The KC Chiefs’ opening week opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, is having injury problems. What are the injuries and how will they affect the Week 1 game?
The regular season hasn’t even started yet and multiple NFL teams are already having injury problems. That does include the Kansas City Chiefs, with tackle Lucas Niang on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and tight end Blake Bell recently placed on IR, but what about Kansas City’s next opponent, the Arizona Cardinals?
The Cardinals have more than their fair share of injury concerns, especially since they have not even played a single regular season game yet. Here is a list of their current (notable) injuries:
- Pass rusher Markus Golden is dealing with a toe injury.
- Newly acquired cornerback Trayvon Mullen is managing a foot/toe injury.
- Veteran tight end Zach Ertz has an ankle injury.
- Backup quarterback Colt McCoy did not play a snap in the preseason due to arm soreness.
- Defensive lineman J.J. Watt is still working his way back after contracting COVID a couple of weeks ago.
- Former Chiefs cornerback Antonio Hamilton was placed on the NFI (non-football injury/illness list) due to a cooking accident that was ‘gruesome’ and ‘almost deadly’.
- Guard Justin Pugh is still recovering from a stinger.
- Wide receiver Rondale Moore also has an undisclosed injury.
- Not an injury but star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is suspended for the first six games of the 2022 NFL due to PEDs.
That is quite a lengthy injury list for the Cardinals since they did not play starters in their preseason games in order to avoid unnecessary injuries. To be fair to Kliff Kingsbury and Co., several of those are in no way their fault (Watt, Hamilton, and Hopkins), although it is still ironic that resting starters does not completely protect them from bad luck. After the Friday injury report is released, we should have a better understanding of where each player is as well as their status for the game on Sunday.
According to Josh Weinfuss of ESPN, guard Justin Pugh and receiver Rondale Moore practiced on Labor Day, while quarterback Colt McCoy, cornerback Trayvon Mullen, pass rusher Markus Golden, tight end Zach Ertz, and defensive lineman J.J. Watt all did not practice on Monday. Pugh and Moore are expected to be good to go for Sunday, although Bally Sports Arizona’s Jody Jackson reported that Golden and Ertz are both game-time decisions. I imagine that Watt should be ready to play on Sunday and Trayvon Mullen believes he’ll play against the Chiefs as well.
How will these injuries affect the Cardinals vs. Chiefs?
Assuming that Pugh and Moore do in fact dress for the game, the former will be critical for a pass-protection unit that was middle of the road last season and did not do much to improve this past offseason. The Cardinals are also counting on Rondale Moore to help make up for the absence of future Hall of Famer DeAndre Hopkins at wide receiver, along with Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown and A.J. Green. If Arizona is missing tight end Zach Ertz, they will likely turn to rookie Trey McBride.
The receiver injuries (Ertz and Moore) and DeAndre Hopkins’ suspension will be ones to watch since the Chiefs will debut a rebuilt defense that is extremely young in the secondary. Kansas City will rely upon rookies Trent McDuffie and Joshua Williams to cover depth receivers behind L’Jarius Sneed and Rashad Fenton. No Hopkins will also make it easier for Steve Spagnuolo to go man-to-man across the field on certain plays, thus allowing him to be more creative with coverages and/or blitz packages. If there is no Ertz, I project that Spagnuolo won’t have a problem putting one of his safeties (I.e. Justin Reid or Juan Thornhill) on Trey McBride full-time and effectively removing him from the game.
Another effect of losing both Hopkins and Ertz, in addition to more freedom with coverages, is making it easier to either blitz quarterback Kyler Murray or put a spy on him. One problem with blitzing Murray is that he was the best QB in the NFL last season in that situation, per Pro Football Focus ($), so it is in Spagnuolo’s best interest to tread lightly when coming up with blitz packages. In the case of an absent Zach Ertz, I think he’s better off putting a spy on Murray instead (*cough* Willie Gay *cough*) to avoid him scrambling for huge chunks of yardage.
On the defensive side of the ball for the Cardinals, losing Markus Golden would be devastating for their defense. They already lost Chandler Jones to free agency and J.J. Watt may or may not be 100% on game day, so no Golden would leave 33-year-old Watt (if he plays at all) and Zach Allen as their best pass rushers, which would scare the heck out of me if I was an Arizona fan. That would mean Patrick Mahomes is facing less pressure and gives him more time to do his thing and dissect a Cardinals defense that isn’t an elite unit by any means.
The Cardinals’ defensive concerns would only be exacerbated if cornerback Trayvon Mullen is either out or playing while not 100%. Playing without Markus Golden would put more pressure on an Arizona secondary that is slightly above average on a good day. Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson are a very good safety tandem, but cornerbacks Byron Murphy, Trayvon Mullen, and Marco Wilson definitely do not inspire a ton of confidence. If Mullen is unable to play (or even if he does play), a shorthanded defensive line will make it easier for new Chiefs wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Skyy Moore as well as Mecole Hardman to get open and develop chemistry with Patrick Mahomes.
If it is the worst-case scenario for the Arizona Cardinals and at least two of Markus Golden/J.J Watt/Trayvon Mullen are scratched, that will force defensive coordinator Vance Joseph to determine if he will send more aid to his pass rush or secondary, or a combination of both. If he drops an additional man into coverage, that will test Patrick Mahomes’ patience, which he struggled with for much of 2021 and arguably cost KC a trip to the super bowl. If he wants to send an additional rusher, that may not be the wisest plan as the Chiefs have an excellent offensive line and it will only expose a secondary that is already underwhelming.
In conclusion, the Kansas City Chiefs may catch a small break and open their season against a team missing its best receiving weapon as well as their best tight end, one or two of its best defensive linemen, and a newly acquired cornerback. Friday will be an important day since we should figure out who is good to go, who is out, and who is questionable for the game on Sunday. No matter who plays for the Arizona Cardinals, it will be a difficult game for the Chiefs to win and they need to come out firing on all cylinders if they want to earn their first victory of the 2022-23 season in the same stadium where they hope to get their last one.