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5 Qs, 5 As: Air Raid, Kyler, the Apple Cup secondary, and Bruce Arians

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Cleveland Browns v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks have had their struggles against the Arizona Cardinals, especially at home, and Week 16 is a pivotal matchup if they want to keep hope alive for a 1 or 2 seed. Though the Cards are 4-9-1 and have won just seven games since the start of 2018, they have a potential star in the making at QB, are a top-3 rushing team in DVOA and yards per carry, and are coming off a season-high 38 points in a win over the Cleveland Browns.

They’ve also got nothing left to prove this season other than attempting to get road wins against the Seahawks and LA Rams. Can Seattle establish both the run and their dominance or will Arizona play spoiler again?

To get a better idea of the opponent, I sent 5 Qs to Seth Cox of Revenge of the Birds and in kind he sent me 5 As. Here they are:

Q: In seeing the differences between “starters” in Week 4 vs the Seahawks and Week 15 vs the Browns, these are the changes I’ve noticed: Kenyan Drake at RB, Justin Murray on the offensive line, Caraun Reid on the defensive line, Cassius Marsh and Joe Walker at linebacker, Kevin Peterson at corner, and Jalen Thompson at safety. First of all, any of these changes deceiving or incorrect? Second of all, which changes have sparked the most improvement and which are out of desperation and unfortunate circumstance?

A: Murray was splitting time with Jordan Mills who went on IR. He has since returned, but Murray has played well enough to keep the spot. He’s been a bit of a hit for GM Steve Keim who needs to start stacking those sort of things.

Drake has taken the reins as the lead running back, he is a good back who gets yardage that is there. He’s not a creator or someone who is going to wear down a defense, but he hits lanes when they are open and hits them at full speed, something that David Johnson was not doing. We’ll see what it means this offseason, but for the final two games it’ll be a lot of Drake.

Marsh is really the last guy who moved into a spot where there is a story and the story is they cut Terrell Suggs. Suggs had started hot, but seemed to fade as the season went along and became more and more apparent this was a bad team heading towards a losing season. It came to head the final game where he was basically splitting time with Marsh and was told he would have his role reduced even more the rest of the season. The team and Suggs agreed to part ways.

Kevin Peterson is now on IR, Walker was losing snaps to Tanner Vallejo who now is on IR so he’ll be playing more again and Caraun Reid is replacing Rodney Gunter who is on IR. Things are going well.

Q: I don’t think it’s entirely fair to judge a new offensive system after 14 games, we’ve seen that these things can really kick off in year two and sometimes without a lot of promise in year one. That being said, the hiring of Kliff Kingsbury and an air raid type offense was a huge move by Arizona and I think we’re all waiting to see how successful it can be with Kyler Murray. So, 14 games in, how hopeful are you for the future success of Kliff, Kyler, and the offense? What’s one missing piece you see as being the most vital to move the offense forward in 2020?

A: I think when you look at the Cardinals in just the scope of the Arizona Cardinals, you have to be happy with the first year results on offense from Kingsbury. The personnel wasn’t altered too much, outside of the tight ends and Drake, from what Josh Rosen and Mike McCoy had, and to see this offense go from one of the three worst in Football Outsiders history, to average (12th after last week). The biggest surprise is that the Arizona Cardinals have the second best rushing offense DVOA in the NFL, and while some of that is attributed to Kyler Murray, Kliff Kingsbury deserves a ton of credit.

He abandoned his 10 personnel preference and went to a more traditional 12 or 11 personnel base and went to work on the ground. It has resulted in an average to below average offense in most counting stats, still a massive jump from 2018, but it shows his adaptability and creativity. They need to get something out of the wide receivers around Kyler, the Cardinals suck at scramble drill when Kyler leaves the pocket, and they could stand to improve along the offensive line, who couldn’t, but overall I think you are excited about the trajectory they are on heading into the final two games and the offseason.

Q: Byron Murphy (Washington) and Jalen Thompson (Washington State) have gotten the most extensive playing time as rookies after Kyler. How would you rate and evaluate their rookie seasons?

A: Murphy started out hot and has really, really faded in the second half of the season. I think that can be traced to the rookie wall, but also asking him to play outside when his ideal fit is inside at slot cornerback. He has not gotten to do that much, and so they basically wasted his rookie season asking him to play boundary because of injuries, suspension and ineffectiveness. They said he’ll be in the slot the final two games to finish things up, so maybe we’ll get a glance at what he can do from there.

Jalen has gone the other direction. He has won the starting free safety role and is playing with a physicality I don’t remember seeing at Wazzu. Despite his lean frame, he is taking backs and tight ends on at full tilt and it resulted in a couple of big stops against the Browns on plays short of the line to gain. He’s showing he has the juice in the back end and could make a formidable duo with newly minted Pro Bowl strong safety Budda Baker.

Q: The Cards had 4 turnovers in their first 9 games and now have 9 turnovers in the last 5 games. Anything particularly notable in the differences between those two sample sizes or is it just good old fashioned regression? Was Kyler forcing the issue more often lately? Should he have more or fewer interceptions than his current tally of 10?

A: I think there are two things at play.

First, when the Cardinals are not effective running the ball, it makes it easy for teams to sit back in zone and jump routes and Kyler is still finding his way working through that. If the Cardinals are bad like they were against the Rams and Steelers, it leads to…

Second, Kyler forces things and plays hero ball. It leads to bad decisions and ups the turnovers. It was on display in both the Rams and Steelers losses.

If the Cardinals can keep Murray from having to do all the heavy lifting, it will keep the turnover count down. Murray is engineered to protect the football, but he was definitely pressing after the losses to Tampa and San Francisco. I think 10 interceptions and finishing with 12 or so would be really positive for a rookie.

Q: Not that things are perfect in Tampa Bay, but they’re on a hot streak, have a top-ranked offense, and certainly some excitement in the passing game. Of course, I’m referring to the season Bruce Arians is having, potentially turning around a 5-11 team to a 9-7 one if they win their last two games. The Cards reached the height of 13-3 in 2015 under Arians, then had two middling seasons, and then 3-13 following the departure of Arians. Any thoughts on a potential alternate history where the team retains Arians, moves on from Steve Keim? Is that a viable scenario for success with the Cardinals or do you think the path with Kliff and Keim and Kyler is better?

A: It’s hard to say. I think Arians message with vets had gotten stale, they did not have a post Carson Palmer plan in place and it wound up being the ruin of them. Arians bailed on a sinking ship that he was definitely partially responsible for. His all or nothing attitude and disdain for rookies made things tough.

All that being said, he’s a fantastic coach and teacher. He was great for three seasons at getting the most out of guys like Palmer, Drew Stanton and Michael Floyd, but he made waves with John Brown, D.J. Humphries and others that hurt the progress for the future.

I can tell you with 100% certainty the Cardinals would have been better in 2018 because Arians is a vastly superior coach to Steve Wilks and Mike McCoy, but I don’t know if he would be on the same offensive trajectory he has in Tampa with a room full of guys who were there before he got there.