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Comparing Cardinals’ Offense to the Bengals’ and Rams’

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In the comment section of my recent “Bye Week Blues” article, Somebody’s Son made the following request:

I would love for you to do an article comparing and contrasting the Bengals’ and Cardinals’ rebuilds and explaining why Zac Taylor and Joe Burrow have been able to have so much more success than Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray. Are they just better or is the rest of the Cardinals roster just so poorly put together that the historically terrible Mike Brown is running laps around Keim/Bidwill in team building?

These are excellent questions. I will try to do my best to answer them. Today we will focus on the offense —- and tomorrow, the defense.

I thought that while we are at it, I would also try to draw some comparisons and contrasts of the Cardinals’ offense to the other Super Bowl team, the LA Rams.

Starters By Position (with “how acquired and ranked by 2021 PFF grades)

QB:

  1. 92.3 —- Joe Burrow CIN —- 2020/R1
  2. 85.1 —- Matthew Stafford LAR —- T/DET
  3. 82.9 —- Kyler Murray ARI —- 2019/R1

At the end of the regular season, Greg Rosenthal of NFL.com ranked Joe Burrow as the #4 top QB, Kyler Murray as #7 and Matthew Stafford as #8. Here is the link.

https://www.nfl.com/news/nfl-qb-index-end-of-2021-nfl-season-rankings

Recently, as some Cardinals fans on twitter have been lamenting how much better Joe Burrow is than Kyler Murray to the point of wanting the Cardinals to trade Kyler, my response was:

I don’t think that there is any question that Burrow’s and Stafford’s PFF grades are higher than Murray’s because they are surrounded by greater talent, especially at WR.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but had the Cardinals granted Kyler Murray his wish to draft WR CeeDee Lamb in 2020, the way the Bengals granted Joe Burrow his wish to draft his former star teammate Ja’Marr Chase, one can only wonder how far the Cardinals could have gone the past two years.

There is no question that Isaiah Simmons is a unique talent and could possibly wind up being the Scottie Pippen to Kyler Murray’s Michael Jordan, but the team that drafted Simmons needed to have a clear plan for him. Regrettably, Vance Joseph and the Cardinals have not had a clear plan and perhaps they still don’t. All the while, CeeeDee Lamb could have done for the Cardinals’ offense something close to what Ja’Marr Chase has done for the Bengals’,

If you took Ja’Marr Chase away from the Bengals, would they have won the AFC North, beaten the Chiefs and made it to the Super Bowl?

Kyler Murray and Joe Burrow were draft coups for the Cardinals and Bengals, teams that both had the luxury of having the #1 pick in their respective drafts. The Rams moved on from former #1 pick Jared Goff in favor of going all-in with Matthew Stafford, The Rams traded away Goff, 2 1st round picks and a 3rd round pick to the Lions. Kudos to the Rams in the short term, as Stafford has done his part to get the Rams back to the Super Bowl.

RB:

  1. 81.9 —- James Conner ARI —- UFA/PIT
  2. 79.6 —- Joe Mixon CIN —- 2017/R2
  3. 63.8 —- Sony Michel LAR —- T/NE

James Conner’s 18 combined TDs in the regular season was a boon for the Cardinals. Joe Mixon, year in and year out, is one of the premier RBs in the NFL. And when the Rams lost Cam Akers in training camp, they did what the great teams do, they covered up for the loss by trading for Sony Michel, who jumped right in as a very good fit in McVay’s offense.

TE:

  1. 69.1 —- Tyler Higbee LAR —- 2016/R4
  2. 65.8 —- Zach Ertz ARI —- T/PHI
  3. 62.8 —- C.J. Uzomoah —- 2015/R5

These are three highly competent TEs. Both the Rams and Bengals got very good draft value with Higbee and Uzomoah. The Cardinals have not drafted a starting TE under Steve Keim’s watch and for a span that seems forever.

WR1:

  • 92.8 —- Cooper Kupp LAR —- 2017/R3
  • 84.5 —-Ja’Marr Chase CIN —- 2021-R1
  • 79.8 —- DeAndre Hopkins ARI —- T/HOU

Major NFL Draft coups for the Rams and Bengals. The Cardinals haven’t drafted a successful WR1 since Larry Fitzgerald in 2004. To acquire Hopkins, hey gave up RB David Johnson, a 2nd round pick and 2 4th round picks. Kupp turned in what was arguably the best season a WR has ever had in NFL history. Chase was an instant superstar as a rookie. And, unfortunately, Hopkins tried to play through a sore hamstring and wound up tearing an MCL and was lost for the last 5 games.

WR2:

  • 83.5 —- Tee Higgins CIN —- 2020/R2
  • 75.1 —- Odell Beckham Jr. LAR—- FA/CLE
  • 67.8 —- A.J. Green ARI —- UFA/CIN

The Bengals hit the jackpot at WR in successive years landing Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase. This made it quick and easy to move on from A.J. Green. The Rams hit the jackpot in being able to sign OBJ, after the Browns cut him. What a godsend the Rams’ addition of OBJ was in light of the injury to the Rams’ Robert Woods whom they signed as a UFA (BUF) in 2017.

WR3:

  • 72.6 —- Tyler Boyd, CIN—- 2016/R2
  • 72.1 —- Christian Kirk ARI—- 2018/R2
  • 59.0 —- Van Jefferson LAR —- 2020/R2

Three solid draft picks. Tyler Boyd would be a WR2 on many NFL teams. Christian Kirk had his most productive season in 2021, coming close to earning a 1,000 yard season. The question for Kirk and Van Jefferson is whether they will emerge as bona fide WR2s.

LT:

  • 85.7 —- Andrew Whitworth LAR —- UFA/CIN
  • 76.5 —- Jonah Williams CIN —- 2019/R1
  • 67.5 —- D.J. Humphries ARI —- 2015/R1

Andrew Whitworth has been a superb UFA signee for the Rams. The Bengals and Cardinals have been reaping the benefits of investing 1st round picks in Jonah Williams and D.J. Humphries (although D.J.’s play regressed this year —- from 88.2 in 2020 —-and he went back to being penalty (11) prone). As GMs and coaches know, good NFL left tackles don’t grow on trees.

LG:

  • 68.9 —- Quinton Spain CIN —- UFA/BUF
  • 67.3 —- David Edwards LAR —- 2019/R5
  • 65.0 —- Justin Pugh ARI —- UFA/NYG

Good, solid players, all three. David Edwards as a 5th round pick is a draft coup. Quinton Spain, at 30 and on his 3rd team (TEN, BUF), is having the best season of his career. Justin Pugh gave up 0 sacks, 0 QB hits and 20 QB pressures this season.

C:

  • 76.2 —- Brian Allen LAR —- 2018/R5
  • 57.4 —- Rodney Hudson ARI —- T/LV
  • 52.2 —- Trey Hopkins CIN —- 2014/CFA

Yet another 5th round draft coup by the Rams in Brian Allen. Despite drafting 4 centers in 5 years (none of whom are still on the Cardinals’ roster), the Cardinals acquired one of the more highly acclaimed centers in the NFL in Rodney Hudson, giving up their 2021 3rd round pick to the Raiders. Injuries and COVID, however, knocked him out of 5 games. Trey Hopkins, a former college free agent, has staved off the likes of the Bengals’ 2018 1st round pick Billy Price, whom the Bengals traded during training camp to the Giants for DT B.J. Hill (the DT who made the huge tip and interception of Patrick Mahomes in the AFCCG).

RG:

  • 68.8 —- Austin Corbett LAR —- T/CLE
  • 54.3 —- Max Garcia ARI —- UFA/DEN
  • 44.9 —- Hakeem Adeniji CIN —- 2020/R6

Kudos to the Rams for their 2019 trade with the Browns to acquire solid RG Austin Corbett for their 2021 5th round pick. Amazing that the impressive interior trio of LG David Edwards, C Brian Allen and RG Austin Corbett were all 5th round picks. The Rams may be trading away their top picks, but they deserve a ton of credit for making the most of the picks they keep. Max Garcia struggled as the swing G/C for the Cardinals this year as he tried to battle though injuries. Hakeem Adeniji and Trey Hopkins are going to have their hands full with Aaron Donald, Greg Gaines and A’Shawn Robinson.

RT:

  • 84.3 —- Rob Havenstein LAR —- 2015/R2
  • 60.8 —- Kelvin Beachum, ARI —- UFA/NYJ
  • 55.4 —- Isaiah Prince, CIN —- W/MIA

Rob Havenstein is yet another testament as to how well the Rams draft and develop their offensive linemen. This was one of Havenstein’s best seasons as a pro. Kelvin Beachum has been a steady performer for the Cardinals at RT (thus far staving off 2020 3rd round pick, Josh Jones) and has played fairly well when moved to LT. Isaiah Prince has yet to find his groove as a pro and should be consistently tested by Von Miller and Leonard Floyd.

2021 Offensive Grades (per PFF)

Overall:

  • 84,0 —- LAR —- #5 NFL
  • 82.1 —- CIN —- #8 NFL
  • 75.5 —- ARI —- #17 NFL

What hurt the Cardinals’ overall grade here was their sub-par performances in the running game.

Passing:

  • 89.5 —- CIN —- #2 NFL
  • 83.8 —- ARI —- #5 NFL
  • 79.3 —- LAR —- #10 NFL

Imagine what the Cardinals’ passing game offense would look like with stronger talent at WR. Dissenters who want to trade away Kyler Murray, conveniently ignore a grade like this.

Pass Blocking:

  • 81.2 —- LAR —- #2 NFL
  • 67.8 —- ARI —- #16 NFL
  • 56.9 —- CIN —- #25 NFL

Imagine what the Cardinals’ passing game would look like with stronger pass protection. It’s quite a testament to Joe Burrow and his receivers that they have the #2 passing grade behind one of the poorest pass blocking lines in the NFL. Of course, we saw how the Burrow and the Bengals prevailed over the #1 seed Titans despite the QB being sacked 9 time. I have been talking about how brilliant a super-prepared Matthew Stafford is at making pre-snap protection calls. Kudos to him and the Rams for being #2 in the NFL in pass blocking. Chalk that up to their coaches, Matthew Stafford and their toughness and discipline across the OL.

Receiving:

  • 82.0 —- CIN —- #3 NFL
  • 79.6 —- ARI —- #7 NFL
  • 79.7 —- LAR —- #8 NFL

This is an amazing grade for the Cardinals this year seeing as DeAndre Hopkins was injured and out for as many games as he was. This top ten grade for the Cardinals is a testament to Kyler Murray’s and Colt McCoy’s accuracy and to how well the Cardinals catch the football.

Running Game:

  • 81.3 —- CIN —- #15 NFL
  • 74.4 —- LAR —- #16 NFL
  • 68.6 —- ARI —- #27 NFL

Balance on offense is very difficult to achieve in the NFL. Teams that like to pass a lot, typically do not have one of the top ranked running games, Such is the case here. But, the truth is, the Cardinals’ running game is significantly worse than the Bengals’ and Rams’.

Run Blocking:

  • 75.9 —- LAR —- #11 NFL
  • 68.6 —- CIN —- $13 NFL
  • 54.4 —- ARI —- #30 NFL

Those are commendable grades for the Rams and Bengals. However, the Cardinals poor run blocking grade, unfortunately, puts into question the kind of coaching the Cardinals are getting from run game coordinator and OL coach Sean Kugler and his assistant Brian Natkin. Think of how much pressure a good running game would take away from Kyler Murray and how a strong running attack would open up the play action game.

As I have been mentioning on the Red Rain podcasts, the Cardinals’ OL seems to have trouble getting off the ball on the snap and as a whole they tend to stand up on the snap, thus negating most of the power in their lower bodies and legs. What I see is a whole lot of arm wrestling, which is no way to run block. Good run blocking requires knee bending, rolling the hips and leveraging the opponent with feet chopping, then drive blocking the defender to open holes.

The Cardinals have also been refusing to use a fullback and thus rarely get second level blocks on the likes of Fred Warner, Bobby Wagner and Troy Reader.

In my opinion, the three greatest weaknesses on the Cardinals team are run blocking, run defense and zone pass coverage. Four coaches who need to step up big-time are RGC/OLC Sean Kugler, DC Vance Joseph, DLC Brentson Buckner and ILBC Billy Davis.

The Rams and Bengals have stronger coaches at those spots.

On offense, the Rams and Bengals have drafted and developed their talent much better than the Cardinals.

This year the Cardinals only started 3 of their own draft picks on offense (Murray, Kirk and Humphries). I didn’t include Chase Edmonds because of the games he missed and because James Conner earned a Pro Bowl invite.

This year the Bengals started 8 of their own draft picks on offense. The Rams started 5.

Because of the Cardinals’ draft woes and the coaches’ slow development of young talent, this further calls into question whether Steve Keim is doing a strong enough job to build the Cardinals into a Super Bowl contender.

Lastly, the Bengals and Rams had the luxury of keeping their top players healthy. Alas, the Cardinals did not, losing WR DeAndre Hopkins, C Rodney Hudson (5 games), QB Kyler Murray (3 games), RB Chase Edmonds (3 games), RG Justin Murray (IR) and Rondale Moore (3 games).

I kind of find it curious that so many Arizona pundits and fans thought that the Cardinals should have won anyway.

If you take the Bengals and Rams’ WR1s (Chase and Kupp) out of their lineups for the last 5 games —- would the Bengals and Rams have won without them?

Tomorrow, we take a close look at the positions on defense.

Was this ok by you, Somebody’s Son?

Thank you again for the suggestion.

What are your takeaways, ROTB?