The 2020 Cardinals relied on Murray’s sandlot techniques and 115 receptions by All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins to generate most of their offense, particularly after Kingsbury ran low on recent concepts. But to date this season, eight totally different skill-position gamers have generated a minimum of 100 yards from scrimmage. Thanks to upgrades at ability positions, higher play calling and extra expertise, Murray operates way more effectively from the pocket than he did final season.
On protection, former All-Pro lineman Chandler Jones has returned to kind after an injury-marred 2020 season; Watt’s presence has additionally helped a bit. Cornerback Byron Murphy has intercepted three passes this season after selecting off only one in his first two seasons. And linebacker Isaiah Simmons, the eighth general choose within the 2020 draft who couldn’t discover a position as a rookie, is starting to thrive as an all-purpose go rusher, protection defender and run-stuffer.
Most revealingly, the Cardinals rushed for 216 yards and allowed three sacks in opposition to the Rams regardless of the absences of beginning offensive linemen Kelvin Beachum and Justin Murray. Veteran middle Rodney Hudson didn’t generate Watt-level headlines when the Cardinals traded for him in March, however he has turn out to be a stabilizing affect on a once-shaky unit.
With their lack of playoff pedigree and a roster and training employees that don’t fairly match the mildew, the Cardinals nonetheless appear like shaggy misfits among the many prime N.F.C. contenders. Oddsmakers give them steep +1600 odds to win the Super Bowl, whereas the Rams crew they simply beat are at +800 and the Buccaneers, who barely escaped Brady’s return to New England with their dignity intact, are at +500.
Analytics, alternatively, are blind to such preconceptions. Football Outsiders’ simulation-based playoff odds give the Cardinals a 43.7 % likelihood of profitable the tightly contested N.F.C. West, whereas the Rams’ probabilities stand at simply 24.7 %. (The Buccaneers have the most effective Super Bowl odds amongst N.F.C. groups as a result of even the legal guidelines of arithmetic grovel earlier than Brady).
In some ways, the 2021 Cardinals resemble the early 2010s Seahawks, who tossed away the team-building manuals and staked their fortunes upon the too-small Russell Wilson, the too-collegiate Pete Carroll, some square-peg athletes like Richard Sherman and recreation plans and philosophies that aren’t alleged to work within the N.F.L.
Those Seahawks received one Super Bowl, reached one other and settled in as perennial contenders. After a false begin in 2020, the Cardinals could also be following the identical path.