In every game there’s a winner and a loser.
Unless it ends in a tie.
Well, outside of “ties” there was plenty to talk
#1. WINNER: Chandler Freakin’ Jones
Haason Reddick set a record last year with 5 sacks in a single game for the Arizona Cardinals in replacement of Chandler Jones.
With Jones back healthy, however, he reminded everyone exactly who the Alpha was by tying that record...just 5 games after it was set.
And with 3 of them in the first quarter alone! J.J. Watt at one point took up 2-3 blockers (no surprise given all the years he spent sacking AFC South and Titans QB’s) but it was a mistake to leave Jones one-on-one so much. His 5 sacks and a solid run defense (Jones even had a TFL, too!) put the Titans in such a far behind position that not only could they not run the ball but their offense never seemed to get out of the garage. It was a blowout for Arizona, and Jones was the singular reason that made it happen.
He was a wrecking ball out on the field.
#2. LOSER: The Titans “Super Bowl contender” chances (and their new OC)
When predicting the outcome of the game, a lot of people (including former Cards writer Kyle Odegard) pointed out the pathetic Titans defense as a reason that there would be points. The trifecta of Brown/Julio/King Henry was also pointed at for a reason as to a high point total as well with Arizona’s cornerback room having Byron Murphy as the only one who had spent time playing on an NFL field in the past two years.
Instead, it turned out that only ONE side would be scoring a lot of points as the Titans offense was corralled. Henry only got 17 touches but didn’t hit 4 YPC and had -1 yards after the first quarter and Brown/Jones didn’t get loose and Tannehill took what seemed like a million sacks, fumbling twice.
What went wrong? Well, I think part of it is the lack of time to jell due to Covid protocols, injury issues and a new OC for the Titans as they didn’t seem right at times.
But another avenue seems to be that their offense just...was not good and didn’t adjust.
They didn’t add a TE or RB to chip on Jones when Lewan was in.
And when they put in a backup Left Tackle the Titans STILL didn’t adjust and help him out which gave Jones sack #5 later in the game.
...What ya doing, Titans OC Todd Downing?
The bread-and-butter of the Titans was somewhat disrupted but they are ultimately a power-run team from the I-Formation up the middle that sets up play-action with the back turned or running bootlegs with Tannehill for easier or open completions.
It runs through Henry breaking free for a long gain or setting up a big-play to A.J. Brown (or even Julio now) using their size to matchup. And what did we see?
We saw the Titans turtle some off of a naked boot ball (not blocking Chan versus adjusting to put a fullback on him was a poor call) and not run what they had been doing and instead seemed to panic, throwing the ball 35 times, often out of zero in the backfield or just Henry as a “fake” to pass the ball.
If the Titans lost their “magic” with Arthur Smith, then the Cardinals benefitted by having a predictable offense that they had broken down and disrespected just as much as the Titans’ defensive blitzes. Which leads to...
#3. WINNER: Kliff & Vance
Wanted to put “Loser: the Hot Seat” but the flow is the flow, and both Kliff and Vance, having all offseason to prep for the Titans, had their gameflows down SO well but it wasn’t even just that.
Kliff was more emotional and firey on the sideline than we might have ever seen him, especially with the referees. He’s seemed to figure out some of the pushing aspect of coaching...or maybe he feels that he needs to give it his all in a “win now” season.
The players were physical, and nowhere was that more evident than in how PHYSICAL the Cardinals were upfront and even in the secondary.
Batted balls and tough tackles and even Isaiah Simmons, who many thought was more of a “finesse” player showed some heart with a tough tackle on Derrick Henry.
Add in five total touchdowns for Kyler Murray, two of which were evident of Kyler’s development in facing the blitz (a deep pass to Christian Kirk off his back foot in what seemed like a four verts Air Raid look under pressure & a quick slant to Deandre Hopkins earlier) and...whew.
It’s hard to find complaints. Clearly the Titans defense has issues but you SHOULD expect the Cardinals’ offense with all these weapons to thrive.
And speaking of thriving, Vance Joseph has come a long way from the #FireVance stage he was in near the end of the 2019 season where Arizona had the 32nd ranked defense. He might be getting
#4. LOSER: the Keim “haters” as to Arizona’s cornerback situation
Ah yes, Steve Keim. He’s had quite a roller coaster as a GM from being GM of the year to the 2018 collapse and lack of prep for corner, missing on wide receivers...etc.
Many have wanted to move on. BUT...Sunday might have been his finest performance since the Arians’ era of building a team from scratch on the defensive side of the ball and some mid-round cost additions in Hopkins/Moore/Hudson.
The team was physical with the OL and DL, his cornerbacks in Murphy, Wilson and Alford didn’t nearly have to worry about much in coverage with how Watt/Jones and the run defense wrecked the Titans.
But even more, they legit shut down the passing targets in Julio and AJ Brown as well, playing nearly a flawless game.
Keim’s had his critics, but he can point to even the controversial retirement of Malcolm Butler and say that his choice of Marco Wilson was a net positive for the team overall.
#5. WINNER: The MVP push for anyone besides Kyler Murray at this point
While Lamar Jackson is playing later tonight, Kyler Murray’s looking like he might be on the brink of the superstardom that many thought he was going to have last year.
He became a star in year two (particularly looking at the Seahawks’ comeback victory) but there’s a difference between that and “superstar”.
Currently, he’s tops in the entire NFL with fantasy points, having over 300 total yards, 4 passing and 1 rushing touchdown and looked fully in control of the offense PLUS some star throws and scrambles.
Fantasy plays a big part of more than just a single team’s fandom, and if he stays anywhere close to that pace, he might finish as a QB1 in fantasy football. That plus a playoffs berth is how guys like Josh Allen, Dak Prescott before his injury Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and especially Patrick Mahomes became household names.
Murray’s got a ways to go to pass up what many have expected from him, but it’s possible that his MVP campaign is closer rather than further away...
Kyler Murray was just awarded the MVP award. League shut down the voting.— Colin Cowherd (@ColinCowherd) September 12, 2021
#6. LOSER: AJ Green & Matt Prater underperformed slightly (but hey it’s week 1 and I’ll take nitpicking over full-blown failure!)
It’s REALLY tough to have a “loser” in a nearly perfect game. But let’s try and note that this is ONE game and minor nitpicking.
But, two veterans who were expected to perform and play a large role for Arizona this year were Matt Prater didn’t quite perform as expected.
AJ Green caught only 2 passes from his 6 targets, didn’t get separation on one and made a rookie “stepped out of bounds” mistake on the other.
BUT there was also a non-called DPI that might have been overlooked and he opened with a large gain in the first quarter from Murray, so it’s worth watching despite Hopkins and Kirk (and even Moore averaging 16.0 Yards After the Catch) being the stars yesterday.
As for Cardinals fans, after a year of Zane Gonzalez missing field goals in close games, it was refreshing to have a blowout game that they were on the winning side of, and seeing the Titans’ “Money Badger” kicker missing a clutch one and extra point of his own.
And then...Prater missed a field goal.
While it’s not something to worry about in a rout, it will bear watching as he did hit a game winner in preseason and should be fine, but if the misses continue, it’ll cause some worry for Cards fans. I’m not, but again...these are nitpicks at the end of a fantastic first win for the Cardinals, one that puts deep questions at bay for now...maybe for a while...and inspires excitement in the team’s faithful followers.