Scouting the Los Angeles Rams 2019 Opponents: Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

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The Los Angeles Rams  will play the Arizona Cardinals for the first time in 2019 in Week 13. The Cardinals are undergoing a lot of changes, but with an offensive minded coach, they will have an opportunity to take advantage of the talent that they do have. The Rams have  won the last four meetings and head coach Sean McVay is undefeated against the Red Birds in his coaching tenure. He’ll look to continue that this season.

Schedule

Week 1 – at Carolina, 1 p.m. ET – Opponent Preview
Week 2  – vs. New Orleans, 4:25 ET – Opponent Preview
Week 3 – at Cleveland, 8:20 p.m. ET (SNF) – Opponent Preview
Week 4 –  vs. Tampa Bay, 4:25 p.m. ET – Opponent Preview
Week 5 – at Seattle, 8:20 p.m. ET (TNF) – Opponent Preview
Week 6 – vs. San Francisco, 4:05 p.m. ET – Opponent Preview
Week 7 – at Atlanta, 1:00 p.m. ET – Opponent Preview
Week 8 – vs. Cincinnati (in London), 1:00 p.m. ET
Week 9 – BYE
Week 10 –  at Pittsburgh, 4:25 p.m. ET – Opponent Preview
Week  11 – vs. Chicago, 8:20 p.m. ET (SNF) – Opponent Preview
Week 12 – vs. Baltimore 8:15 p.m. ET (MNF)  – Opponent Preview

Recapping 2018

The 2018 season was, to be frank, a mess for the Arizona Cardinals. From a head coach in Steve Wilks that seemed way in over his head to an offensive line that was beyond terrible, things never went right at all for the Cardinals. After starting the season with Sam Bradford at quarterback, things went south quick, and the team turned to their first-round pick Josh Rosen. Their fortunes didn’t entirely change for the better and were never all that competitive at all.

Arizona reached 20 points just four times all season, going 2-2 in those contests. As it turned out, the Week 2 34-0 embarrassment against the Rams was a sign of things to come for the Cardinals, who would go on to start 0-4 before beating the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5. At least if there was one positive the Cardinals were able to take away from 2018, it’s that they won both meetings against the 49ers. In the end, those wins accounted for 67 percent of the full win total for Arizona, as they finished 3-13 and held the No. 1 pick in the draft for the first time in franchise history. The Cardinals fired SteveWilks after one season, and the Cardinals made a surprise hire in former Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

Biggest Offseason Gains/Losses

Gains: ILB Jordan Hicks (PHI), CB Robert Alford (ATL), DT Darius Philon (LAC), OLB Terrell Suggs (BAL), OG J.R. Sweezy (SEA)

Losses: FS Antoine Bethea (NYG), Markus Golden (NYG), WR J.J. Nelson (OAK), OG Mike Iupati (SEA), ILB Deone Bucannon (TB)

The Cardinals looked to revamp the league’s 26th-worst scoring defense in 2018 and added veterans on each level of the defense. The highlights of their free-agent acquisitions include a very talented linebacker in Jordan Hicks. Injuries, however, have affected his development, leading to the Philadelphia Eagles being able to move on from him. The Cardinals also added longtime Baltimore Raven Terrell Suggs to add veteran pass-rush ability opposite Chandler Jones. Robert Alford comes over from the Falcons, and his services will be needed early in the season with Patrick Peterson suspended for the first six games of the season. Darius Philon comes over from the Chargers and is expected to produce as a starter for the Cardinals this season as a solid front-line player. And J.R. Sweezy should step in and replace Mike Iupati, who signed with the Seahawks, at left guard.

With the emergence of Budda Baker and the addition of DJ Swearinger through waivers, the loss of Antoine Bethea won’t sting too much. Markus Golden never quite panned out in Arizona, and Deone Bucannon became incredibly lost in Steve Wilks’ defense. Golden will try his luck with the Giants while Bucannon should fare better under the eye of Todd Bowles in Tampa Bay.

A Look at the Draft

After the hiring of Kliff Kingsbury, speculation started swirling that the Cardinals would select Oklahoma quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray with the first pick of the draft. There was also the whole issue of which sport Murray would play, as he was still a part of the Oakland Athletics’ organization.

After Murray decided to commit to football and take part in the Scouting Combine, the speculation ramped up throughout the draft process. The team ultimately made the pick official and took Murray with the first pick. Of course, they also still had Josh Rosen on the roster, and you began to wonder how that competition would shake out. That dream ended the next night when the Cardinals traded Rosen to the Miami Dolphins for the No. 63 pick, which became Massachusetts wide receiver Andy Isabella.

Also in the second round, the Cardinals added to their defense and continued building their secondary with Washington cornerback Byron Murphy, a first-round talent in some eyes. Murphy may find himself in the starting lineup while Patrick Peterson serves his suspension.

In addition to Murphy, the Cardinals added defensive players in Boston College DE Zach Allen in round three, Alabama safety Deionte Thompson in round five and Temple DE Michael Dogbe in round seven. On the offensive side of the ball, besides Murray and Isabella, the Cardinals welcomed Iowa State WR Hakeem Butler in round four, Fresno State WR KeeSean Johnson and Georgia OL Lamont Gaillard in round six, and Morgan State OL Joshua Miles and UCLA TE Caleb Wilson in round seven.

Biggest On-Field Question

How will Kliff Kingsbury translate to the NFL?

We’ve seen college coaches try to bring their up-tempo offenses to the NFL and fizzle out rather quickly. The most notable recent example is Chip Kelly with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers. Kingsbury will be a compelling case with his Air Raid offense he’ll almost certainly bring with him from Texas Tech. The Cardinals also went out and added weapons for Kyler Murray to help Kingsbury successfully run his offense. The selections of Butler and Johnson, in addition to Larry Fitzgerald, Chad Williams and Christian Kirk, give Arizona and Murray a wide range of options to move the ball downfield. And David Johnson should be back and fully healthy, alleviating some pressure from Murray.

Depth Chart Analysis

Quarterback: With Josh Rosen out of the way, it’s all systems go for the No. 1 overall pick, Kyler Murray. Former Packer and Seahawk Brett Hundley will back up Murray with Chad Kanoff and Drew Anderson also in camp for the Cardinals.

Running Back: With a new offensive mind as head coach and a clean bill of health, David Johnson should emerge from the shell the previous regime put Johnson in throughout 2018. Also, expect to see some more of second-year running back Chase Edmonds. After that, it’s a host of bodies on the roster, with 2017 fifth-round pick TJ Logan, D.J. Foster and college free agents Wes Hills, Dontae Strickland and Xavier Turner. Hills was the back who stormed onto the scene during the NFLPA Bowl and scored a touchdown in the Senior Bowl.

Wide Receiver: Future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald is back for his 16th season in Arizona and expectations for second-year receiver Christian Kirk are growing with new head coach Kliff Kingsbury. The Cardinals also have a deep talent pool at the position with Chad Williams, a trio of 2019 draft picks in Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler and KeeSean Johnson. Former Chicago Bear Kevin White, Trent Sherfield, Damiere Byrd, AJ Richardson and former Ram Pharoah Cooper round out the depth chart.

Left Tackle: DJ Humphries has had an up and down career thus far since being a first-round pick in 2015 but will continue to operate the left side. Korey Cunningham and rookie Joshua Miles are currently projected on the depth chart behind him.

Left Guard: JR Sweezy comes over from the Seahawks to replace, and arguably upgrade from, Mike Iupati at left guard. Max Garcia and Jeremy Vujunovich are potential backups.

Center: After breaking into the starting lineup as a rookie, Mason Cole is back for his second season with veteran AQ Shipley backing him up. Rookie Lamont Gaillard was added as depth as well.

Right Guard: Justin Pugh returns after a bounce-back season after a rocky stint with the Giants. Colby Gossett and Reese Odihambo will join the mix during camp.

Right Tackle: The Cardinals acquired Marcus Gilbert in a trade with the Steelers earlier this offseason, and he’ll slide in at right tackle. Undrafted rookies William Sweet and Tariq Cole will compete for roster spots.

Tight End: Ricky Seals-Jones had a quietly successful season in 2018 and with a more spread-out offense, and a rookie quarterback, may see more work in 2019. Veterans Charles Clay and Maxx Williams are also in the mix along with rookies Caleb Wilson and Drew Belcher, plus Darrell Daniels.

Defensive Tackle: Free-agent acquisition Darius Philon comes over from the Chargers and will help spearhead the tackle group along with Corey Peters. Former first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche is likely entering his final season with the Cardinals. Not just because the Cardinals declined his fifth-year option, but getting pulled over in June for speeding and driving without a license didn’t exactly help his cause either. Rodney Gunter, Vince Valentine, Terrell McClain and rookies Michael Dogbe and Miles Brown round out the current defensive tackles.

Defensive Ends: Chandler Jones is still doing Chandler Jones things, and Terrell Suggs is changing birds. The longtime Raven is now in Arizona to aid in the pass rush. Arizona also drafted Zach Allen in the third round. Cameron Malveaux, Vonatamius Dora and Pita Taumoepenu are extras in the group.

Linebackers: Deone Bucannon is gone, but Jordan Hicks is in among the linebackers, and if he can stay healthy, he can provide a spark on defense. Hassan Reddick and Brooks Reed will likely flank Hicks. After that, the Cardinals are quite young at the position with Dennis Gardeck, Joe Walker, Peter Robertson, Dante Booker and Tanner Vallejo.

Cornerbacks: As mentioned before, with Patrick Peterson suspended, Robert Alford and rookie Byron Murphy will be tasked with holding down for the fort for the first six games of the season. The Cardinals also have plenty of veterans among the group with Brandon Williams, Josh Shaw and Tramaine Brock, along with Chris Jones, Nate Brooks, Deatrick Nichols and Tyler Sigler.

Safties: Budda Baker is quickly becoming a star in the league and the Cardinals took advantage of the Redskins cutting DJ Swearinger, creating an excellent coverage unit. The Cardinals drafted Alabama’s Deionte Thompson in April’s draft and also selected Jalen Thompson of Washington State in the supplemental draft. Thompson is a very good young safety who may have been a day two pick had he been eligible for the 2019 draft. Rudy Ford, Ezekiel Turner and Jonathan Owens round out the current depth chart.

Outlook for 2019

The 2019 Arizona Cardinals are getting a fresh start after a disastrous 2018. The offense is getting everyone talking, and Kyler Murray is going to turn some heads. But with that said, the offensive line needs to improve from 2018 vastly.  But at least David Johnson should be back to his old self this season. Overall, there will be a lot of growing pains with a rookie head coach, rookie quarterback, installing the Air Raid offense into the NFL and competing in a division with the reigning NFC champions, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks and a growing 49ers teams. The Cardinals may not hold the No. 1 pick again in 2020 but don’t be surprised if they land in the top five. Five wins could be this team’s ceiling.

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