Arizona Cardinals Recap - Week 15: Gaining Momentum
There is no better feeling than winning. The Cardinals played their most sound football all season and beat a good Philadelphia Eagles team. It was the first battle between the two Oklahoma University alums in Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts. D-Hop continued his hot streak from last week and Larry Fitzgerald made some plays as well. An electric first quarter led to a dominating performance on all three phases for the rest of the game. Sitting at 8-6, the Cardinals can easily lock up the 7 seed with a win in one of the next two games.
Photo: AZ Central
The Cardinals had a rough start; nothing new there. Towards the end of the Cardinals first drive, DeAndre Hopkins caught a short hitch route on the left side at the 5 yard line. As he turned up field, the ball was punched out and the Eagles recovered. This play was redemption for a missed Kyler Murray fumble a play earlier. On the ensuing possession for the Eagles, Jalen Hurts chucked the ball out of bounds while in the end zone. Because he didn't get outside of the tackle box (the area between the left and right tackle), this resulted in an intentional grounding penalty and, by rule, was called a safety; 2 points for the Cardinals. After a three and out by both teams, the Cardinals got the ball and looked to score. On the first play, the Eagles were called for a defensive hold. Next, Kyler hit Maxx Williams for a nasty 42 yard gain, which was then capped off by a 6 yard rushing TD by Kyler Murray. After a blocked punt and a TD catch from Chase Edmonds, the Cardinals found themselves up 16-0 at the end of the first quarter.
The rest of the game was pretty back and forth; the Eagles began to surge halfway through the game and the Cardinals kept battling. Kyler was able to use his legs and find targets in tight windows. The defense did their best to contain Hurts and not allow receivers to get over the top. All in all, it was a great effort by the Cardinals in all phases, and it resulted in a victory. Some key things I noticed: Chris Banjo is a good safety. He doesn't get a whole lot of playing time, but made key plays and followed his assignments to put him in good positions. Another player who we saw more of at safety was Isaiah Simmons. On most running downs, Jordan Hicks and De'Vondre Campbell played at linebacker, while Simmons played free safety; usually being the only defensive back over the top as Budda Baker would shift into the box. On passing downs, Simmons would move to edge rusher, similar to what he did in college. He came back to linebacker on some plays, but played the majority of his snaps at safety and edge rusher. This created mismatches across a battered offensive line and allowed our DBs to make plays on the ball. Zach Allen also had a career performance, with 11 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 1 QB hit, and 1 pass deflection. He is filling a void left by Corey Peters and Jordan
Phillips and this performance gives him a great amount of confidence moving forward.
Y'all know what time it is. It's my favorite time of the week, where I award the most deserving players from the previous game.
Offensive MVP: Kyler Murray
Kyler knew he needed a big game. He is the catalyst for our offense and he knows he hasn't done a great job as of late. His answer? Kyler hit 75% of his passes for 406 yards, a career high, with 3 TDs and one gruesome INT. He also scrambled decently, with 8 rushes for 29 yards and a TD, while losing a fumble once. He made some great passes, including two to D-Hop, a big jump ball at midfield, and a sideline pass to score the game-winning TD. He also squeezed in a pass to Larry Legend in the back of the endzone for his first TD on the season. If Kyler can keep this up, and post two big rushing games, he can finish with 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards (probably won't happen, but we've seen crazier things happen before).
Defensive MVP: Dennis Gardeck
Dennis Gardeck has been a diamond in the rough for our pass rush unit. Since the injury to Chandler Jones, he has stepped up and made big plays, even with a minimal 93 snaps. On those plays, he's amassed 16 tackles, 7 sacks, 7 TFLs, 10 QB hits, and a fumble recovery. 2 of those sacks and QB hits came in this past Sunday's game. As a percentage, he is getting to the QB on 7.5% of plays, not just pass rushes, which doesn't sound like a lot, but let me put it into perspective. If he kept this pace up, and played just as many snaps as Devon Kennard (321 snaps), Gardeck would have 24 sacks on the year, which would be an NFL single season record. Granted, he normally comes in during obvious passing situations, but this number is ridiculous.
Special Teams MVP: Ezekiel Turner
What a game for our Special Teams juggernaut. He made two crucial plays to set us up in a position to win. The first was a blocked punt in the first quarter. If the ball had a better bounce, it probably would have been scooped up for a TD. Later in the game, he caught a pass from Andy Lee on a fake punt. Although we missed a fourth down attempt later in the drive, this gave us an opportunity to hold the ball for an additional 2:41, which is huge considering the Eagles had the ball to end the game. An additional 2:41 for them could have changed the course of the game.
Unsung Hero: Larry Fitzgerald
Larry Legend getting it done. He set the tone, making a nice catch across the middle on the first play of the game. He would finish the day with only 3 catches for 35 yards, but made a critical play on a TD grab in the back of the endzone, his first TD on the year. I still have no idea how he caught it, but it was awesome to see him finally get a score and put us in a position to win the game.
Play of the Game: D-Hop TD
D-Hop is a living highlight reel. He made play after play on Sunday, totaling 9 catches for 169 yards and a TD. He did it in every way possible, catching jump balls in double coverage, taking short routes for huge gains, and snagging back shoulder passes. On his lone TD of the game, he ran an 18 yard fade route. As he approached the endzone, Kyler put the ball towards his back shoulder. D-Hop turned his back towards the sideline, while falling sideways, and made a great catch with a defender all over him. He fell into the endzone, maintaining full possession of the ball. This play would lock up the win for the Cardinals and would cap off another great performance by D-Hop. He has dominated the past two games and looks to continue that trend as we push for playoffs.
Photo: Arizona Cardinals
Kyler Murray has to be more accurate this late in the season. Although he played great, he missed an open fourth down throw, and threw a pretty ugly interception in the endzone. If he can cut his misses by half, and throw the ball just a little bit tighter towards the receiver, that would make a huge difference for our offense.
With that being said, the Cardinals are in a perfect position to push for playoffs and be a contender. With two games against an injured 49ers squad and a Rams team that just lost to the Jets, this gives us a great chance to get our offense clicking come playoff time. With the defense making plays and the special teams finally getting consistent, it's the perfect recipe for a deep playoff run and a possible Super Bowl for the Cardinals.