The Miami Dolphins head west today to face the Arizona Cardinals during the NFL’s Week 9 slate of games. During this week, there are five games that feature two opposing teams that have winning records, with the 5-2 Cardinals hosting the 4-3 Dolphins. Both teams will be looking to keep themselves in the playoff picture with a win Sunday afternoon.
A lot of the focus for this game will be on the quarterbacks, where Arizona’s Kyler Murray and Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa both come into the game as the future of their respective franchises. Will Murray continue to prove Arizona’s use of the 2019 first-overall pick on him just a year after using the tenth-overall pick to select Josh Rosen was the right move? Will Tagovailoa, who made his first career start last week, take the next step in his development and flash the potential that led Miami to select him fifth-overall this year?
Earlier this week, I had a chance to speak with Seth Cox from Revenge of the Birds, SB Nation’s Cardinals team site, to get a better idea of what to expect from Arizona today.
The Cardinals appear to be much improved from last season, when they finish 5-10-1 and in fourth place in the NFC West. Currently, they are 5-2 in 2020, second in the division and just a game back from the Seattle Seahawks for the top spot in the NFC West. What has been the biggest improvement for the Cardinals from last year to this year?
I think the first part is simply they had a second offseason to improve what was an obviously talent depleted roster. The first offseason of Kliff Kingsbury was really focused on offense, this offseason was more about defense, although trading for the best wide receiver in football is always a bonus.
This offseason, it was almost all on defense and now you are seeing those returns with a massive jump in improvement defense wise.
The second part is the growth of Kyler Murray and the offensive line. Murray is on pace for 4200 passing yards and 30 touchdowns to go with 1000 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. He’s also the least pressured quarterback in the league. He’s learned how to use the offensive line better, to not run into pressure or out of clean pockets and when he does scramble, it almost always seems to be for positive yardage. He’s seeing the field better, but has room to improve which makes his season one to season two jump so fun, because he stills struggles throwing deep down the middle and into the 10-20 yard range to his right (the non Hopkins side) so there is room for growth. However, having the top offense (yardage wise) with a second year coach and quarterback is exciting and a big reason you’re seeing the growth from the team in year two of the K1 and K2.
Injury reports this week indicate our old friend Kenyan Drake is not practicing after suffering an ankle injury in Week 7. While the initial reports seemed to say he had a ligament tear that would sideline him for several weeks, there are reports now saying it is not as bad as feared and he could return sooner than expected. Do you think he has a chance to play this week? How has Miami’s 2016 third-round pick, and the man who scored the winning touchdown on the Miami Miracle play back in 2018, looked this year?
(Note: Cox and I spoke on Thursday. As of Friday, Drake was ruled out of the game.)
As of Thursday no, I don’t see Drake making a second miracle happen and playing against his former team.
He’s been really solid. He hasn’t put up the numbers many expected, but heading into this week he was on pace for just under 1,200 yards rushing. If he only misses this week, he’s still on pace for over 1,000 yards which combined with Murray’s pace and change of pace back Chase Edmonds over 500 yards is impressive.
Drake’s been a bit of a victim of circumstances this year. He’s having a nice season, but he’s rarely had the opportunity to grind out carries and work deep into the game and get those big yards at the end of a game.
This season, he’s had little work with a lead or in a close game in the fourth quarter, meaning he’s not getting those big plays he thrives on.
If the Cardinals can start getting out in front like they did against the Cowboys, I think he’ll have better numbers, but the back half of the Cardinals schedule is rugged, so it may not come to fruition.
Another former Dolphins draft pick, this time a 2015 second-rounder, is on the Arizona roster. After playing inside as a 4-3 defensive tackle for Miami, Jordan Phillips is now a 3-4 defensive end for the Cardinals. While he is also on the injury report and not practicing early this week, how has Phillips played for the Cardinals?
(Note: Phillips was listed as questionable on the Friday injury report.)
He’s been everything they wanted. He’s not getting the sacks he did that got him the big contract, but he’s actually playing better against the run and is a part of a really good rotation up front on the defensive line. He helps this team tremendously by freeing up their backers to make plays and control the line of scrimmage. It’s been a good start to the relationship.
Okay, enough about former Dolphins players in Arizona, time to look at the Cardinals as a whole. Obviously, Budda Baker is a beast at safety and Miami will have to scheme away from him. What else can we expect from the Arizona defense?
The Cardinals defense has improved quite a bit and a lot of that is due to Vance Joseph and his evolution. He has become more aggressive and more exotic in his looks. He’s manufacturing pressures instead of allowing Chandler Jones to be the guy (since he no longer has Jones).
He’s using Baker in a number of ways all over the place and allowing him to dictate the way the Cardinals play defense.
This week will be a true test though because as hurting as the Dolphins offense is, the Cardinals defense can match it.
Two starters in Byron Murphy and Devon Kennard are both out with Covid-19, meaning we’ll see more backups.
Haason Reddick has been great this season replacing Jones, they’ll inject recently acquired Markus Golden back into the starting lineup.
It’s going to be a chance for Vance to do his best work.
The Cardinals’ offense, with Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, the immortal Larry Fitzgerald, Drake, Chase Edmonds, Christian Kirk, and more, are currently the number one offense in the league (gaining 419.1 yards per game), 14th in passing offense (258.4 yards per game), second in rushing offense (160.7 yards per game), and eighth in scoring offense (29.0 points per game). This is an offense that can attack and can put up points, so how would you scheme a defense to limit the Cardinals’ offense?
This offense has been great at manufacturing efficient drives. They drive teams crazy because they find a way to churn out first downs and be extremely balanced doing so.
The best way to stop them is to contain the rushing attack and force Kyler Murray to throw the ball without being able to scramble for yardage. Make him a pocket passer who has to win from the pocket consistently. If you can do that, you can control their offense, something both Detroit and Carolina did well. If you can’t, it’ll be a long day.
I hope it’s a great game for both sides and everyone comes out healthy, best of luck to the Dolphins!