker.

WR Larry Fitzgerald

2020 stats: 12 receptions for 84 yards (7.0 YPC), 0 TDs

PFF grade: 58.6 (96th/118 WR)

It doesn’t feel good to call out the legend, but… he’s on pace for 64 receptions for 448 yards. Those are Rob Housler numbers. Sunday’s game was likely the worst of his career: 1 reception on 3 targets for 0 yards. Yikes. And it’s not like he wasn’t on the field—he played 86% of the offensive snaps, second-most of WRs behind DeAndre Hopkins. The Cardinals’ passing game obviously wasn’t clicking for most of the day, but Fitz needs to be more involved, even if he’s mostly just a short-field chain-mover at this point in his career. It’s all well and good that young guys like Andy Isabella are stepping up, but Fitz had enough left in the tank to come back this year and there can’t be any repeat performances like this. Rob Housler numbers just aren’t good enough. (Christian Kirk is another WR who needs to step up, but he has the excuse of being injured.)

ILB Isaiah Simmons

2020 stats: 5 tackles

PFF grade: 30.3 (not ranked)

At the risk of stating the obvious… this is not the kind of production you want out of your massively hyped #1 overall pick. He’s played just 18, 7, and 10 defensive snaps through 3 weeks (35 total, 18%), struggling to crack the ILB rotation behind Jordan Hicks and De’Vondre Campbell, both of whom have played 97%+ of the snaps. But Simmons hasn’t impressed in his limited appearances (that PFF grade… woof). Not surprising, I suppose, given the lack of a traditional offseason. (Although that doesn’t seem to have affected Chase Young.) Perhaps Simmons will see some playing time at safety given the rash of injuries there. But the rookie has too much talent and pedigree to keep off the field, especially as the quality of opposing offenses will only increase as we get further into the season. DC Vance Joseph needs to figure out a way to get Simmons on the field, and Simmons himself needs to play better if and when more playing time comes his way.

OLB Chandler Jones

2020 stats: 6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR

PFF grade: 53.8 (80th/110 EDGE)

Last year’s DPOY runner-up has to be the most disappointing player on this list. Jones, who had his sights on breaking the single-season sack record, is on pace for just 5 sacks this season. He’ll pick up the pace—he’s been too good for too long not to—but a run at the record isn’t happening, and even another 15-sack season looks like a stretch right now. For context, his worst 3-game stretch last season still saw him produce 2.5 sacks. Now, the Redbirds’ pass rush as whole is actually improved from last season—their 11 sacks through 3 games is fourth-best in the league—so Jones’s impact is still being felt. But shouldn’t he have more sacks than Haason Reddick? Wouldn’t one of his patented multi-sack games with a forced fumble have helped against the Lions? Let’s hope Jones breaks out of this mini-slump soon and starts making life miserable for opposing QBs again.

Final Thoughts

There are several other guys who need to step up. I mentioned Christian Kirk above, and J.R. Sweezy has been a weak link along the O-line. And neither starting CB is playing particularly well on defense. But these are the names to me who stuck out the most. If these guys can get going, we should be able to at least beat the teams we’re supposed to.

Who do you think needs to step up, Bird Gang? Let us know your thoughts down in those comments.