After struggling throughout the preseason, rookie Brandon Williams was exposed as a coverage liability opposite Patrick Peterson in the season-opening loss to the New England Patriots.
Simon is an intriguing flyer for Arizona. Although injuries and inconsistency have limited him to just five starts in three seasons, it was less than two months ago when All-Pro Richard Sherman reiterated a prediction that Simon will ultimately be viewed as the better player “by the time it’s all said and done.”
The absence of Doug Martin contributed heavily to Tampa Bay’s struggles on offense. The Bucs’ irreplacable running back left in the second quarter with a hamstring injury and did not return. Tampa was not able to establish any semblance of a running game following his exit, forcing Winston to attempt desperate passes to Evans and company. If the Bucs lose Martin for an extended period of time, that will spell trouble for a promising Tampa offense.
4. Patrick Peterson’s matchup with Bucs wideout Mike Evans bore some great plays on both sides of the ball. Arizona’s top cover man led off the pick parade of Winston with an end-zone interception on Tampa’s first drive. Evans followed with an impressive back-shoulder touchdown grab once the game was settled in the third, beating Pat P off the line of scrimmage. With all the talk about fellow corner Josh Norman following lesser opposing wideouts, Peterson reminded the league that he shouldn’t be overlooked as a top-three corner, and a fearless one at that.
An offense built to win through the air saw Carson Palmer regress while the wide receivers behind Larry Fitzgerald faceplanted. The league’s most dynamic attack in 2015 is now borderline one-dimensional, overly reliant upon David Johnson’s sublime playmaking ability.
A defense that overcompensated for the disappointing offense last season just lost a breakout star at safety (Tony Jefferson) and one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in football (Calais Campbell) to free agency. Perhaps just as troublesome, Tyrann Mathieu has shown few signs of recapturing the pre-injury form that propelled him into the Defensive Player of the Year discussion prior to his late-season ACL tear in 2015.
Football Outsiders gives the Cardinals just a 15.3 percent chance of reaching the postseason. There’s reason to believe, however, that the season could take a turn for the better in the second half.
Point differential has always been a more accurate indicator of future won-loss record than current won-loss record. As ESPN’s Bill Barnwell recently pointed out, the 13-3 Cardinals of 2015 were closer to an 11.9-win team while this year’s point differential suggests a 10.2-win squad.
The Cardinals need to take a long look in the mirror and realize their strength, which lies in the backfield. Palmer still brings it from time to time, but he’s showing signs of his age (especially when under pressure) and it’s hampering Arizona’s offense. David Johnson broke 100 yards and scored a rushing touchdown, while also catching seven passes for 57 yards and another score, and Andre Ellington made a cameo on five carries for 21 yards, showing the bursts of speed that had Cardinals coaches and fans salivating just two seasons ago. That pairing can be lethal when turned to with volume. It’s hard to come back from a multiple-score deficit on the ground, but a slight shift to the run could have prevented Rhodes’ pick-six, caught on the goal line with Arizona deep in the red zone.
Welcome back, Cordarrelle Patterson. Sent to the abyss of the bench for effort issues and struggles with running precise routes, Patterson made the most of his appearances Sunday, catching four passes for 53 yards and taking a kick return 104 yards to the house for a big score. Patterson has long been known as a gazelle with top-flight speed, but a below-average receiver. It’s fun when he gets the ball in space, though, and it’s not too difficult to run a drag route against man coverage, as Patterson did in gaining a decent chunk of yards. He might never be the receiver Minnesota imagined it was getting in the first round out of Tennessee, but when added to a corps that includes Thielen, Stefon Diggs and cheap nfl jerseys and Kyle Rudolph, he can be a weapon when used in spots correctly.
The quickest way for Sean McVay to establish himself as a coaching wunderkind on this team would be to re-establish running back Todd Gurley and win some close games on the shoulders of Wade Phillips’ defense. Easier said than done. The Rams did a nice job bolstering the tackle position this offseason, but could still use some assistance at guard and center. Phillips could also use some help, with his cornerback depth chart beyond Trumaine Johnson looking rather thin. The assumption is that Philllips’ presence alone will elevate defensive tackle Aaron Donald into something otherworldly, but the truth is that Donald needs pieces around him to accentuate his strengths.
I’ve been going back and forth with colleagues of late as to what, exactly, San Francisco will do with the No. 2 overall pick. While that ultimately depends on how Kyle Shanahan views this year’s quarterback class, it does make sense for the 49ers to hit the pause button and wait until 2018 to take their passer of the future. A six-year contract provides unheard-of stability for an NFL head coach. Many mock drafts have San Francisco taking Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas, which would team him with former first-round picks Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner to form a potentially deadly troika of pass rushers. But because this is draft needs, it would not be right to complete this piece without suggesting a trade down. The 49ers need help just about everywhere.