Seth Cox from Revenge of the Birds was kind enough to answer five questions from me before the Texans and Cardinals square off on Sunday.
Q1: Carson Palmer is done for the season, Drew Stanton injured his knee, and Blaine Gabbert may be starting at QB against the Texans. What is the current state of the Cardinals’ offense and how has the offense changed since Palmer’s injury?
SC: The offensive scheme hasn’t changed. I think even if we get the vaunted Blaine Gabbert versus Tom Savage game that we are all scared to death of this weekend, the Cardinals’ schemes will be the same. The only difference is the rhythm of the game. Bruce Arians likes to attack down the field. Instead of doing it 3-4 times a drive, he may do it 4-5 times a half now. He will rely more heavily on the running game; oddly enough, both teams are stout against the run and both teams have bad passing games with their starters out.
What the difference is is simply efficiency of the offense. Carson Palmer makes throws consistently that Drew Stanton cannot make. Stanton can make the throws; it is just a 1-3 proposition instead of a 2-3 type of deal.
Gabbert…he’s a complete unknown at this point. He’s obviously never been consistent through a season, but he’s had good games in the past, so maybe we see that again this week against a pass defense that is missing a lot. I wouldn’t bet on it.
But the scheme, the plays, the calls, they’ll be the same. How often and in what order will be the difference.
Q2: Between Antoine Bethea, Tyvon Branch, Tyrann Mathieu, and Budda Baker, the Cardinals have the deepest set of safeties in the league. How do the Cardinals use all their talented safeties and what should we expect in their coverage of Deandre Hopkins.?
SC: Unfortunately, Branch is done for the season after Thursday Night Football, one of two starters who were lost in that game for the Arizona Cardinals. However, if there was ever a silver lining to an injury, and Branch was considered by Pro Football Focus to be one of the best safeties in the NFL in 2017, it is now that the Cardinals can get Budda Baker on the field.
He hasn’t had much time yet, but that seems to be likely to change. It started in the Seahawks game after the Branch injury.
As for Bethea and Mathieu, they are having nice years, Bethea is playing some of his best ball, but Mathieu isn’t living up to the expectations he created for himself with his outstanding 2013-2015 work.
As for Hopkins, with Will Fuller out, he’s going to get Patrick Peterson for the game. Peterson will shadow Hopkins all over the field and make Tom Savage make throws. If Savage and Hopkins are beating Peterson, we may see safety help, but the Cardinals expect Peterson to win that matchup one-on-one.
Q3: The Texans have been struggling on offense lately. What are some weaknesses in the Cardinals’ defense that the Texans can exploit?
SC: The Cardinals’ pass defense, sans Peterson, is beatable. 34-year-old Tramon Williams has been excellent once he took over the starting job from Justin Bethel, but Mathieu isn’t the same guy in coverage anymore. Also, Tyvon Branch was doing a nice job on tight ends until last week when he was injured, ironically enough, trying to cover Jimmy Graham.
Also, the Cardinals’ defense is really good against the run, but they could be missing the most important piece to that run defense, nose tackle Corey Peters. Peters is one of the most productive linemen in the NFL in forcing negative plays and he’s not a pass rusher. He has nine tackles for loss on the season despite being a 55% snap type of player. His absence, plus Bruce Ellington in the slot, plus the tight ends of the Texans, could be the way Houston makes some hay on offense this week.
Q4: What rookies should the Texans be looking out for?
SC: Haason Reddick and Budda Baker will likely be the only two rookies that see the field, outside of coverage duty for Rudy Ford on special teams.
Reddick was playing as a starting inside linebacker while incumbent Deone Bucannon was recovering from injury. Bucannon got back and then outside linebacker Markus Golden got hurt and was lost for the year. So the Cardinals moved Reddick to outside/pass rushing linebacker.
He’s playing less, but when he is on the field, coming off the offensive right side/defensive left, he is always noticeable because he is explosive and wins with that athleticism. An average right tackle can use that against him and simply push him past the quarterback, and I don’t know enough about Breno Giacomini to know if he’s going to do that consistently.
Baker had his best game as a pro in his first extended action at safety. Which makes sense, as Baker is a feel type of player. He needs reps to get into that rhythm that allows him to make those “football instinct” type of plays. Baker will be playing some safety, some in the box safety, some slot cornerback. He will line up all over the field and the coaches will try to make him a matchup issue for the Texans. We will see if he can be as productive as he was in the Seahawks game.
Q5: What is your prediction for the game?
SC: Honestly… Chaos.
There’s no way we know what Blaine Gabbert will be, other than bad. If he’s average to above, I like the Cardinals’ chances in this game simply because Tom Savage is the opposing quarterback.
However, if I am a Texans fan/writer/non-Cardinals fan, I like the Texans’ chances because Blaine Gabbert is the opposing quarterback.
At this point, I really have no idea what happens in this game.
It will probably end up being some type of shootout with both quarterbacks throwing for yards, touchdowns, and picks, simply because I am guessing it will be a low scoring affair.
Cardinals 13, Texans 10.