The Arizona Cardinals will look a lot different than they did in 2018, this season. There are plenty of new faces within the organization at the most important pieces of a franchise.
First, the Cardinals fired Steve Wilks after one season with the organization. To replace Wilks, Arizona decided to take a chance on an offensive-minded coach from the college ranks in Kliff Kingsbury.
Also, the Cardinals shipped Josh Rosen to the Miami Dolphins after just one season under center—similar to Wilks. Cardinals GM Steve Keim made moves that showed he knew he made some mistakes, but is committed to trying to turn things around quickly.
Before trading Rosen, Arizona used their number one pick on Kyler Murray, the reigning Heisman trophy winner. Murray was one of the most exciting college football players we’ve seen in recent history. His arrival along with Kingsbury being hired has people thinking highly of the Cardinals offense.
Whether or not the offense is improved this season remains to be seen. In a loaded NFC West, the Cardinals have a few areas of concern heading into the 2019 season. Here are those concerns that surround the team that resides in sunny Arizona.
3. The Run Defense
One of the worst aspects of the Cardinals in 2018 was their abysmal run defense. In 2018, Arizona ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed.
In the NFC West, the Cardinals are going to face Todd Gurley, Chris Carson, and Tevin Coleman twice a season. Last season, the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks both were top five in rushing offense.
Undoubtedly, facing the Cardinals’ run defense helped both of those teams run for even more yards on the ground. Even the San Francisco 49ers were the 13th ranked rushing offense.
Although, their run defense could’ve been out of sorts due to the switch from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defensive scheme under Wilks. In 2019, Arizona is returning to a 3-4 scheme under Vance Joseph and hopefully, that helps the Cardinals improve their ability to stop the run.
2. Getting David Johnson Back on Track
Heading into the 2018 season, David Johnson was returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for the majority of the 2017 campaign. The young running back was ascending into being one of the best running backs in the NFL before last season.
The expectations were high for Johnson returning from his injury but things didn’t go as expected for the Cardinals ball carrier. Johnson finished 2018 with 940 yards on 258 carries and seven carries. He also hauled in 50 passes for 446 yards in the passing game.
Just three seasons ago, Johnson rushed for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns with 80 receptions and 879 yards through the air. The Cardinals and Kingsbury are hoping to get that production from Johnson once again.
There were a lot of pieces that played a part in Johnson struggling last year. This year, Arizona will be focused on getting Johnson back on track to being one of the best dual-threat running backs in the NFL again.
1. Protecting Kyler Murray
Again, the Cardinals decided to use the number one overall pick to select Kyler Murray out of Oklahoma. Murray is coming off of a season in college where he won the Heisman trophy due to his ability to make plays with his legs.
Putting him in Kingsbury’s offense seems like a recipe for success but people tend to realize how the offensive line struggled in 2018. In 2018, the Cardinals allowed 52 sacks which was tied for fifth-most in the NFL.
As a corresponding move, the Cardinals added J.R. Sweezy and Marcus Gilbert in hopes to protect their new prized possession in Murray. Scouts and other media members are worried about the rookie quarterback being able to stay healthy due to his size—or lack thereof.
Keeping him protected doesn’t just include the offensive line keeping him upright in the passing game. With Murray, as a coach, you have to worry about him taking unnecessary hits when he puts his head down and scrambles. The coaching staff is going to have to work with Murray on avoiding huge hits by stepping out of bounds, sliding, etc.
Murray’s success is directly linked to the success of the Cardinals franchise moving forward. Therefore, protecting Murray is the biggest area of concern for Arizona in 2019.