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8 Winners & Losers from #AZvsCLE

Who won and who lost as the Cardinals remained unbeaten, routing the Browns on the road?

Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal Jeff Lange / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Cardinals knocked off the 3-2 Browns on the road to remain unbeaten. In a game that was WITHOUT Kliff Kingsbury, Chandler Jones, Corey Peters and more due to COVID, it’s evident that winners and losers must be awarded.

With that...let’s begin.

#1. Winner: Murray’s MVP Campaign

No playcaller? No problem for K1. Kyler didn’t pass for 300 yards (short-field had some of that as a reason why) but without Kliff and the comfort, he passed for 4 TD’s and 0 Interceptions.

Cards fans...maybe we finally get one this year after 2015 Palmer was denied? (Watch now as Dak/Lamar snatch it just like Cam Newton did)

It wasn’t a perfect performance, of course.

While the ball fell on the ground no less than 4 times (the ailing Rodney Hudson being replaced with a new center as part of it) none of them went to the Browns, and it was a relatively clean day overall against a defense that had been ranked 5th coming into the game.

Murray showcased his ability to make play after play despite a solid Browns pass rush, and took advantage of matchups in which Hopkins, Green & Kirk all had touchdowns, and he might have had one rushing as well if not for a holding call.

The Cardinals for the first time in their history have gone undefeated on the road winning by double-digits in each contest to start the season. If a hostile environment is supposed to be “hostile” no one told that to Kyler.

#2. Loser: Baker Mayfield’s $35 million a year to a Baker’s Dozen a year contract campaign

I’m torn on this one because I personally like Baker Mayfield as a quarterback, and especially love his heart, drive, and competitive fire. I think his leadership’s something that’s been missing in Cleveland for maybe two decades.

And yet...Browns fans have had concerns that won’t go away after Mayfield fell to 0-2 all time against his Oklahoma successor. Mayfield’s negatives were inflated in part by missing two starting tackles, a starting running back, security blanket in Jarvis Landry and a banged up OBJ.

Not to mention his own shoulder. Which looked fine on the “Hail Mayfield” at the end of the half, by the way.

But it was notable how Baker got into that situation to begin with...and nearly cost the team with a dropped INT on a ball that sailed over David Njoku’s head through his hands and almost took a 3rd Markus Golden sack before tossing the ball downfield to end the half.

The lack of aggressiveness was notable only in part because it was a two-minute drive situation. But when Mayfield DID try to be aggressive, well...

Sometimes it’s hard to blame a QB but in this case, Mayfield simply threw it behind the intended target on a deep pass and it was picked off for a costly one of three turnovers on the day.

The issue with Mayfield, honestly, is that he’s not bad at all as a quarterback. He has a big arm, athleticism and some pocket presence and can make some great plays.

But as to the level of athleticism that deserves a big deal or the level of accuracy that can dissect a defense at every level of the field....something is just off, there.

He took some sacks and even a bad hit on his left shoulder from a J.J. Watt sack trying to out run a defender that he really couldn’t outrun, and had some placement issues. It feels like when looking at the “ELITE” quarterbacks in the game of football who’ve gotten paid handsomely, there’s something in common with these lists.

  • Patrick Mahomes
  • Tom Brady
  • Aaron Rodgers
  • Russell Wilson
  • Josh Allen
  • Dak Prescott

The up and comers in Kyler Murray and Justin Herbert also have them: elite athleticism and arms. All of them are scorers & have carried their teams, many to rings.

They’re the whole package. (Tom is just a different sort of dude all the same at this age, lol).

Whereas there’s a second list of QB’s who’ve gotten paid in a different tier...

  • Jared Goff
  • Carson Wentz
  • Andy Dalton
  • Joe Flacco
  • Kirk Cousins
  • Matthew Stafford

See the difference? All of these quarterbacks not only have moved from their original teams to a new one (meaning they aren’t indispensable to their winning) but they were all flawed as far as their athleticism or physical gifts, with some simply having game struggles or situational issues despite having the tools like Stafford, or even Cousins.

Baker Mayfield at this point clearly falls into the second tier of Quarterbacks, and that’s not bad.

What it is, however, is not good (usually) for the team that pays said QB as the production once that rookie contract closes never seems to pan out and each of the above teams moved on to a different or cheaper/similarly productive option. It means that Mayfield and Cleveland might be either embarking on a long-time relationship that continues to be rocky, or are moving toward an inevitable departure just one year after he led the team to a divisional title over the Steelers.

#3. Winner: The Replacements—AKA Vance, Jeff, Sean & Spencer

It’s not every day that a head coach misses a football game, but it’s bound to happen once or twice.

It happened to the Browns in the playoffs last year.

What is unique in the Covid era of NFL football is HOW the Cardinals’ divvied up the responsibilities, where not one but multiple people filled the role that Kliff Kingsbury has had as the Cardinals HC:

  1. Vance Joseph as acting HC
  2. ST Coach Jeff Rodgers helping with timeouts/challenges and other calls of HC
  3. Play caller Spencer Whipple calling passes/radioing in plays to Kyler
  4. Sean Kugler giving running plays to Whipple based on what defenses called

While perhaps Joseph and Kugler’s duties were most similar to what they had been doing previously, and Whipple’s was the most different (he hadn’t even been in the QB room to meet with Murray before Saturday!) gosh that’s a LOT of work to make up for one man missing.

Heck, even if QB Coach Cam Turner was healthy, he might have just filled in with Whipple’s role and the Cards still had to split Kliff’s impact into four different pieces.

The easy answer might be to list Kingsbury as a “loser” and say that the Cards are so good that they could keep rolling without him...but I think instead we not only saw his value, but moreover saw how valuable the staff was underneath him. Really a “everyone gets a gameball” moment that was earned.

#4. Loser: Browns DC Joe “Lost In The” Woods

Woods was a former disciple of Vance Joseph in Denver, and while talent is always an issue in the NFL for competitive balance, there were several questionable calls and, honestly, some lack of progress on the defensive side for the Browns.

Starting with penalties, penalties...the offense was expected to struggle without two starting tackles and some banged up receivers. But the multiple pass interference calls that Hopkins drew on 4th overall pick Denzel Ward were unnecessary, and there were times that it felt like some of the calls were flat out bad, like the defensive call that left DeAndre Hopkins wide open in the endzone.

Players can blow coverages, sure, but they wasted a day when the hot & cold Jadeveon Clowney was ON, and with Myles Garrett on the other end and rookie JOK looking solid, it felt like the Browns simply weren’t able to take advantage of what should have been an off day for Arizona.

Maybe if a few fumbles go a different way it’s another story but Kyler Murray looked prepared to face Woods’ defense, while Mayfield struggled and clutched the ball a bit too much versus his former boss’s defense.

Or maybe that’s just the J.J. Watt factor. Speaking of...

#5. Winner: J.J. Watt with his J.J. Swats.

Watt had his first sack, was a disruptive force and might end up being the best player to ever wear #99 in a Cardinals uniform.

Given that the other member is in the Ring of Honor that’s high praise...even if Watt might be the only other player who ends up deserving of that honor. He was moved all over, even getting snaps in coverage at Outside Linebacker to start the game and seems to be heating up more and more each week. This week was his masterwork, with no Chandler Jones he essentially made the biggest play on defense that didn’t belong to another man who we’ll mention below...

#6 Odell Beckham Jr.’s Odd Time as a Brown Continuing

Oh poor Odell...

While J.J. Watt seems to be having the time of his life thus far with his second team, Beckham can’t say the same since he left the Giants.

From having issues connecting with Mayfield to an ACL tear to nagging injuries that have persisted, he only had two big catches in this game, hurt his shoulder on one of them and on a needed 4th down pass had the ball jarred free by Robert Alford.

He’s still a star but the superstar luster has worn off and in watching how Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins seemed to have an instant connection, Beckham still seems to be having a hard time finding that with Baker through Year 3 in Cleveland.

It’s a shame, as the combination of Odell/Landry when it’s on the field has been ELECTRIC, but it feels like the Browns sliding to .500 in a tough and wide open AFC after Buffalo might severely hamper that and it might be good for a fresh start.

#7. Alford’s Pick Off & Truck(ing)

Well, the pun connoisseur in me couldn’t find a good “Robert” or “Alf the Alien” pun so you’ll have to bear with me with the Ford/car jokes here.

Oh how wrong we were when the Cardinals sought to bring back Robert Alford after he struggled to make it through two camps. Most probably thought he was done.

And now? He’s not only been the healthiest Cardinals cornerback overall, he’s arguably been their second most productive. Even over Malcolm Butler, and who would have seen that coming months ago!?

He had an interception return on an overthrow, some tough tackles and the highlight of those was when he broke up an intended fourth down pass for OBJ and the Robert Alford of a few years ago that had a Pick 6 of TB12 in the Super Bowl has finally come back.

Don’t ask how the rest of that game went....but it’s been a godsend for the Cardinals’ secondary and truly a redemptive and inspirational story for Alford to return to action playing as well as he has.

#8. Loser: Kareem Hunt & the Dreaded Cart

With Nick Chubb ailing, Hunt was on the injured report all week and Coach Kevin Stefanski said that he wanted to keep him on a snap count to avoid exacerbating the injuries that he had. Hunt had a clutch hurdle and while he was mostly bottled up, a lot of that was due to the gamescript in which the Browns quickly fell behind.

He was carted off in the fourth quarter and while opinions on Hunt as a person may differ, you never want to see a human being get hurt as he did, or a footballer see and suffer an injury like that in a game that had all but been decided by that point.

That’s all for now! Who were your winners and losers, Birdgang?

Sound off in the comments section!