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Arizona Cardinals prove themselves to be pretenders with ugly loss

Vincent Frank

December and later has not been great to the Arizona Cardinals under head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Last season saw Arizona post a 2-3 record after November. Back in 2019, the Cardinals were also 2-3 to close out Kingsbury’s first season with the organization.

We’re seeing much of the same from the first-place Cardinals this season. Fresh off a 30-23 home loss to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 14, most figured Arizona would take care of business against a one-win Detroit Lions squad.

Sure the Cardinals were missing DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt for this one. That’s fine. These injuries could end up being an issue when January comes calling. Or so we thought.

As near two-touchdown favorites against the worst team in the NFC, Arizona didn’t need these two stars to come out on top. Right? Right?!?!?

Wrong.

From pretty much the get, these Arizona Cardinals were dominated by the 1-11-1 Lions. How bad was it? Detroit outscored the Cards 17-0 in the first half while out-gaining the road team by a total margin of 238-84.

Craig Reynolds, Josh Reynolds and Amon-Ra St. Brown did most of the damage for a talent-stricken Lions offense that looked the best it has in years in a 30-12 win. Jared Goff completed 21-of-26 passes for 216 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

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On offense, Kyler Murray just didn’t look like his former MVP candidate self. The quarterback threw an ugly interception and was sacked two times. Without Hopkins in the mix, Arizona’s wide receiver group struggled big time. It was about as ugly of a performance as we’ve seen from the Cardinals in some time. And it proves that this squad is nothing more than a pretender right now.

DeAndre Hopkins injury had obvious impact on Arizona Cardinals

arizona cardinals, deandre hopkins
Michael Chow-Arizona Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Out with a torn MCL in his knee, the hope is that Hopkins could return in time for the NFC Championship Game or Super Bowl. Unfortunately, this iteration of the Cardinals doesn’t seem destined to earn a spot in either round.

It’s really about Murray’s reliance on Hopkins than anything else. While Christian Kirk and A.J. Green have more targets this season, that’s primarily due to Nuke’s previous injury issues and the fact that Murray also sat out three games with an injury of his own. A better barometer of whether Murray relies on Hopkins too much would be a season ago.

Hopkins was targeted 160 times in 2020 for a target share of 27.8%. To put this into perspective, the NFL’s leading receiver in that of Cooper Kupp represents 31% of the Los Angeles Rams’ target shares in 2021. Imagine Matthew Stafford having to go to war without Kupp in the mix in Southern California.

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Arizona Cardinals’ struggles in the trenches

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Arizona Cardinals
Billy Hardiman-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into Week 15’s outing against the Lions, Arizona had yielded north of 100 rushing yards seven times. That includes 150-plus yards twice.

With the exception of San Francisco, all of these teams have one thing in common. They currently boast losing records.

How will this unit perform in the NFC Playoffs against a team like the 49ers, Cowboys, Packers and Buccaneers? All four team have top-end rushing attacks. And as you already know, stopping the run is paramount when it comes to controlling the clock in the postseason. In short, struggles in this area will keep Kyler Murray and the Cardinals’ offense off the field.

Related: Find out where the Arizona Cardinals stand among NFL defenses

Arizona Cardinals to face difficult postseason task

At 10-4, it’s safe to assume Arizona will earn a spot in the NFC Playoffs. The team actually had a chance to clinch an appearance Sunday against Detroit.

The question now becomes matchups and how these Cardinals finish up the regular season. They must close up shop with games against the Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks. Indy is coming off a strong win over the New England Patriots while Dallas continues to battle with Arizona for the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Sure the Seahawks are not really in playoff contention, but NFC West rivalry games are always hard fought. It won’t be an easy home outing come Week 18.

Arizona swept San Francisco during the regular season — winning by a combined margin of 48-27. However, the current iteration of these 49ers are much different than when the Cardinals faced them back in Week 5 and Week 9.

The Cardinals already dropped a home outing to the Green Bay Packers by the score of 24-21. They’ve also split with the Los Angeles Rams.

Right now, it’s going to be all about matchups. Unfortunately, the Arizona Cardinals have now lost two consecutive games with a difficult stretch to close out the regular season. Right now, they have to be seen as pretenders in the NFC Championship race.

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