While there might have been talk of a sophomore slump or another underperforming season from a still-green former college quarterback and college coach, it has all but vanished.
The talk of another rebuild year for the Arizona Cardinals was quelled this past Sunday, as a Kyler Murray Hail Mary on the scramble found offseason trade acquisition DeAndre Hopkins in the endzone to give the Cardinals a stunning 32-30 victory over the Buffalo Bills.
The victory definitely gave the feeling of satisfaction for Arizona fans. With the halfway point of the NFL season now well behind them, though, fans can also begin to smell potential postseason opportunities, as the victory put the team at 6-3 heading into their Thursday Night Football bout with their division rival Seattle Seahawks. The record, through Week 10, is their best record at that point since 2015, when the desert-dwellers just beat Seattle, were 7-2 and were atop the NFC West standings.
Comparing the 2020 Cardinals to their 2019 counterparts might be as pointless of an effort as a third coat of paint. The 2020 team through Week 10, after all, has already surpassed their win total from the entirety of last season, when Arizona, under first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury and first-year quarterback (and first-overall pick) Kyler Murray, went 5-10-1 and finished last in the NFC West.
For the sake of argument, though, let’s compare last season’s team to their current 2019 counterparts. Over the course of 2019, the Cardinals averaged 22.6 points per game, which ranked 16th in the entire NFL. Murray, in his rookie campaign, threw for 3,722 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for a quarterback rating of 87.4. This team passing attack under Kingsbury, in terms of yards and touchdowns, ranked 24th and 25th in the NFL. Although the numbers definitely showed the youth on the offensive side of the ball, the defense was much more of a work in progress. Although they possessed two defensive players in Jordan Hicks and Budda Baker who collected over 100 tackles each, Arizona’s defense allowed 27.6 points per game on average, which ranked 28th in the entire NFL.
When combining a youthful offense to a porous defense, well, the results are about what is to be expected. Arizona did not need to be told this.
Enter the 2020 season.
When looking at the 2020 offense, the improvements have already made themselves apparent. As the Cardinals enter Week 11 action, their offense is averaging 29.6 points per game, which ranks seventh in the NFL. Murray, in his sophomore campaign, has 2,375 yards and has tallied 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions for a quarterback rating of 77.6. Should Murray start all seven remaining games, he would be projected to finish with 4,222 yards, 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. The addition of Hopkins has helped Murray heighten his level of play, as the 28-year-old leads all Arizona receivers in targets, receptions and receiving yards (88, 67 and 861, respectively). Together, the pair has given Arizona a top 15 NFL ranking in terms of yards and touchdowns (13th and 12th, respectively).
Defensively, the team has allowed 23.3 points per game, which ranks ninth in the entire NFL. Baker, in addition to the likes of Patrick Peterson and rookie Isaiah Simmons, have brought a more aggressive style in tackling and in coverage and has led to more takeaways (Arizona currently has 12 takeaways, which is only five less than they collected over the entirety of the 2019 season).
Sure, there might have been discussion about Arizona undergoing another year of a rebuild before they went full steam ahead in contending for a playoff bid. The key word, however, is might.
Instead, the Cardinals are contending for the playoffs now, and should their performance against Buffalo be any indication, Arizona will make many teams think twice before underestimating them.