The Cardinals are trying to find their offense. The one thing that has been consistent – all-NFL, really – has been DeAndre Hopkins' production. And now we have that first moment with Hopkins (insert grimacing emoji here) where he hasn't practiced with an ankle injury and what does that really mean? A decision won’t be made until game day, and while I sit here now thinking I still think he'll play, it probably means a less-than-100 percent Nuk.
(Insert second grimacing emoji.)
Add to the fact Christian Kirk, another game-day decision, won't be 100 percent either, and it's easy to be at least a little concerned about the passing game. Maybe that's why it will be easier to get Larry Fitzgerald more involved. And why it's a good thing Andy Isabella has started to emerge.
It can't be lost on anyone that this was the week everyone was hoping the passing game would finally click, that Kyler Murray would shake off his three-interception game. Now you have to wonder about who he will be able to target. Hopkins has a streak of 21 straight games of at least five catches, second-longest in NFL history. If he does play, will he be OK enough to get that total again?
Going to be interesting watching those inactives come out 90 minutes before game time (or Twitter, if someone decides to leak what will happen to a national reporter.)
-- Big game for Murray, especially if he is missing D-Hop. It just puts a lot more on the shoulders of the kid. Hey, the last time he faced Matt Rhule, Murray threw six TD passes (and ran for another TD). I know it's not OU-Baylor. I'm just sayin'.
-- We knew it was coming, but the Cardinals are going to feel the loss of Budda Baker. Hopefully for just this game.
-- Haason Reddick may have to have a bigger role too, if Devon Kennard can't play. And what might that mean for Isaiah Simmons? With the safeties and potentially Kennard banged up, the Cards may need him to take more snaps just to get guys on the field.
-- We've talked about the safeties all week and then cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick landed on the injury report after getting a concussion at practice Thursday. He's a game-day decision too. The Cards are in better shape at cornerback than safety, with Patrick Peterson and Byron Murphy still there, but if Kirkpatrick can't go, they'll have to turn to Kevin Peterson. That secondary will be tested.
-- The way the coronavirus directs the rest of the NFL season will be something to watch. Before COVID-19, the Cardinals would've and wanted to stay back East for a week this season, and this would have been the week – between a game in Carolina and a game in New York against the Jets, in the Eastern time zone. That's not happening.
What is happening is the Panthers, who can have up to 5,200 fans in attendance for the Cardinals game, are going to use an expensive robot to kill coronavirus germs. It will be used in the locker rooms, so hopefully that'll be another way to keep the Cards safe as they play the first of three straight road games.
-- I don't know how the small amount of fans might impact things, but I'm guessing not a ton. That's OK with Justin Pugh, who said road games without crowds, not surprisingly, helps the road team's offense.
"I think it gives the offense a very distinct advantage," Pugh said, noting that Aaron Rodgers was able to work the Saints defense – in a normally raucous Mercedes Benz Superdome – with his cadence in last week's Packers' win. "Being an offensive player, I'll take every advantage I can get."
-- Two interesting updates to the NFL COVID protocols over the last day or so. One will impact the Cardinals. One, hopefully, never will. First, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to terms where players must remain in their team's city for the bye week – no jetting off to a long weekend of relaxation – and get tested. The other is if there is an outbreak with a team – players once they returned to the field would have to wear PPE/facemasks when they are on the practice field at all times (as would staff members). Gloves would be required for everyone, save for the throwing hand of the quarterbacks.
-- The Panthers had their way with the Cardinals last season, but that was with a different coach, a different quarterback and definitely with Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey had 153 yards rushing on only 24 carries (and another three catches for 35 yards) and had a long TD run that I think Vance Joseph is still salty about. But McCaffrey is out, and even with all the Cardinals injury issues, that's the biggest one of all this weekend.
-- The Cards' defense is tops in the NFL on third downs, and seventh overall. They are the second-best team when it comes to stopping teams from touchdowns in the red zone. Again, they are hurting in some areas, but that may be where the Cardinals must find their strength against the Panthers.
And with that, time to head to Carolina. See you Sunday.