Arizona head coach Steve Wilks made no secret of what his offense would do in the desert. In Week 1, the Cardinals immediately lined up in a heavy set with 2 tight ends and fed the ball to their best RB, one of the NFL’s most popular Fantasy draft picks in David Johnson.
Johnson shot through a few holes, the team advanced the ball cautiously with Sam Bradford at the helm, and punted the ball downfield. So far, so good, at least as far as game-opening tactics go.
There’s only one caveat to the age-old strategy of whacking the defense, playing patient and winning the turnover battle. You have to play excellent defense on your own accord.
The Arizona Cardinals have one of the worst defenses in the league, a porous unit with scattered play-maker types who are losing at the line of scrimmage. Only an exciting rookie QB entering the stage (and a mediocre opponent) has kept the point spread tight as the Big Red prepare to host the Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football.
Who: Denver Broncos at Arizona Cardinals
When: Thursday, October 18th, 8:20 PM
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ
Lines: DEN (-2.5) at AZ (+2.5) / O/U Total: (40)
After a 2-0 start, Vance Joseph’s seat is starting to heat up in Denver. The Broncos have dropped 4 in a row to fall to 2-4. While it may seem like the Bronco defense shut down the potent L.A. offense in Sunday’s 23-20 loss, the Rams’ lowest scoring output on the season, it really didn’t – Todd Gurley ran for 208 yards.
The week prior, the Broncos gave up 219 yards on the ground to Isiah Crowell. A unit that allowed only 89.4 yards rushing in 2017 is now among the worst in the league at run defense.
So the defense isn’t playing well, that makes it a really good thing John Elway went out and spent money on another free agent QB, right?
Ha. Not exactly. The Broncos are average in passing yards (263.5 per game, 16th in the league), but Case Keenum has made some back-breaking on-field decisions to make those statistics worse than they look. Keenum is tied for the league lead with 8 interceptions, and he’s thrown only 7 touchdowns.
Denver may have found a gem in undrafted rookie RB Phillip Linsday (14th in the NFL in rushing), but their O-line is starting to look very thin. Denver lost guard Ronald Leary to a torn Achilles this week just as Jared Veldheer has been missing starts with a knee injury.
Despite the 1-5 start, there’s a new sense of hope in the desert. Rookie QB Josh Rosen (the Cardinals’ 10th overall pick in 2018) has been far from perfect, but he’s making enough throws to give Cardinals fans reasons for optimism.
It’s Rosen’s team now, according to a leader’s leader in the receiving corps:
Despite the rumor by a local beat reporter that there is unhappiness in the Cardinals locker room and perhaps some division as to who the starting quarterback should be, everything anyone on the team is saying publicly about rookie QB Josh Rosen is great. The reputation he had coming out of the draft of being difficult to coach and not a good teammate is proving to be quite questionable. According to ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss, Rosen is well-liked by his teammates and he has become a leader on the team.
Of all the things his teammates said in Weinfuss’ story, the one that stands out most is a quote from Larry Fitzgerald. “This is his team,” Fitzgerald said. “He’ll be the guy here for the next 10-plus years, God willing. I love the way he’s kind of taken the reins, is vocal, lets people know exactly what he wants. He wants the best out of everybody.”
Rosen has taken over as the leader of film study on offense, something Sam Bradford began as the starter. Perhaps there have been some players who think Bradford was the better option as starter for now. But with a couple of more games under his belt and more of what Rosen has done as a leader, those players will be won over like it seems almost everyone else has.
I’m sure there was a locker room controversy over who should start at QB. Then Fitzgerald said 5 words to everyone, and the desert sands parted.
Rosen is 1-2, throwing for 626 yards on 55.6% completions with 2 TDs and 2 interceptions. He’s grading much higher than Sam Darnold or Josh Allen…but he still leads a 1-5 team.
The Cardinals run defense is atrocious and their rush offense isn’t looking much better, despite having a $39-million RB in David Johnson. In Sunday’s 27-17 loss to the Vikings, Minnesota ran the ball for 32 times for 195 yards (they came in ranked 31st in the NFL in rush yards). Since signing his contract extension, David Johnson is yet to rush for more than 71 yards in a game, and is averaging only 3.2 yards per carry.
I’m thinking this contest will be close and potentially much higher-scoring than anticipated. While the Cardinals have a chance to win, the likelihood of a shoot-out as 2 aggressive QBs face 2 ailing defenses means that the favorite is more likely to win by 3+ points.
Take Denver ATS and Over (40), and watch that “correlated” parlay!