People can’t stop talking about the Arizona Cardinals. I’ve seen people refer to the Cardinals offense as the horizontal raid. I’ve seen people say the success is bubbling. I’ve seen people pointing to the schedule whilst saying, “September is hard, October is easy.” It seems that the expected range of outcomes remains as wide as ever. This variance in opinions has encouraged me to breakdown what I believe is happening and what the future looks like for the Arizona offense to lead off this week’s article.
Arizona Cardinals Offense (Sources: Next Gen Stats, Sports Info Solutions, and Sharp Football Stats)
Background: Football is ultimately a simple game. To have the opportunity to throw the ball downfield you must be able to protect long enough for the receivers to get downfield. You can accomplish this goal by having a great offensive line, or by utilizing additional blockers. The Cardinals have a bottom 5 offensive line in adjusted sack rate, and Kyler Murray is throwing the football in 2.66 seconds on average. This time to throw is below league average. This combination would indicate that the Cardinals, offensive line is not good. Honestly, we don’t need data to back this up, but I’m sticking with the program. The Cardinals are putting a tight end on field way below the NFL average, and running backs are running pass routes almost every play. They are not giving time for routes to develop downfield, and it is showing in the statistics. Murray has attempted passes more than 15 yards downfield on 19% of throws. For comparison, Jameis Winston is at 24% and Patrick Mahomes is at 31%.
Projected ROS Outlook: Any NFL team can cover the deep ball if that is what they plan to do. Even the most talent deficient teams can keep offensive players in front of them if you do not threaten them in some way closer to the line of scrimmage. The issue is that unless the Cardinals alter personnel groupings the offensive line is going to continue to struggle. The upcoming schedule truly doesn’t matter. I was down on Murray compared to consensus coming into the 2019 season. As a passer he is making relatively strong decisions and taking what the defense is giving him. It is commendable for a rookie quarterback to be disciplined as he is, but he will not explode unless changes are made, or he start running at a much higher rate. Will there be players within this offense that provide value? Of course! Specifically, Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson, and Christian Kirk (whoever is the 2nd option behind Fitz) will be season long roster mainstays simply for the target volume. However, don’t expect this team to start winning games, or scoring 30+ points until adjustments are made. The ball is in Kliff Kingsbury’s court to do just that.
This isn’t the AFC North matchup we are familiar with. Up to this point the Steelers have been dreadful in the offensive run game, supported by a ranking of 28th in offensive adjusted line yards. However, they have been elite in pass protection, allowing 4 sacks on the season. It is normal for offensive lines to have a discrepancy in strength between pass protection and rushing success, but a gap this wide is not normal. The Steelers were a top 5 consensus line coming into the year, and that is where I believe they will finish 2019. The Ravens are currently 29th in total defensive DVOA. The Ravens have beaten no one, and while the metrics on the corners remain strong without Jimmy Smith if the Ravens cannot get to Mason Rudolph he will find success. Rudolph looked like a quick decision maker against the Bengals and was deadly accurate. Alternatively, the Ravens are going to be able to score on the Steelers defense. The Steelers have been gashed on the ground and are bottom 10 in generating a pass rush. The Ravens create conflict for the opposition, and the Steelers have no hope of maintaining the line of scrimmage. The total on this game is too low at 44.5.
Bad Jameis Winston (Source: Sports Info Solutions)
Yesterday, I ranked two Bucs pass catchers in the top 20 rest of season rankings. However, I have some concerns about the passing game for week 5. The Bucs have given up 3 or more sacks in every game this season, except for last week against the Rams. The advantage in the Rams game was a 21-0 lead in which the defensive pass rush had to be concerned with the running game bleeding the clock. The Saints front is an entirely difference animal from what the Bucs have seen this season. They are generating pressure on 37.3% of drop backs. The Saints secondary has not been good, but with such concentrated pass game options in the Superdome the Saints have a strong likelihood of forcing Jameis Winston turnovers. His career numbers in New Orleans are not good. Ryan Fitzpatrick was the quarterback in last year’s week 1 stunner. OJ Howard will once again be forced to stay at the line of scrimmage to protect. You won’t be able to sit Mike Evans, or Chris Godwin in season long, but in DFS take into consideration that this isn’t a slam dunk spot.
Los Angeles Chargers Defensive Regression (Source: Football Outsiders and Sports Info Solutions)
In 2018, the Chargers fielded one of the most versatile defensive units in the NFL and it was the driving force behind a 12-win regular season. The same cannot be said for 2019. The team has been decimated by injuries to Derwin James, Melvin Ingram, Adrian Phillips, on and on the list goes. They are currently a bottom 5 defensive unit in DVOA and have faced a relatively light offensive schedule to begin the year. The Broncos run game has an opportunity to find success in week 5 but this blurb is to keep the overall defensive regression in mind moving forward. A team with the offensive firepower to truly take advantage will pop up if this continues.