What to Watch For Season Opener: Cardinals vs Redskins
Week one has arrived. After months of speculation and preseason analysis, we have finally arrived at meaningful football. Breathe it in. It feels nice. The Arizona Cardinals season opener comes against an old rival from their NFC East days: the Washington Redskins. It’s time to take a deep dive into this game in this week’s What to Watch For.
What to Watch For: New Additions
The Cardinals largely retained their defense from 2017, and rightly so. They finished in the top 10 in total defense the last 3 years, and look to do so again. The offense, however, is a different story.
No matter who plays quarterback, it’ll be much different than the Carson Palmer/Drew Stanton merry-go-round we’ve seen the last few years. Sam Bradford is getting the first shot at the starting gig with Josh Rosen relegated to backup duty for now. Both quarterbacks are more suited for the west coast offense and its quick passing schemes. Palmer was more known for his ability to push the ball downfield, which suited old head coach Bruce Arians’ scheme.
Speaking of head coaches, one of the most important additions in Arizona is the head man himself. Steve Wilks takes over the squad after a successful stint as Carolina’s defensive coordinator. With his new coaching team in place, how they respond will be a factor in this team’s fate in 2018.
Of course, the rookies will show up as well. Don’t expect to see Rosen, but Christian Kirk and Chase Edmonds showed in the preseason that they’ll get their chances. Look forward to seeing a LOT of Kirk this season.
Bonus: Having David Johnson back from injury kind of counts as a new addition. He elevates the team around him.
Washington has tried to change their identity this offseason. After years of underachieving with Kirk Cousins, they traded for Alex Smith before allowing Cousins to leave for Minnesota. Smith has been underrated his entire career, and has the 2nd most wins among starting QBs in the NFL since 2011, only behind Tom Brady. They did not downgrade at the most important position.
The running game is a question mark. Rookie Derrius Guice tore his ACL this summer, and that is a heartbreaker. The bruising back out of LSU was a popular pick for rookie of the year before his injury. In response, Washington signed some guy named Adrian Peterson off of the street. Kidding. AP looked spry in limited preseason action and is out to prove his legendary career isn’t done yet.
Former Seahawks receiver Paul Richardson is another huge addition to a sneaky-talented pass-catching corps. Rookie defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne out of Alabama has Washington coaches excited, but this is a deep defensive tackle group, but the rook looks to make a difference.
What to Watch For: Stars of the Show
DJ is BACK. I don’t know if you’ve heard. There’s not too much to write that hasn’t been written. Arizona is excited to see this man play, and he’s been a popular name buzzing around in Offensive Player of the Year predictions. He’s set his goals on the rare 1,000/1,000 season (rushing and receiving), and he’s shown enough talent to do it.
The ageless wonder. Larry Legend. The man, currently is 3rd all-time in receptions and receiving yards, is lacing it up again for a 15th season, but he doesn’t look like a player in decline. The 35-year-old is coming off of three straight 1,000 yard, 100 reception seasons. Watch while you can, because men like Larry don’t come around very often.
Somehow Chandler isn’t mentioned as often in the conversation of top pass rushers as he should be. He led the league with 17 last season and has notched double digits in four of his six seasons. Washington has good tackles, so this will be a good opportunity for Jones.
The best man-to-man corner in the league faces off against a competent quarterback, but no all-star receivers. Richardson and Jamison Crowder are no chumps, but they’re hardly top-flight options. Josh Doctson has shown potential as a number 1, but Peterson has a great chance for a nice start to the season.
The best player on the team doesn’t get much attention, but that’s just fine for the Pro-Bowl left tackle. He’s in the mix with Jason Peters and Tyron Smith for the freakiest tackles in the game. Williams against Chandler Jones will be a spicy battle for the opener.
The former number 1 pick has now been replaced by younger options twice in his career, but this time he also replaces a younger option. How quickly he can master Jay Gruden‘s offense will determine if he finally has a place to finish his career.
This man will not like that I called Patrick Peterson the best man-to-man corner in the NFL. Norman has a propensity to make big plays in big moments, and he feels his team underachieved last year. He struggles against speedier receivers, so Washington’s coaches have to try to have him avoid J.J. Nelson and Christian Kirk, but the crafty veteran can make plays no one else can, even at a disadvantage.
The overlooked man in Washington’s front seven has been quietly compiling an impressive career over his first seven seasons. He has 71.5 career sacks during that span, including 13 last year. Arizona’s line will have problems with this talented defense, and Kerrigan leads the way.
What to Watch For: Key Matchups
Cardinals’ Offensive Line vs Washington’s Front 7
Throughout the offseason, we’ve watched Arizona’s unit go through injuries and promote rookies to starting positions. They’ve shown vast improvements from week one of the preseason, but this is a stiff first test of the year. How D.J. Humphries and company handle Kerrigan, Jonathan Allen, and the rest will go a long way in determining who wins this game.
Alex Smith vs. Arizona’s Defense
The challenge Alex Smith faces isn’t as simple as just the front seven. The Arizona backfield is just as dominating as their front. Patrick Peterson, Bene Benwikere, Budda Baker, and the rest have a history of success and built on it even further this summer. How Steve Wilks disguises coverages against the crafty Smith will be fun to watch as the game unfolds. Expect a lot of strange blitzes to take advantage of the athleticism all over the field.
Jonathan Allen/Da’Ron Payne vs David Johnson
Here’s the heavyweight match. Allen has shown to be just as big of a steal at the number six overall pick as we all thought. Payne has been plugging up the middle in practice and the coaches love him (though not as much as they loved Vita Vea). DJ is a transcendent talent eager to prove himself after a year away from the game due to injury. Johnson bounces a good amount of runs outside, but the collisions in the middle will be huge. That’s good football.