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TEMPE, Ariz. – Four days after the Arizona Cardinals traded their first-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens for wide receiver Marquise Brown, the news came that the NFL had suspended Cards wideout DeAndre Hopkins in the first six games of the 2022 season to violate the league’s performance strengthening drug policy.
The dreams of a high-flying offensive that lined up Hopkins on one side of quarterback Kyler Murray and Brown on the other were short-lived, and the Cardinals will now be without Hopkins for the first month and a half of the season. The Cardinals will still have 11 games left in the regular season when Hopkins returns, but recent history suggests Arizona needs a strong start to protect itself from a fall in the late season after finishing the regular season 3-6 in 2020 and 3-5 in 2021.
To get that kind of start, the Cardinals needed Hopkins. Before a couple of injuries – one on his thigh and one in his knee – forced Hopkins to miss seven regular season games in 2021, Hopkins played at the elite level, even by his usual standards. He had a higher catch percentage and higher average in yards per. goals and yards after catch per. reception through week 8 of 2021 than in the first eight seasons of his star career. He dropped slightly in yards per route, from 2.1 to 2.0.
Without Hopkins on the field, Murray and the Cardinals are just another team. They are fighting to win. Arizona was 8-2 when both Murray and Hopkins were active last season and 1-4, including a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC wild-card game when Murray played without Hopkins.
Not having Hopkins changes the offense and how defense plays against the Cardinals. One hope in the trade with Brown was that if Hopkins were to go down again, they would have Brown to fill his role. Now that situation is a reality.
Making sure Arizona does not fall apart like it did last season will be the responsibility of coach Kliff Kingsbury, who at the NFL combination back in March admitted he did not adapt to life without Hopkins as he should have.
“I think after doing some deliberation, the biggest thing when we lost Hop is that I did not do a good job, schematically, of adjusting some things that could have taken some pressure off Kyler, I think so, “said Kingsbury. “You lose such a piece, you have to find a way to be more creative, I think, and I have to be better at it. But I think we’ve improved every year, offensively. It’s clear. “I do not like the way we ended up, but we have to keep being creative and try to put Kyler in positions to be successful and surround him with talent that can play.”
How Kingsbury responds over the next four months and then on a weekly basis until Hopkins returns will dictate whether Arizona can make it to another consecutive season.
But so much is known: Losing Hopkins affects Murray. Significantly. With Hopkins off the field last season, Murray’s QBR dropped from 62 to 46, his yards per carry. trials dropped from 8.8 to 6.6, and his perception of completion dropped to 65% from 72%.
This year, however, Murray will have Brown, the experience of playing without Hopkins and time. Lots of time. Hopkins can participate in offseason drills, training camp and preseason, but he is not allowed to get around the team starting in Week 1 and until the start of Week 7. With about four months to prepare, Kingsbury and The Cardinals have enough time to build a well thought out game plan.
It helps that Murray has a relationship with Brown. The two were college teammates in Oklahoma in 2017 and 2018, the latter of which saw Brown accumulate 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns on 75 catches.
Murray had wanted more offensive help for years, and he had wanted the Cardinals to pair him with one of his college receivers. He got both of his wishes fulfilled with Brown.
For a few days, it looked like Murray was going to have one of the best one-two combinations in football.
Then Monday’s news hit, and Arizona is back to life without Hopkins as memories of last season flow back.