TEMPE, Ariz. — Kliff Kingsbury went out of his way last week to say over and over again that DeAndre Hopkins won’t single-handedly solve the Arizona Cardinals’ fledgling offense.
“We can’t just expect him to be a savior,” the head coach said before Hopkins’ return.
As it turns out, Kingsbury was wrong.
Hopkins saved the Cardinals’ offense Thursday night against the New Orleans Saints, giving them a much-needed spark in a 42-34 victory. Arizona’s offense looked different, ran differently and produced differently with Hopkins on the field for the first time this season.
“I mean, you saw, right?” Kingsbury asked after the win. “It was a different deal with him and the confidence the other guys around him play with.” It’s good to have him back. I think once he really gets in shape, gets back to running and gets comfortable in the offense, he can really do some things.”
Almost every aspect of the Cardinals’ offense was better with Hopkins on the field Thursday, even if both Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray thought there was room for improvement.
“Obviously not up to our standard, but I thought we got off to a good start,” Kingsbury said.
Murray said: “I think there are a lot of things we could have done better there.
But Thursday’s statistics painted a picture of Hopkins’ impact.
Murray’s completion percentage with Hopkins on the field jumped to 69.2 compared to 64.9% without him, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
But wait. There is more. With Hopkins on the field:
Murray’s yards per attempt increased by 1.13 yards
His yards per completion jumped .93 yards
His punt return yards increased by .83 yards
His KBR increased to 64.3 (47.3 without Hopkins)
Arizona’s yards per play went from 4.82 to 5.36 with Hopkins on the field and they averaged nearly half a yard more on the ground.
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“If you look at, say, when he’s played and he hasn’t, offensively it’s pretty dramatic,” Kingsbury said Friday. “The defense has to play you differently.” I mean, they just do. The running game opens up when they get the other guy to him.”
Kingsbury pointed to three plays that showed Hopkins’ value to the offense that isn’t measured in the box. Hopkins drew three penalties Thursday night, one on third-and-10, one on second-and-10 — both nullified Murray penalties — and another on a two-point conversion that gave the Cardinals another shot at him. who converted.
Kingsbury showed those plays to the Cardinals in Friday morning’s meeting, calling it a “hidden yard.”
“Since he’s been here, I can’t tell you how many times … there’s no statistics, I don’t think there is, but it’s amazing how many times he’s helped us in that department,” Kingsbury said. “So you have his 10 catches plus you have those three.
“Those are huge changes in the game, especially with the struggles we’ve had on third downs.”
Hopkins’ impact was not only enormous, it was immediate.
He had 48% of the Cardinals’ targets, 50% of their receptions and 51% of their receiving yards on Thursday.
Hopkins didn’t play it down when asked if his presence helped the Cardinals offense finally open up. He knew it was.
“Yes, absolutely,” Hopkins said. “I think it’s easier for Kyler to read. I’m not saying they’re not with other players there, but he and I have been playing together for a few years now, so obviously we know each other very well.”