2021 Stats (rank)
Total Offense: 6,352 (8th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 50 (9th)
Offensive Plays: 1,126 (8th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 630 (16th)
Rush Attempts: 496 (7th)
Unaccounted for Targets: 166 (15th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 120 (11th)
Kliff Kingsbury is entering his fourth season as Cardinals head coach, and his team has made major strides each year. In 2019, Arizona finished 5-11-1 before improving to 8-8 in 2020. In 2021, Kingsbury made the playoffs for the first time with the Cardinals, finishing 11-6 and securing a wild card bid.
Kingsbury's offense is a version of the Hal Mumme air raid, which is known for up-tempo pace and a pass-first approach. Kingsbury's offense has partly lived up to those expectations. The Cardinals have finished fifth, first, and seventh in situation-neutral seconds per play in his first three seasons. They haven't set a blistering pace, but the Cardinals are consistently up-tempo.
They've been less dedicated to the pass, finishing 12th, 25th, and 21st in pass rate. In 2021, they were arguably a run-first team with a 0% pass rate over expected and a -2% PROE on 1st-and-10. With an exciting young quarterback at the helm, it's hard not to feel that Kingsbury has left some meat on the bone in terms of offensive output. In fact, it's hard to know how much credit to give Kingsbury at all, with the Cardinals' yearly improvements coinciding with Kyler Murray's development at quarterback. Still, Kingsbury can be counted on to call an up-tempo game and to operate a balanced, if not pass-first, offense.
Kyler Murray was playing outstanding football through the first eight weeks of 2021, ranking second in completion percentage over expected (which measures accuracy) and fifth in EPA per play (which measures efficiency). His ability to deliver efficiently as a high-volume passer gave the Cardinals a huge competitive edge, and they won seven of their first eight games. Murray then suffered an ankle injury and missed the next three games. When Murray returned in Week 13, he was not the same. The Cardinals limped into the playoffs with losses to the Lions, Colts, and Seahawks in three of their last four games, and the Rams dispatched them easily in the playoffs. Over his final seven games, including the playoffs, Murray ranked 25th in CPOE and 28th in EPA per play. Before his injury, Murray was more efficient than Patrick Mahomes; after injury, he was less efficient than Taylor Heinicke.
Murray may not be able to recapture his early 2021 form, but he is a better quarterback than he showed down the stretch. In his second season, he ranked 14th in CPOE and 18th in EPA per play. He should at least be able to build on those levels while healthy in 2022.
Murray will have to rebound without his top wide receiver to begin the season. DeAndre Hopkins was suspended for the first six games of 2022 for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. The Cardinals also lost Christian Kirk to the Jaguars in free agency. Kirk operated as the Cardinals' top option for much of the back half of 2022 and left behind a critical role in the offense. Fortunately, the Cardinals traded for Marquise Brown. Brown should operate as the Cardinals' top outside wide receiver with Hopkins out of the lineup.
Brown should also help the Cardinals challenge deep. Murray is a willing and talented deep-ball thrower, attempting 20+ yard throws at the fifth-highest rate last season and ranking fifth in adjusted completion percentage on deep throws, but the Cardinals also settle for short throws at a high rate, which is why Murray ranked 15th in average depth of target in 2022 and why Kingsbury's version of the air raid is sometimes mocked as the "horizontal raid." Brown has a career 12.8 average depth of target and could help boost Murray's aDOT from last season's 8.2. The pair also played together at Oklahoma and should quickly develop a connection.
While Hopkins is suspended, the other two wide receiver positions look clear-cut. A.J. Green will handle outside duties with Rondale Moore in the slot. Green is entering his age-34 season and unsurprisingly struggled as a deep threat in 2021. His aDOT could decline from last season's 13.1 mark, particularly once Hopkins returns. To begin the season he'll likely use what he has left in the tank to stretch the field in a low-target role.
Rondale Moore will have a chance to redeem himself from a disappointing rookie campaign. Moore wasn't terrible in 2021, but his opportunity was limited. He ran 293 routes, 300 fewer than Green, and was pigeon-holed into a gadget role. Moore finished with a respectable 1.65 yards per route run, but his 1.3 aDOT was running back-esque—sounding alarm bells for those who worried his size and college usage would not translate to the NFL. In 2021, Moore was hurt most by the fact that Kirk was the Cardinals' top option to close the season. Moore's size makes him a poor fit for outside routes, but Kirk is also best inside. Kirk ultimately led the team in routes while playing 78% of his snaps in the slot. This meant that even after DeAndre Hopkins was injured, the Cardinals 3WR set consisted of Kirk in the slot and Green and Antoine Wesley on the outside, leaving Moore as an ancillary slot receiver. This was an understandable coaching decision, but it was still a bad look for the second-round pick to play behind Wesley.
For the first six games of 2022, Moore should operate in Kirk's former role, giving him a chance to earn slot duties for the entire season. If he disappoints, Brown, Green, and Hopkins will likely share slot duties to close the year, forming the starting 3WR set.
Hopkins dealt with hamstring and knee injuries in 2021, cutting his season to just 10 games. He'll play 11 games in 2022, at most. When on the field in 2021, Hopkins was far less dominant than in his first year with the Cardinals. His YPRR dropped from 2.25 to 1.76, his lowest mark since his rookie season. Hopkins' drop in efficiency is a concern given he is entering his age-31 season and coming off a PED suspension. He will likely maintain his status as the Cardinals' top target once he returns to the lineup, but Brown should be a close second and may ultimately take over as the team's top option if Hopkins doesn't recapture his 2020 form.
Zach Ertz joined the Cardinals in Week 7 and was a solid underneath target, with a 7.4 aDOT and 1.47 YPRR. He should continue operating as a check-down option. However, Ertz turns 32 in November, and second-round rookie Trey McBride can be expected to eat into Ertz's routes as the season progresses. McBride will probably stop short of earning a split role this season, but a tight-end-by-committee by season's end is not out of the question.
The Cardinals brought in James Conner on a one-year deal in 2021. After Conner delivered an impressive season, Arizona let Chase Edmonds walk in free agency and signed the former Steeler to a new three-year deal. Conner will lead the backfield in 2022.
Conner had a big fantasy impact in 2021, a contribution the Cardinals clearly valued, but his rushing efficiency left a lot to be desired. Conner set a career-low with 3.7 yards per carry and ranked 43 of 52 qualifying backs in NFL Next Gen's rush yards over expected per attempt. RYOE tracks the location of blockers and defenders at the point of handoff; Conner's weak performance in the stat indicates his poor yards per carry was not simply the result of stacked boxes and inferior blocking. Conner simply didn't hit many big plays, ranking RB38 in Pro Football Focus' breakaway percentage.
In Conner's defense, he was somewhat impressive as a tackle breaker, ranking RB19 in PFF's elusive rating, and was a scoring machine, racking up 15 rushing TDs on 202 attempts. He won't be able to maintain that TD rate in 2022 but should remain consistently involved at the goal line.
Conner also showed some impressive skills as a receiver last season, delivering a 37-375-3 receiving line on 39 targets. He was efficient through the air, with 1.59 YPRR. That was good for an RB13 finish that placed him ahead of Austin Ekeler, Nyheim Hines, and Aaron Jones.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals' addition of Darrel Williams is likely to cut into Conner's receiving work. Williams played 398 regular season pass snaps for the Chiefs, seventh-most among running backs. And Williams was the receiving back instead of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, a player many assumed would operate as a pass-catching specialist in the NFL. Williams adds very little on the ground; he ranked RB46 in RYOE per attempt, RB58 in elusive rating, and RB59 in breakaway percentage in 2021. Conner can play like he did last season and still be a clearly superior rushing option to Williams. However, Williams is likely to have a role in the offense. Given Williams' skill set, that role should be heavily tilted toward passing downs, which will cut into Conner's receiving workload. If Williams operates as anything more than a reserve, it puts Conner at risk of becoming a TD-dependent fantasy option in 2022. Arizona's backfield should be fairly condensed, at least, with Eno Benjamin and sixth-round rookie Keaontay Ingram competing for what will probably be limited RB3 snaps.
The Cardinals' offensive line was average in 2021, struggling at times in the run game, but playing better in pass protection. They are projected to have four returning starters. LT D.J. Humphries made the Pro Bowl in 2021 and should be a reliable starter once again, entering his age-29 season. Age is more of a concern for the other three returning starters. C Rodney Hudson and RT Kelvin Beachum are entering their age-33 seasons and G Justin Pugh his age-32 season. All three players were solid in 2021, but the line is unlikely to make a big improvement from last season's average results. The Cardinals signed RG Will Hernandez in free agency and he is expected to start in 2022. Hernandez is a better run blocker than pass blocker, which should make Conner's life easier on runs to the right side of the formation.
PointsBet Over/Under: 8.5
Per Warren Sharp's strength of schedule rankings, the Cardinals have the league's ninth hardest schedule. In addition to facing the Rams and 49ers twice, they also play the loaded AFC West. And the Cardinals open up their season against the Chiefs, Raiders, and Rams, which is a brutal way to start the season without Hopkins. However, the Cardinals also play the Seahawks twice, the Panthers, and a Falcons team in Week 17 that could be fully tanking. Kingsbury is a safe bet to be outcoached in a critical close game or two, but I expect the Cardinals to ultimately have a winning record.