DeAndre Hopkins’ return sparks hope for anemic Cardinals’ offense – Arizona Cardinals Blog

TEMPE, Arizona – The numbers don’t lie, but they may not always tell the whole story either.

Take wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, for example, returning from a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy Thursday night as the Arizona Cardinals take on the New Orleans Saints (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video ). He didn’t rush for 100 yards in any of the 10 games he played last season, which was unusual for a 37-game receiver with triple-digit yards in his career.

That means Hopkins didn’t hit 100 yards in any game during the Cardinals’ searing 7-0 start last season, which was surprising considering he was Arizona’s No. 1 receiving option.

“A lot of people see it as a bad year for someone like me,” Hopkins said. “But I look at this as a productive year because I have a lot of people open.”

Just considering Hopkins’ defense was a factor in Arizona’s regular-season success in 2021.

The Cardinals are hoping his presence will make a difference Thursday night when he is back on the field for the first time since December 13, 2021 after sustaining an MCL injury that forced him to miss the rest of the season . The Cardinals desperately need a spark on an offense that has been ineffective and downright frustrating for those operating at it.

It’s a big challenge for someone who hasn’t played in 311 days. Because as much as the Cardinals welcomed Hopkins back with open arms this week, they were also realistic: Hopkins cannot solve all of the Cardinals’ problems on offense himself.

“We have to get better,” said quarterback Kyler Murray. “We still have things we need to fix. Obviously have [Hopkins] Back definitely helps, but we still have to get better in all the areas that we’re not good at right now.”

Hopkins returns to an offense in dire need of CPR.

The Cardinals have only three points in the first quarter of the entire season. The offensive ranks at the bottom of the league in:

  • Yards per pass attempt (32nd)

  • Yards per game (31st)

  • Third Down Conversion Percentage (28th)

  • Offensive points per game (27th)

  • Points lead per game (28th)

  • Offensive Efficiency (26th)

  • Touchdowns per try (30th)

It all contributed to Arizona’s 2-4 start.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury doesn’t blame Hopkins’ absence for Arizona’s offensive problems.

“I think you can see how we play offensively and see there’s more to it than that,” Kingsbury said. “But he definitely brings a dynamic that every team wants to have. When you have a true No. 1 like this, a playmaker whose defense needs to be aware of every single snap, it makes a difference in terms of scheme and playcalling – things like that.

“We still have more issues to fix and we can’t just expect him to be the savior. We’re all happy to have him – what he brings, the competitor he is and all those things, but we still have to do a lot better.”

Having Hopkins back can and will undoubtedly help.

For starters, they gained more with Hopkins on the field. They have been 8-2 with Hopkins and 3-8 without him since early 2021, including a 4-1 result last season that included a loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC wildcard game.

Since the start of last season, the Cardinals have averaged 12 more points per game with Hopkins in the lineup, scoring 29.5 points per game with Hopkins compared to 17.2 without him. But the differences don’t stop there. Arizona is ranked 23rd in the NFL with 556 yards outside the numbers this season compared to Hopkins, who was seventh alone from 2020-21. Cardinals receivers have a 29% catch rate on tight throws. Hopkins alone has a 40.5% catch rate on such throws as of 2020.

“He’s going to be a big help,” said Larry Fitzgerald, former Cardinals receiver. “They need him, they need his presence, they need his leadership in terms of his playmaking ability.”

Perhaps most importantly for the Cardinals turning around this season, Murray was better in the lineup with Hopkins.

Murray’s QBR has been 45 without Hopkins and 69 with him for the past two seasons.

Among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 50 passes, Murray ranks last in the NFL for air yards per completion (4.0). Last season he averaged a 5.9.

“I’m excited to be able to throw the ball back to him,” Murray said. “I never took that for granted, but I’m just happy for him. The team is definitely grateful to have him back.”

Perhaps no one is more grateful than Murray’s and Hopkins’ fellow recipients.

“He’s very open,” said wide receiver AJ Green. “Keeps the defense honest because if [No.] 10 is alone over there, the ball goes to him, so he’s getting doubled right now. So there will be a lot of guys getting one on one.”

Hopkins will ease the pressure and coverage from his fellow receivers beginning Thursday night. Receiver Marquise Brown has been the center of attention for the defense all season. He was a strongman and picked up the No. 1 cornerback on every team, including Philadelphia’s Darius Slay, the Los Angeles Rams’ Jalen Ramsey and Seattle’s Tariq Woolen. While Brown can’t capitalize on Hopkins’ return for the time being, having been sidelined indefinitely with a foot injury, everyone else in the reception room can.

To help Hopkins after Brown’s foot injury, which will keep him out for at least a month, will be joined by Robbie Anderson, who the Cardinals traded for Monday. If he plays Thursday, Anderson will likely fill Brown’s role.

Anderson is slightly taller than Brown — he’s six inches taller and 20 pounds heavier — but the two have similar top speeds. And Anderson can be a huge threat to the Cardinals, who desperately need some.

Fitzgerald believes that with Hopkins on the field, the defense needs to show their hands earlier, that the shells will be more pronounced, that they will try to roll over him with different schemes, whether it’s two shells, quarters or palms.

The mood around the Cardinals has changed since Hopkins returned.

Kingsbury have noticed that players intensify their game when Hopkins is on the field, a byproduct of the kind of expectations Hopkins has of himself, the manager explained.

“He’s going to make it easier for everyone else on the field,” Fitzgerald said. “He’ll make it easier for AJ, he’ll make it easier for Rondale [Moore]he’ll make it easier for Zach [Ertz]. He’s going to make it easier for the running game just because so much attention is being focused on him just based on what he’s done throughout his career. Well, I mean, it’ll make reading easier for Kyler.

“Kyler can get good checks. I think speeding up the game in terms of no-huddle, especially against a fast blitzing defense like New Orleans, is something they can use to their advantage.

Hopkins believes his opponents are more nervous about facing him than facing them.

“I’m able to create mismatches on the field,” Hopkins said. “I think my being out there dictates that, and I think last year was a great example of that.”

Hopkins has lined up far left on 83.1 percent of his snaps for the Cardinals. Kingsbury said he plans to move Hopkins, which will give Arizona a distinct advantage Thursday night, Fitzgerald said. The Saints won’t have a tape this week on how the Cardinals will deploy him. Sure, you know his inclinations from years past, but Arizona’s strategic advantage can make all the difference.

Hopkins, always the optimist, “absolutely” believes the Cardinals can change their offensive fortunes in one game.

“Obviously one person can’t go out and win a game,” Hopkins said. “But it helps to have someone like me out there who can dictate a lot and dictate how the defense plays us.”

Fitzgerald disagrees.

One player can change a team’s destiny, he said. And for the cardinals, that’s Hopkins.

“You’re more likely to see it in a quarterback, you’re more likely to see it in a guy who touches the ball like that with every single snap,” Fitzgerald said. “You get back a guy who’s been out there and is able to shake up his team and really motivate and inspire people because he’s back and DeAndre is one of the few talented guys in the league that I think he has this ability…

“There aren’t many people who can do that.”

https://www.espn.com/blog/arizona-cardinals/post/_/id/35955/deandre-hopkins-return-sparks-hope-for-anemic-cardinals-offense DeAndre Hopkins’ return sparks hope for anemic Cardinals’ offense – Arizona Cardinals Blog

Emma Bowman

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