It may be a foregone conclusion that the San Francisco 49ers will beat the Arizona Cardinals in 2018 and I really can’t see any other situation besides injuries that should suggest otherwise. The team that was once one of the most underrated in the NFL is going through transition. Quarterback Carson Palmer announced his retirement as did head coach Bruce Arians. In Palmer’s place is hope for Josh Rosen and perhaps Sam Bradford. Thank goodness wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has decided to come back for another year, but even Fitzgerald can’t right all the changes with this ship. Neither can running back David Johnson who hopefully can play more than a half in 2018. Those two are the lone bright spots on an otherwise decimated offensive side of the ball.
In Arian’s place steps former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. At the NFL level, he has only one year of defensive coordinator experience. You know who else had only one year before moving up? Vance Joseph of the Denver Broncos. A lot of the skepticism that could be applied to Joseph can be applied to Wilks. The difference is Wilks had a solid defense with the Panthers. The Panthers were seventh in yards and 11th in points against for 2017. The Cardinals defense does have some nice toys for him to play with too, especially cornerback Patrick Peterson.
There’s no use mincing words though, Wilks has his work cut out for him. While the defense is solid, the offense needs all sorts of work not just now, but planning for the future. The Cardinals had the second-worst offensive line in 2017 per Pro Football Focus for starters, and there’s plenty more holes to fill in. The Cardinals went for the latter and had an offensive-based draft. In fact their draft was very well done.
It’s all a project though.
Round 1: Josh Rosen (QB)
Round 2: Christian Kirk (WR)
Round 3: Mason Cole (C)
Round 4: Chase Edmonds (RB)
Round 6: Chris Campbell (CB)
Round 7: Korey Cunningham (G)
Notable free agent aquisitions
Justin Pugh (G)
Sam Bradford (QB)
Way too early gambling line
49ers @ Arizona Cardinals: 49ers (-1.5)
Cardinals @ 49ers: 49ers (-7)
The Cardinals addressed their O-line problems by grabbing Justin Pugh in free agency and taking Mason Cole and Korey Cunningham in the 2018 NFL Draft. Those are solid picks. Cunningham isn’t a sexy pick, but he had a lot I liked while watching him at Cincinnati. The problem with Cunningham is he’s a project guard, and he’s going to need at least a year before he can really contribute. Cole also has potential to be an NFL starting center—and a good one—but he’s going to need a year as well before he really has the position on lockdown.
This situation is a good one for them and hopefully they get starting experience, it’s not good for fans of the Cardinals because that offensive line ineffectiveness is returning this year as those two get acclimated to the league.
Josh Rosen and Christian Kirk were taken as the quarterback and wide receiver of the future respectively. So Rosen’s not in a rush, the Cardinals (wisely) grabbed Sam Bradford to give some veteran presence. One problem though: Bradford has been injury prone and they are putting him behind one of the worst O-lines in the league. Until those draft picks and Pugh show differently, Bradford may not make it very long until Rosen is forced to get under center. Kirk on the other hand couldn’t have asked for a better teacher than Fitzgerald who can use what may be his final year to help this kid get coached up.
This is a great draft for the Cardinals, but they have too many pieces they need to fill to make their team effective in 2018. This is by all intents and purposes a developmental year.
If the gambling line didn’t give it away, the Cardinals have a roster loaded with talent, nowhere near the level it needs to be to be competitive. And they aren’t going to turn things around in 2018. Considering Sam Bradford’s difficulties in staying healthy, one has to wonder if he’ll still be the quarterback by the time the 49ers come to play the Cardinals in the second game. Or perhaps, Wilks decides to toss Rosen in to get him gameday experience.
If the Cardinals win either game, it’s an insane upset. They addressed their offensive line problems in the draft and free agency, but with two rookies and Pugh, they will need time to gel and get up to speed. The defense isn’t awful, but it’s nothing beyond slightly above average.
The 49ers will win both games, and while Fitzgerald and Johnson could have great games themselves, it isn’t going to be pretty for the Cardinals as whole.