Washington Redskins vs. Arizona Cardinals Week 1 Pick
Date/Time: Sunday September 9, 4:25 PM EST
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Az.
by Keith Allen, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Wash pk / Az pk
The Redskins travel to the desert to take on the Cardinals to open the 2018 season. Both teams missed the playoffs last season and are entering transition periods this year. Washington finally quit playing contract games with Kirk Cousins and traded to pick up Alex Smith from the Chiefs. Washington had more than their share of injuries in 2017 that hampered them from ever contending in NFC East. There 2 best offensive skill players – Jordan Reed and Chris Thompson both missed multiple games, along with 3 Skins offensive linemen.
Steve Wilks replaces Bruce Arians as the Arizona head coach heading into the new year. Arians guided the Cardinals to an 8-8 record in ’17 despite being outscored by their opponents by 66 points. Arizona also was victim of the injury bug as the focal point of their offense David Johnson was lost for the year with a wrist injury in the season opener, and QB Carson Palmer was knocked out for the remainder of the season in week 7. Arians turned to Blaine Gabbert and then Drew Stanton and managed to win 5 of their last 9 games including 3 of their last 4 to close out the season. Sam Bradford will start under center for the Cardinals with 10th overall pick, and contender for NFL Offensive ROY, Josh Rosen preparing for his role as quarterback of the future.
Smith brings his perfected game manager skills to D.C. to lead the offense. Cousins led Washington to 16th in the league in passing with a mediocre set of pass catchers led by Jamison Crowder. Coach Jay Gruden likes to pass the ball down the field, so it will be interesting to see of Smith can continue his evolution and be willing to pull the trigger and throw downfield more. The Skins will look to Josh Doctson to become the receiver they thought they would get when they selected him with the 22nd pick of the 2016 draft. Doctson hauled in 35 passes last year and scored 6 times, but he needs to take a big step forward this year. Reid has been healthy during pre-season and opponents have to game plan to stop him when he is on the field.
The ’17 Redskins were 29th in the league in rushing yards per game, so they spent their second-round draft pick on LSU’s Derrius Guice. Guice appeared poised to breathe life into the Skins running game, until he tore his ACL in the pre-season. Not satisfied to go into another year with Rob Kelly and Samaje Perine, Washington signed future hall-of-famer Adrian Peterson to lead the backfield. Peterson is one of the greatest physical specimens to ever play football, but he averaged only 3.4 yards per carry last year. He is not capable of putting together a season of being a workhorse back but he is capable of a one-off game changing performance, as he did last year with 2 games with over 130 yards.
The Cardinals D is also transitioning this year. Last year they were 3rd in the league in yards per play allowed that made the Cardinals 7th in time of possession despite an often dysfunctional offense. But Wilks replaces both Arians and D coordinator James Bettcher. Bettcher employed a 4-3 defense that primarily played man-to-man that allowed All Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson to lock down opponent’s best receiver. Wilks staple defense with Carolina was a 3-4 zone concept that was very blitz heavy. Chandler Jones led the league with 17 sacks and will look to chase down Smith in the opener this year. Arizona’s defense should be able to limit Smith, Peterson and the Redskin attack in this contest.
Bradford will look to improve a Cardinal offense that finished last year 25th in points and 30th in yards per play. Bradford is a huge upgrade over Gabbert and Stanton and has completed over 70% of his passes over his last 17 starts. Future hall of fame receiver Larry Fitzgerald returns to lead the receiving corps. Fitzgerald has lost some speed over his 15 seasons, but he has replaced the speed with savvy – catching 325 balls over the last 3 years. Rookie Christian Kirk has flashed in pre-season and will share time with former Cowboy Brice Butler opposite Fitzgerald with Ricky Seals-Jones starting at tight end.
No matter who is behind center, Arizona’s offense runs through Johnson, who will be 100% coming into the season. Johnson is the whole package at running back, eclipsing 2100 yards from scrimmage in 2016. He scored 20 times including on 4 of his 80 catches for the season. Every opponent of the 2018 Cardinals will develop their game plan on stopping Johnson but that was the same plan in 2016 and few were successful.
The Redskins D finished 2017 at 28th in points allowed but were a more respectable 15th in yards per play. The Skins run defense ranked last in the league in yards allowed. To address this Washington selected Alabama DT Da’Ron Payne in the first round and he will line up next to former Crimson Tide teammate Jonathan Allen who was injured last year. The Skins defense will have their hands full limiting Johnson while respecting Bradford and Arizona’s passing game.
This game opened at pick-em and has not moved. The line implies that Washington is the better team but Arizona won more games last year and has improved at quarterback and added one of the league’s premier running backs, plus Washington has to travel across country. Four of the six games that Arizona covered last year were in the desert so they have a strong home field advantage. Look for Arizona to be able to control the game with their running attack and Bradford to be able to convert third downs, end drives with points and pull out the win.