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Cardinals' Upgraded Offense, Expectations In Tow, Ready To Go

Notes: Air quality still concern for game day; Joseph preps defense for tight ends

Tackle D.J. Humphries (74) pass sets during a training camp play in 2020

Even the late-night talk show audience is ready to see what the Cardinals have on offense this season, after DeAndre Hopkins made an appearance on “The Jimmy Fallon Show” Thursday night.

"I know the Arizona Cardinals fans have been waiting to see this new offense," Hopkins told the world. "They'll see it soon, make sure y'all tune in on Sunday against San Fran."

Once Kyler Murray won the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award last season, and once Kliff Kingsbury showed his ability to adapt his scheme to what would work better on the NFL level, expectations grew. They exploded when the Cards traded for Hopkins.

The Cardinals were second in the league last season with 5.0 yards per rushing attempt, but 22nd in pass yards per attempt at 5.8. It's the latter – with Murray's growth in his second year and the addition of Hopkins – that the Cards believe will go up, and with it, their scoring output.

"I'm pretty optimistic by nature, but just watching the development of some of the guys that were here last year and how it progressed through the season last year, and then watching them in training camp and where it's at, just their understanding of the system, the nuances now are coming into play," Kingsbury said. "Not just knowing where to be, but actually how to do things at a high level. It has definitely given me hope.

"We know we're playing against a very good defense Week 1 and are going to have our hands full. But I like what I've seen so far without having an offseason, I think we progressed well throughout camp, and hopefully that carries over."

It starts with Murray, of course, who has been brought into the potential MVP talk by more than one national analyst. The quarterback has talked about shaving the sacks he absorbed in half, and the way the personnel has been added since Murray first took a snap under center – key pieces like Hopkins and running back Kenyan Drake and tight end Dan Arnold all arrived since last year's season opener – can only aid the growth.

"I've repped these plays I don't know how many times, all last year, gone over them on Zoom a million times in the offseason and having the camp we've had … I feel like it's the natural maturation of playing the game and growing at this position," Murray said. "I feel way more comfortable than I ever could going into last season."

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald raved about how running backs Drake and Chase Edmonds looked in camp, and praised Arnold. The receiving trio of he, Hopkins and Christian Kirk already carried with it a good reputation.

"I love where we are and I love the personnel packages we have," Fitzgerald said. "We have a lot of weapons and I'm excited to be able to see it come to life."

AIR QUALITY IN THE BAY AREA IS CONCERN

Because of the fires around the Bay Area, the air quality index in the area, including Santa Clara, where the Cardinals will play the 49ers, is running near dangerous levels.

At one point Friday, some measurements had it spiking over 200, the threshold for which the NFL would not let a practice or game be held. The Cardinals are scheduled to arrive in nearby San Jose early Saturday evening.

"We're definitely monitoring the situation," Kingsbury said. "I talked with (GM) Steve (Keim) briefly, and I know he and (owner) Michael (Bidwill) and our football ops (staff) are talking through things and seeing where it is all at."

DEFENDING THE TIGHT END AND KITTLE

The Cardinals were always going to be wary of defending 49ers tight end George Kittle Sunday, given that he is San Francisco's best pass catcher anyway and how injuries have played havoc with the Niners' current wide receivers depth chart.

But the Cards spent the offseason trying to get personnel that would help with the situation, signing free agent linebacker De'Vondre Campbell and then drafting linebacker Isaiah Simmons. That was natural, after 28 total tight ends piled up a total of 98 receptions for 1,173 yards and 16 touchdowns against the Cards last season (including, interestingly, two catches for 25 yards from Arnold, who was playing for the Saints prior to being cut and claimed by the Cards.)

"Tight ends are unique because they are part of the run and pass game," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "If it's first or second down, and they are in a two-back set with one tight end, no one is thinking cover the tight end. So they get more fair matchups than anyone on the field because of who they are and where they play."

On third downs, Joseph said, it's easier for a defense to plan for a tight end as pass catcher.

"You can't push your entire game plan toward stopping the tight end, and that's what is tough in my chair," Joseph said. "You can do that, but give up 200 yards rushing. You have to pick your poison and by down and distance have some calls to take away the great tight end."

JOSH JONES OUT FOR SUNDAY

Offensive lineman Josh Jones (ankle) was the only Cardinal ruled out for Sunday. Wide receiver KeeSean Johnson, who was not at practice, was placed on the COVID-19 Reserve list.

For the 49ers, wide receiver Deebo Samuel (foot) and cornerback Jason Verrett (hamstring) are out for the game. Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (hamstring) and center Ben Garland (ankle) are questionable.

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