3 Reasons Why Undefeated Cardinals Can Get Even Better

Getty Images J.J. Watt takes the field before the game against the Los Angeles Rams on October 3, 2021.

Through four weeks of NFL play, the 4-0 Arizona Cardinals are sitting pretty. The Cards are a legit threat to the entire league and should be taken very seriously.

There are so many areas that are unstoppable to teams. Kyler Murray’s abilities and Kliff Kingsbury’s game plan to get everyone involved. Cornerback Byron Murphy has ascended into one of the best single-coverage defensive backs in the league. The defense forced two turnovers against the Los Angeles Rams.

So that leaves us with one question. Can the undefeated Cardinals get even better?

Absolutely. Star wideout DeAndre Hopkins has been limited in production since Week 2. It’s crazy to think that 33-year-old A.J. Green has more yards than Hopkins. But of course, he’s dealt with a ribs injury that could’ve easily held him out against the Jaguars in Week 3.

So what other places or players can make an even bigger impact on this roster? Now remember, this is easily nit-picking a 4-0 team. The list isn’t long, but there are some players that are ready to burst.


J.J. Watt

There was one instance where Watt was so close to getting his first sack as a Cardinal on Matthew Stafford in Week 4. The three-time defensive player of the year has yet to record a sack in 2021 and this is the latest he’s gone during the season without one.

But according to USA Today writer Doug Farrar, Watt is third among interior defensive linemen in pressuring QB’s behind Cam Heyward and Aaron Donald. Watt also ended up with the team’s highest defensive grade against one of the best offensive lines in football in the Rams per Pro Football Focus.

Here’s Watt along with Isaiah Simmons and Chandler Jones who roamed free on rookie QB Trevor Lawrence in Week 3.

Sacks come in bunches. If and when Watt records his first sack, don’t expect Watt to stop.


Chandler Jones

After his five-sack performance against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1, most people would think Chandler Jones has been cold due to his lack of sacks ever since. That would not be the case, as he’s second in the league in QB knockdowns, third with 15 pressures and third in tackles for loss with five.

Jones also leads the league in QB hits according to NFL writer Johnny Kinsley.

So how can he get better? It’s a matter of being luckier. The sacks can easily uptick for Jones and force offenses to lose more yards. The havoc Jones creates forces teams to double-team him from time to time. As shown by ESPN sports analytics writer Seth Walder, Jones does get double-teamed. But he’s also not as elite as others in the edge department in terms of pass rush win rates.

That could very well be due to sample size, but we expect Jones to get back on the sack stat sheet very soon.


Rush Defense

The defense has shown good signs in terms of applying pressure, defensive back play and forcing turnovers. That’s led to a DVOA (Defensive-Adjusted-Value-Over-Average) ranking of 10. There’s a bit of a trend in what department the Cardinals could improve in. The two edge spots in Markus Golden and Chandler Jones have done their jobs. But there have been ample times where the Cardinals can’t stop the run.

The Cards’ defensive line is 25th against the run with 4.68 adjusted line yards. Arizona was lucky in the Rams being down for most of the game, forcing them to pass. Darrell Henderson had 86 yards on just 14 attempts. Dalvin Cook went up and down on the Cardinals in Week 2, averaging six yards per attempt.

That means Watt, Zach Allen, Rashard Lawrence and others need to get on the right track.

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph pointed out gap control on the defensive front prior to the Rams game.

“If they want to be in one-back sets or empty formations, our rushers have to win and win quickly,” Joseph said on September 30. “But rushing and coverage go together. If the rushers are winning and the coverage is soft, it doesn’t matter and it’s vice versa. If the coverage is good and the rush is average, it won’t matter much.”

Joseph has done a great job with his defensive unit. If he can get his guys in check stopping the run, this defense can be elite.

 

 


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