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By the Numbers

The 2020 Cardinals Have A 2019 Browns Vibe

by Ian Hartitz
Updated On: March 17, 2020, 3:34 pm ET

The Arizona Cardinals are the talk of the NFL after their highway robbery of the Houston Texans. Overall, they managed to land DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-round pick in exchange for David Johnson as well as second- and fourth-round picks.

It doesn't take a football scholar to figure out that the Cardinals won this trade in a big way. Hopkins has averaged a 90-1,229-8 receiving line since entering the league in 2013, regularly offering an elite combination of route-running goodness and contested-catch ability. Meanwhile, Johnson has struggled to replicate his 2016 All-Pro form, notably going viral during the 2019 regular season for running like he had a piano on his back.

Rising second-year QB Kyler Murray now has a number of exciting weapons at his disposal:

  • RB Kenyan Drake's performance with the Cardinals extrapolated over a 16-game season would've been good for 1,628 total yards and 16 scores. He's undoubtedly #good.
  • Backup RB Chase Edmonds was one of just 11 RBs to average over five yards per carry last season among 68 backs with at least 50 rush attempts.
  • Nuk is anyone's idea of an elite No. 1 WR. He ranks first, second and third in receiving touchdowns, catches and receiving yards, respectively, among all WRs over the past three seasons.
  • WR Christian Kirk showed off his upside with a 6-138-3 performance against the Buccaneers in Week 10 last season. He didn't score otherwise, but has still proven to be (at the very least) an above-average option both in the slot and out wide.
  • WR Larry Fitzgerald will be 37 in August. Still, he set four-year highs in both yards per target (7.4) and yards per reception (10.7) in 2019, as the Cardinals' new-look offense provided Fitz with more air yards than he'd seen in years.
  • WR Andy Isabella never quite got rolling during his rookie season, although he was efficient with limited opportunities. Overall, his average of 14.5 yards per target was easily the highest mark on the Cardinals in 2019.

Murray's rookie season was marred in part due to the lack of playmakers around him. Of course, he still managed to make a number of breathtaking plays that showed off his remarkable dual-threat ability.

Now the offense might actually have enough good receivers to warrant coach Kliff Kingsbury leaning on his four-WR base offense more than ever before.

It's an exciting time to be a Cardinals fan.

There's just one problem.

I can't stop thinking about the parallels between the 2020 Cardinals and the 2019 Browns. There are more than a few similarities between the two teams:

  • Heisman-winning QB that was the No. 1 overall draft pick the previous season.
  • Young, first-time NFL head coach that demonstrated some play-calling goodness for portions of their debut season.
  • Stellar rushing attack led by one of the league's more-efficient RBs.
  • Bonafide-unstoppable No. 1 WR that was acquired in a Twitter-breaking trade during the offseason.
  • Multiple other weapons at receiver that are capable of making plays.
  • Unproven defense held up by elite talents at defensive end and cornerback.
  • Offensive line that was largely a below-average unit the previous season.

I want to focus on the latter point, as it was probably the single-biggest factor in the Browns' 2019 collapse.

The Cardinals currently have the league's 12th-fewest 2020 dollars devoted to the offensive line. They have some work to do if they want to bring back last season's group:

  • LT D.J. Humphries signed a three-year contract this offseason that will keep him in Arizona through 2022.
  • LG Justin Pugh is in the middle of a five-year contract signed through 2022.
  • C A.Q. Shipley is an unrestricted free agent.
  • RG J.R. Sweezy is a potential cut candidate considering the Cardinals would save $5 million against the cap by releasing him before June 1.
  • RT Justin Murray is an exclusive rights free agent.

Of course, this group wasn't exactly a sight for sore eyes in 2019 anyway. Murray took a league-high 48 sacks even though he had PFF's longest average time between receiving the snap and getting taken to the ground. Overall, the 2019 Cardinals ranked 21st in adjusted line yards per rush and 26th in adjusted sack rate (Football Outsiders). The 2018 Browns finished at 18th and 16th, respectively. The 2019 Browns released journeyman/starting LT Greg Robinson after the preseason before quickly re-signing him prior to Week 1 in a cost-saving move. This was a major red flag that should've brought our attention to the main way that Cleveland's loaded offense could potentially fail.

Flashy skill-position talent is great for the offseason and in Madden, but generally it's tough for any NFL offense to efficiently move the ball without at least an average offensive line. Right now the Cardinals don't have one, although there's certainly still plenty of time for them to address the unit in free agency as well as the draft.

One key difference between the two offenses is Murray's dual-threat ability. Sure, the young QB deserves plenty of blame for the aforementioned sacks, but this rushing attack also wouldn't have been nearly as effective last season without Murray orchestrating this system. Overall, the Cardinals (3.3) beat out the Ravens (3.2) as the league's best offense in yards before contact per rush. It's not surprising that edge defenders had a rough time accounting for Drake with Murray regularly threatening to create big plays on his own.

Pass blocking is the more-concerning feature here. Mayfield also had a low pressure rate as a rookie, but this spiked in his second season. Murray, like Mayfield, was one of college football's premiere QBs under pressure, but too many unnecessary hits has a way of changing young signal callers.

Murray, Drake and Nuk is a helluva QB/RB/WR combo to go to war with. Kingsbury's inventive scheme, combined with the presence of other talented pieces at receiver and on defense, rightfully make the Cardinals an intriguing 2020 dark horse in the typically-loaded NFC West.

Just keep a close eye on how they finish addressing this roster throughout the offseason. I want Kyler and company to be great as much as the next quarantined millennial, but failure to take this offensive line from meh to average could be the Cardinals' kryptonite in 2020.

Ian Hartitz

All things NFL. Great day to be great. You can follow Ian on Twitter @Ihartitz.