32 NFL Teams in 32 Days: Cardinals Need Their Offense to Lift Up a Young Defense

With a healthy Kyler Murray and a new talent in Marvin Harrison Jr., this team might have the firepower to turn things around.
Kyler Murray missed time in each of the past two seasons, but is back and healthy now
Kyler Murray missed time in each of the past two seasons, but is back and healthy now / Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports
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The past two seasons have been painful for the Arizona Cardinals, with the team compiling an 8–26 record. And while there remain clear issues with the roster, there’s reason for legitimate hope.

With Kyler Murray healthy for the start of this season and coach Jonathan Gannon entering his second year, things are improving.

Which starts with Murray and connects to rookie receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. The No. 4 pick in April’s NFL draft, Harrison registered 144 catches for 2,474 yards and 28 touchdowns over his last two seasons with Ohio State.

Although he’s a rookie, Harrison figures to quickly elevate the offense.

If nothing else, Arizona shouldn’t be boring in 2024.

Biggest gamble this offseason: Not making veteran defensive upgrades

While the Cardinals poured draft resources into fixing their 25th-ranked defense of a year ago, they did very little in free agency to help the youngsters come along without pressure.

Up front, general manager Monti Ossenfort brought in Justin Jones to play inside. Jones notched 4.5 sacks with the Chicago Bears in 2023, however he was the only notable veteran addition to a front seven desperately needing more playmaking. 

In the secondary, Ossenfort signed Sean Murphy-Bunting to a three-year, $22.5 million deal, hoping to provide a stalwart on one side. Still, Arizona will be painfully thin at corner if second-round pick Max Melton isn’t immediately ready.

Toughest stretch of the season: Weeks 5 to 8

With the NFC having the extra home game this year, there aren’t too many teams with a rough road schedule to navigate. 

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, that’s not the case. In October, Arizona will play three of its four games on the road, including a short-week, cross-country trip to take on the Miami Dolphins.

The stretch begins in Week 5 with visits to the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers, two playoff teams from a year ago. Then, the Cardinals will come home for a Monday night game against Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers before heading to Miami Gardens.

Breakout player to watch: TE Trey McBride

Through two seasons, McBride is one of the league’s best-kept secrets on a national level.

Last year, he starred for the Cardinals despite horrific quarterback play for much of the year, catching 81 passes for 825 yards and three touchdowns. With Murray now back and Harrison drawing coverage, look for the third-year man out of Colorado State to have a Pro Bowl campaign.

In 2023, only six tight ends had more receiving yardage, and just four eclipsed his reception total. If he can continue his ascension, McBride is on pace to become one of the best young pass catchers in the game.

Best-case scenario: Murray and the offense are ready to take wing

The offense is Arizona’s best hope for making a surprise playoff push. While a young defense gets its legs, Murray & Co. must carry the team in some high scoring wins.

The good news? The Cardinals might have the firepower. They’re loaded with young talent including Harrison, McBride and second-year wideout Michael Wilson. Then there’s Murray, who despite playing five NFL seasons is only 26 years old and loaded with ability.

In 2020 and ’21, Murray threw for 50 touchdowns against only 22 interceptions, making the Pro Bowl each year. He also ran for a combined 1,242 yards and 16 scores. If he’s healthy, the Cardinals could be dangerous on offense.

Worst-case scenario: Murray can’t stay healthy and the defense isn’t ready

If, for the third consecutive year, the Cardinals can’t get a full season out of Murray, that would mean Desmond Ridder to the rescue.

Yet the biggest question mark for Arizona is the defense. The Cardinals finished 29th in yards per play against (5.7), 32nd against the run (143.2 yards per game), 31st in pressure rate (17.1%) and 30th in sacks (33) last year. Otherwise, things were great. 

To remedy that unit, Arizona drafted edge rusher Darius Robinson in the first round, corners Elijah Jones and Melton on Day 2, safety Dadrion Taylor-Demerson in the fourth round and linebacker Xavier Thomas in the fifth. If they’re not ready to contribute immediately, it could be another long year for the defense.

Head coach-quarterback tandem ranking

No. 28: Jonathan Gannon (28) and Kyler Murray (18)

A year ago, this seemed like a looming disaster. Murray was coming off a torn ACL preceded by a contract including language about studying throughout the week. Then there was Gannon, a hire widely panned at the time. Today, Gannon is promising and Murray is fully healthy, surrounded by McBride, Harrison and a roster bolstered by 12 draft picks. 

Sleeper/fantasy pick: Harrison

I love Harrison this season. In fact, I have him ranked ahead of Davante Adams in my re-draft rank list among wideouts. He was the best wide receiver in the 2024 class, and he landed in the perfect spot with a Cardinals offense that will use him as an alpha right out of the gates. With Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Rondale Moore gone, Harrison will see plenty of targets in Year 1. —Michael Fabiano

Best bet:  Marvin Harrison Jr. most rookie receiving yards (+175) at DraftKings

Harrison is the favorite for this bet for good reason. Quite simply, it’s Harrison or bust with Brown gone to the Chiefs. Murray has plenty left in the tank, and I expect a big year for the talented rookie out of Ohio State with pedigree. Even better? This bet offers a nice plus-money payout. —Jennifer Piacenti

Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem and wants help, call 1-800-GAMBLER.

Matt Verderame


Matt Verderame is an NFL staff writer for Sports Illustrated. He hosts The Matt Verderame Show on Patreon; previously wrote for FanSided and Awful Announcing; and is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. A proud father of two girls and lover of all Italian food, Matt is an eternal defender of Rudy, the greatest football movie of all time.