The exit of Patrick Peterson made cornerback a priority for the Arizona Cardinals this past off-season. The room was a point of emphasis and received significant reinforcement in the shape of Super Bowl champion Malcolm Butler, as well as two late-round draft selections. Although a young group, the Cardinals cornerbacks developed into somewhat of a strength early in the season.
However, after a promising, perhaps overachieving start, Arizona’s situation at cornerback is quickly becoming a problem again. Not only has the group’s performance faded significantly, but it is also starting to look threadbare. With Robert Alford on the injury report, Marco Wilson facing some time out, and the rest of the group underperforming, it is time, once again, to talk about the Cardinals cornerbacks.
Cardinals Cornerbacks Are Fading After Excellent Season So Far
It Starts With Byron Murphy
Byron Murphy is the last man standing from the projected starters at the beginning of the season. There is some comfort in the fact that whilst not ideal, if the Cardinals could choose one guy to stay healthy, it would be Murphy. Even before Butler’s untimely exit, Murphy was arguably the best corner on the team and Vance Joseph said as much. Early this season, he looked like it too. Fast-forward to now: Murphy still leads the team in interceptions, but he has essentially been a non-factor in coverage. Randall Cobb abused him in the loss to the Green Bay Packers, and that was a turning point. His excellent form before that game has never really returned.
However, if anything is indicative of Murphy’s, and indeed the entire unit’s downturn in play, it is the season series against the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams have 2021’s top receiver in Cooper Kupp, and Matthew Stafford has looked the part of the quarterback the Rams were looking for. In the first matchup, Arizona’s control of the game came from their effective pass defense early on. They took away the downfield bombs, with Murphy capitalizing with an interception, and largely bottled up Kupp. Arizona failed to replicate this success in the second game and they allowed Stafford to play a clean game, and Kupp benefitted with a 123-yard performance.
As it stands, Murphy is more or less all the Cardinals have, and he is not playing up to his standard. It is his responsibility to elevate the group, of which he is ostensibly the leader as a third-year player, with his own ability, which has already attracted league-wide attention this year.
Cardinals Cornerbacks Are Hurting
The group quelled concerns about their depth by playing so well early in the year and staying healthy. However, in reality, the retirement of Butler, unfortunately, crippled the way the Cardinals had constructed the group for the season. Wilson has been targeted a lot recently and has received some criticism for struggling, but he was never intended to play this much. Now, with Wilson possibly facing some time on the sideline, and Alford’s inevitable injuries knocking him to injured reserve, the Cardinals are looking particularly understaffed at cornerback, with only one healthy starter.
Yes, the Cardinals have some serviceable guys. Antonio Hamilton has been decent in Alford’s absence, and the team has brought in former Super Bowl starter Bashaud Breeland as depth. But, this late in the season, that is hardly a winning formula. And it hurts even more to see Rasul Douglas, who spent the start of the season on Arizona’s practice squad, now blowing it up for the Packers, with five picks in ten games. Add in the loss of Tay Gowan in the Zach Ertz trade, and no one can say that the Cardinals really had a contingency plan in place for their threadbare cornerback group. The group has not been playing well and recently lost to average-at-best quarterbacks, and injuries are exacerbating their issues.
Looking Forward for the Cardinals Cornerbacks
In the off-season, cornerback could be a focus for the Cardinals once again. Although not as urgent as interior linemen, the Cardinals will have to consider looking at corners. Despite top-end links last year, Arizona waited until the fourth round to take a corner. This year, although not positioned for a top guy, the Cardinals may have to consider selecting a corner earlier in the draft, as well as looking for depth in free agency. Preferably, they will bring in someone who won’t retire a week out from Week 1.
For the rest of this season though, the Cardinals will have to make do. Alford is expected to return for the postseason, and the hope is that Wilson’s injuries are not significant. And form aside, they are both needed. But regardless, those that are playing will have to improve. The issues upfront are not helping the situation on the back end either, but pass coverage has to be better. Hamilton has his limits, and the fact that Breeland was on the street this late in the season does not exactly inspire confidence, but they are only expected to do so much. For Arizona, it is on Byron Murphy, their best cornerback, to return to form and elevate the unit as a whole. With the group hurting, and with the Dallas Cowboys on the horizon, the Cardinals cornerbacks have to once again become a strength of their defense.