After last Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, the Arizona Cardinals dropped to 4-8 as they remain in third place in the NFC West. With the record as it is right now, their playoff chances are slim to none as the Cardinals have fallen far below the expectations they had set for the 2022 season.
The Kyler Murray-led offense has vastly underperformed as the Cardinals rank 19th in the NFL in total yards gained through 12 games this season. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, and Zach Ertz are great as advertised but the unit has been marred with injuries overall.
Defensively, GM Steve Keim’s lack of urgency in the offseason to address the pass rush has been a big issue for this unit. Markus Golden is coming off a 11-sack season but has only 1.5 on the year so far. 38 pressures is respectable for the veteran but his overall impact and production just has not been felt this season. Cardinals re-signed Dennis Gardeck to a three-year $12 million deal in hopes that they struck gold on a bargain pass rusher if he could replicate his 2020 success. Unfortunately, Gardeck has been far from productive with only one sack and nine pressures while dealing with an ankle injury.
The two veterans simply have not played well enough this season. Arizona’s defense has a total of 23 sacks, which ranks 22nd in the NFL. The lack of a pass rush has made it easy for quarterbacks as the Cardinals lead the league in touchdown passes allowed (24) and are third-worst in total passing yards (2,945) given up.
Considering playoffs is nowhere in reach for the Cardinals as they really have not much to play for but pride, it might be time to start evaluating the future of their pass rush with the younger guys down the depth chart. Keim’s answer to improving the overall quality of the outside linebacker position was by investing a couple late day two draft picks in Cam Thomas and Myjai Sanders. The spotlight should be on them now.
Thomas (6-5 270lbs) was the first of the Cardinals’ 2022 third-round picks. The San Diego State product had 20.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks in his final collegiate year. He was known for his high motor plays and versatility in the defensive front seven which has been on display in his limited 94 pass rush snaps. Thomas is tied for the team lead among Cardinals’ outside linebackers with two sacks. The 22-year-old had multiple plays with near sack opportunities lining up as an outside linebacker and a defensive end. It seems whenever his number is called, Thomas impresses more often than not and has had the pleasure of playing with his idolized star pass rusher J.J. Watt.
Rookie ED Cameron Thomas needs more snaps for the Cardinals. He’s flashed on tape when given opportunities.— Full-Time Dame (@DP_NFL) November 30, 2022
Plus, the rush package of Thomas, Allen, Watt, & Golden has some promise. #BirdCityFootball pic.twitter.com/rSJ8IbVdSX
Sanders (6’5’’ 255lbs) was the second of the Cardinals’ third-round selections. He never had the sacks totals in the college level to warrant a high draft selection but he had the athletic ability and high pressure totals to show for it. According to Pro Football Focus, he created 62 total pressures in 2021 as Thomas had a whopping 77. Sanders only had 13.5 sacks in 42 college games which was not much to be enamored by. He has quick feet and ran a quality 4.67 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. His best game of the 2022 season was against the Rams, when he had five tackles, a sack, a pass deflection, and a forced fumble. Sanders, just like Thomas, has two total sacks on the year in 92 pass rush snaps.
The Cardinals allowed All-Pro pass rusher Chandler Jones to walk in free agency during the offseason and that has proven to be a wise move considering his big $51 million contract has led to only 27 pressures and half a sack in his first season with the Las Vegas Raiders. The Cardinals’ rookie outside linebackers have two sacks each and have outperformed the veteran in a limited role.
Markus Golden and Dennis Gardeck have mentored the rookies for long enough. The lack of production from the veterans speaks for itself. It is time to pass the rookies the torch and let them start.
The future is now!