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The Lookaround: What’s the state of the Arizona Cardinals?

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

To give you an idea of what’s going on with Seattle’s NFC West opponents, I did a little bit of research, inserted my own opinion, and then spoke to a writer from that team’s blog. Starting with the Cardinals, the expected (by me at least) fourth place team in the division.

Arizona Cardinals

D-Line Worries

Robert Nkemdiche, Corey Peters, and Olson Pierre could be the Cards’ top three defensive tackles but they’re all out for Sunday night’s preseason game against the Cowboys.

From an article titled “Former top pick adept at disappointing Arizona Cardinals”:

Promises of a healthy, productive 2018 for Nkemdiche hit a snag last week. The newly-appointed starter left the Cards’ preseason matchup with the New Orleans Saints early, apparently suffering from a foot ailment. Head coach Steve Wilks expects Nkemdiche to be back for opening day, but would it be surprising if he isn’t ready to go by then?

What Nkemdiche really needs to develop is some heart. Desire is instilled in an athlete at an early age, and isnt something that can be taught. Nkemdiche needs to start playing through the minor bumps and bruises, and prove to the Cardinals’ front office that he’s worth keeping around.

Defensive end Markus Golden is still working his way back from a torn ACL, meaning Benson Mayowa could be starting opposite of Chandler Jones to open the season.

Blake Murphy from Revenge of the Birds:

Nkemdiche development and having a solid pass rushing 3-tech is another concern

One player to keep an eye on may be defensive end Vontarrius Dora, a former undrafted free agent who has yet to really get NFL action but is getting attention during the preseason with his play.

Linebacker Injuries

Haason Reddick was the 13th overall pick last year and Arizona would obviously like to see him hit that next level after a very quiet rookie season. He had an interception in the Cards’ second preseason game, but real development will have to show itself in the regular season. Deone Bucannon is now a veteran leader on defense and he injured his left knee on August 2, holding him out of action for most of this month. Starting inside linebacker Josh Bynes has missed time with a neck injury.

Blake:

Areas to worry: linebacker depth after the starters questions about Bucannon’s size, Reddick in year 2 and Bynes as a journeyman

Cornerback Depth Issues

The Cardinals know what they have in Patrick Peterson, but the rest of the group is a concern. Opposite of him will likely be Jamar Taylor, who they acquired for a sixth round pick after he failed to impress the Cleveland Browns enough to keep him. Bene Benwikere hits his third team in the last three years, trying to make it as the nickel corner. Former third round pick Brandon Williams is just fighting to make the roster.

At safety, Budda Baker is certainly a player that the league will have their eye on as a potential superstar in the making. Tre Boston landed in Arizona this year, sharing the field with Baker and Antoine Bethea.

Overall, the Cardinals defense could have at least three All-Pros (Jones, Peterson, Baker), which is astounding, but many of the other positions could be so weak that overall it will be hard for Arizona’s defense to match their number four ranking in DVOA last season.

Blake:

Final surprise has been how the 2 corners after Patrick Peterson have played very well. Jamar Taylor looks like a competent CB2 outside and Bene Benwikere has looked to be fully recovered from his leg injury and has been making all sorts of plays on the ball. CB Unit is maybe strongest part of the defense overall.

QB at hand

Offensively, the franchise is now expected to be in the hands of Josh Rosen. I mean, that doesn’t have to happen today, or even in the next two years, but when you draft a quarterback 10th overall you hope that he’s going to become the reason you win a Super Bowl. Is Rosen that? It’s way too early to say if he’s Ben Roethlisberger or Matt Leinart (players chosen for approximate draft position only), but the Cardinals have some time to give him after acquiring Sam Bradford. That time is coming in handy now with Rosen nursing a sore finger.

Bradford has played sparingly, which is really all you want from Sam Bradford.

Blake:

While Rosen has looked good Bradford in McCoy’s quick horizontal passing scheme has been better than advertised and he looks good and mobile surprisingly. Unquestioned starter at this point

David Johnson and skill players

A lot of the focus this season could be on Johnson, who is looking to comeback from a lost year and get a significant payday like Todd Gurley recently did.

Rookie fourth round pick Chase Edmonds has had positive reports in training camp and the team would benefit a lot from having a back who can ease the pressure off of Johnson in his comeback season.

One interesting development at wide receiver could be seeing Chad Williams (98th overall pick in 2017) as a starter getting the second-most targets after Larry Fitzgerald. That may depend on how quickly rookie Christian Kirk is developing — and if Kirk is the number two target, then that is also interesting. Someone will have to consume Bradford/Rosen’s attention besides Fitzgerald, and Arizona has a lot of undeveloped options to start with. There does not seem to be much at tight end in the way of receiving.

The problem on offense may not be quarterback, running back, or receiver though. Much like on defense, the issues start up front.

Blake:

Also a surprise has been how good the top 4 rookies have been especially with how WR Kirk, C Cole and RB Edmonds have been and all are set for Year 1 impacts. They’re treating those 3 already as starters for the most part and Edmonds will be used a ton in the passing game.

Offensive line already hurt

Center A.Q. Shipley is out for the year, so rookie third rounder Mason Cole steps in. Left tackle D.J. Humphries, left guard Mike Iupati, and right guard Justin Pugh seem to be healthy and effective so far, but they’ve all got injury concerns lingering. If the group stays together, maybe they can survive the loss of Shipley, but one more shoe falls and recovery may prove impossible.

Blake:

Final concern is OL in pass protection and if they can stay healthy—lot of missed games on that line and just lost starting center and Mr Dependable in AQ Shipley for the year

Humphries and right tackle Andre Smith both got “stock down” notes for their play on Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys.

Perhaps the easiest stock down of the night, Smith had penalties, let pass rushers get by him, did very little in the run game, and all but looked like he didn’t belong out there with the starting unit.

On the other side, Humphries had difficulty blocking a motivated Randy Gregory and gave up his first pressure and sack of the preseason. If he has a good season and can prove himself to be a suitable tackle, the Cardinals and Steve Keim will reward him. But if his pass protection struggles like tonight continue, they’ll have an opportunity to move on and find a better blindside protector for their future franchise quarterback in Josh Rosen moving forward.

On Smith, Revenge of the Birds’ Seth Cox said: “This may be the worst signing of the offseason.”

Bottom Line: The Cardinals probably lacked a playoff roster regardless because of holes at key positions and sub-par options at quarterback, but injuries are already creeping up and forcing them to go with depth players who will likely make it even more difficult on their superstar teammates. The offensive line doesn’t seem to be capable of anything other than endangering Sam Bradford and starting the Josh Rosen era sooner than general manager Steve Keim might prefer.