Kyler Murray-Led Cardinals Are NFC's Most Dangerous Team

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystNovember 16, 2020

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throw to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

The Arizona Cardinals haven't enjoyed a ton of success as a franchise in recent years—since 2010, they have made the playoffs just two times and own just a single postseason victory.

However, things are looking up in the Valley of the Sun. By virtue of Sunday's outrageous win over the Buffalo Bills (combined with Seattle's loss to the Rams in Los Angeles), the Cardinals will head to Seattle in Week 11 atop the NFC West.

But the Cardinals are more than just a first-place team in the NFL's toughest division. With an explosive offense led by an MVP contender in second-year quarterback Kyler Murray and a better defense than many realize, the Redbirds are a legitimate contender to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LV.

As a matter of fact, after the Cardinals stunned a 7-2 Bills team Sunday, a pretty compelling argument can be made that they are one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL.

Maybe the most dangerous.

When I say the Cardinals stunned the Bills in Week 10, I mean it—when Josh Allen found Stefon Diggs for a go-ahead touchdown with 34 seconds left in the game, it appeared that the Redbirds were headed for a second straight defeat. But Murray was able to get the Cardinals to the Bills' 43-yard line, and on the ensuing play he uncorked one with about 10 seconds left in the game.

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Whammo. Thank you for playing, Buffalo. Here's a stake in the heart for your trouble.

If the Cardinals do make a deep playoff run, it's only going to move the trade that brought wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona in the offseason that much higher up the list of the most lopsided deals in NFL history.

Hopkins, who hauled in seven passes for 127 yards and that touchdown against the Bills, established a bond with Murray from the get-go. Through nine games, Hopkins has topped 100 yards five times. The 28-year-old entered Week 10 eighth in the league in targets (76), third in catches (60) and fifth in yardage (734).

While speaking with reporters after the game, Hopkins was quick to point out that of all his catches this season, his favorite was most assuredly his last one.

"This one is No. 1," he said, via Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic. "It was the winning game [catch], no question, against a playoff opponent."

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury went him one better, calling it quite possibly the biggest grab of Hopkins' career.

"It has to be the biggest one of his career, maybe," Kingsbury said. "I don't know, he's phenomenal. I went out of that game last week regretting we didn't try to get it to him in crunch time more. We had a good talk this week, and I've never been a part of one of those so I'm still kind of at a loss for words."

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Which of Hopkins' 736 career catches (playoffs included) is the biggest may up for debate, but what isn't is the effect that his arrival has had on Murray's development. Not that the second-year pro hasn't also grown as a player. He absolutely has. Combine all the factors together, and you have a quarterback who has made great strides in his second season and thrust himself squarely into the MVP conversation.

Just over halfway into his second professional season, Murray's numbers are up across the board. After throwing 20 touchdown passes as a rookie, Murray has thrown 17 in nine games. His passer rating is over 10 points higher this year than last. After being sacked 48 times as a rookie, Murray has been dropped just 13 times this season.

Then there's the running. Murray has already eclipsed his rookie rushing total—after carrying the ball 11 times for 61 yards Sunday, Murray is on pace to top 1,000 yards on the ground in 2020. Per Sunday's telecast on Fox, Murray became just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to run for a touchdown in five straight games with his first of two TD runs against the Bills.

His quickness with the ball in his hands is the stuff of nightmares for defensive coordinators.

Hopkins and Murray aren't solely to credit for the NFL's No. 1 offense in terms of yards per game entering Week 10. Wide receiver Christian Kirk was quiet against the Bills, but he came into the week averaging over 17 yards a catch and has as many scores in nine games this year as his first two seasons combined. Veteran Larry Fitzgerald isn't the dominant wideout he once was, but he remains a steadying force and one of the best blocking receivers in the NFL. Running backs Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds combined for 156 yards on 24 carries against the Bills.

Then there's Kingsbury, whose innovative and aggressive play-calling consistently puts all those pieces in position to succeed. The Cardinals offense isn't talked about with those of the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers, but it ought to be.

The Arizona defense isn't cat food, either. Yes, the Cardinals came into the week a so-so 19th in total defense and a not-good 27th in scoring defense. But whether it's safety Budda Baker, veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson or linebackers Jordan Hicks and De'Vondre Campbell, the Cardinals have playmakers on that side of the ball as well.

Many defenses would collapse after losing a player of the caliber of edge-rusher Chandler Jones to a season-ending injury. But Arizona's hasn't, and it has made plays when needed more often than not.

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Are the Cardinals the best team in the NFL? No. That title belongs to the Kansas City Chiefs until someone takes it from them, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are a perfect 9-0. The Redbirds aren't the favorites in the NFC, either—not when seemingly every other leading contender in the conference is led by a quarterback with a Super Bowl win on his resume.

But as the Bills found out in excruciating fashion Sunday, you absolutely cannot count the Cardinals out. They have a wide receiver who can't be covered and a quarterback who seemingly can't be contained. They are better defensively than Seattle, and better offensively than the Rams.

They are an extremely dangerous football team.

And the days of seeing the Cardinals on the upcoming schedule and smiling are done.