The Cardinals have arrived at the bye weekend, and that itself is an accomplishment. In a world where the coronavirus – or the potential to catch the coronavirus – overshadows everything, that the Cards have made it though seven games without an issue is a big step.
So too is how they have played. It was hard to get a sense of exactly where this team was coming out of training camp, but here they are, among the leaders in the NFC, battling for the top of the best division in football.
"Prior to the season, just instinctively, I had a feel that we had a chance to be a pretty good football team," GM Steve Keim said. "I also felt like, if we were going to lose games, it was going to be because we beat ourselves. I don't want to say that with any arrogance, but at the same time the way we have lost those two games are because of self-inflicted mistakes. I know a lot of teams can say that, but I truly feel like, when we put it all together, and we do everything we can do from a talent and a team standpoint, I feel like we're going to be a hard out."
So what have the Cardinals learned at the bye?
KYLER MURRAY'S LEGS HAVE BECOME A MAJOR WEAPON
Kyler Murray's ability to run and scramble was always part of his game – it's why he was the No. 1 overall pick. But he and coach Kliff Kingsbury have unlocked the run in 2020. Murray is on pace for just under 1,000 yards rushing, he already has scored seven touchdowns on the ground and he is averaging 6.7 yards a carry. At the same time, he has figured out how to use his legs for good, avoiding sacks much better than as a rookie, having been sacked only nine times in seven games.
KLIFF KINGSBURY IS (MOSTLY) AGGRESSIVE
OK, so if Kingsbury had to do it over again, he probably stays on offense in overtime rather than settle for a second-down field-goal try, but truthfully, that was one of the rare times Kingsbury hasn't pushed it. He goes for it often on fourth down, he likes to up-tempo the offense. And it's paid off – the Cardinals are averaging 29 points a game and trending up.
DEANDRE HOPKINS IS EXACTLY WHAT WAS PROMISED
The Cardinals won the DeAndre Hopkins trade when it happened – that was a given. But Hopkins has been spectacular in his first seven games as a Cardinal. He leads the league in catches (57) and yards (704) and has already made a handful of crucial plays. As the Cardinals' offense evolves, it underscores how they needed a No. 1 receiver, and what impact Hopkins has made.
CHASE EDMONDS PLAYS A VITAL ROLE IN THE OFFENSE
The Cardinals will have to find out how to deal with the loss of Kenyan Drake, who has been solid if not spectacular the first part of the season. The duo of Drake and Chase Edmonds was as good as there is as a two-some. More falls on the shoulders of Edmonds, who, in his limited touches, has been excellent all season. It's only because he doesn't get the ball a ton that his year hasn't been noticed more. The Cards don't beat the Seahawks without his timely plays. He'll get more work now as the starter; he can't wait to get that chance.
THE OFFENSIVE LINE HAS DEPTH
The offensive line is ranked high in the key metrics, and even if the players themselves shrug that off, it's clear the unit has become something impressive. Some of it is the quarterback and the way Kingsbury runs the offense, but it's also they way the group has been playing – and even if a player has an injury, GM Steve Keim has finally built a unit that can survive some mishaps.
ISAIAH SIMMONS IS A WORK-IN-PROGRESS
It's the (non-)story of the pre-bye, how much first-round pick Isaiah Simmons isn't playing. Some of it is Simmons' inability to get any offseason work at a position for which he needed it at inside linebacker. Some of it is the realization that, at this point, De'Vondre Campbell is better for the defense. Simmons capped his first half of the season with a (soon-to-be) game-winning interception against the Seahawks. Will he play a lot more in the coming weeks? Hard to say. But barring injury, the Cardinals aren't going to put him out there just for the sake of having him out there.
BUDDA BAKER IS A STAR
The safety made a Pro Bowl last year. And then the Cardinals gave him a giant contract extension. Maybe Budda Baker was trying to live up to all that – or maybe Baker is just that guy. Either way, he has been one of the best in the NFL, showing it when he has played and proving it even when he did not (in Carolina.) Baker was named a captain after Chandler Jones got hurt, and it makes too much sense. He's become the heartbeat of the defense, much like predecessor Tyrann Mathieu was once upon a time.
BUT BAKER CAN'T OUTRUN DK METCALF
I mean, we all saw it. But it was a hell of an interception.
EVEN WITHOUT CHANDLER JONES, THE CARDS CAN PRESSURE THE PASSER
Losing Jones was crushing. The man is one of the best in the league, and the Cards lost in the locker room there too. But defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has found a way. The Cards still have 19 sacks, which is among the best in the league, and they are pushing the pocket. Now they have Markus Golden arriving to help. The secondary has played well, but the pass rush has to hold up its end of the bargain. So far, so good.
HAASON REDDICK, BYRON MURPHY HAVE FOUND THEIR SPOTS
Last season, Haason Reddick and Byron Murphy Jr. were basically playing out of position, and the coaches realized it. One of the goals this offseason was to get Reddick productive at outside linebacker after his struggles inside, and move Murphy from outside cornerback to inside. Those moves have worked. Reddick leads the team with five sacks and looks the best he ever has since getting to the league. Murphy, in his more comfortable spot, has made plays multiple times already in his second season. They are two of the reasons the defense has outperformed expectations so far.