“We can’t just expect him to be the savior,” the head coach said before Hopkins’ return.
As it turns out, Kingsbury was wrong.
Hopkins rescued the Cardinals’ offense on Thursday night against the New Orleans Saints, giving it a much-needed spark in a 42-34 win. 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 it, right?” Kingsbury asked after the win. “It was a different-looking deal out there with him and the confidence that other guys around him play with. It’s good to have him back. I think once he really gets in shape, gets back into running routes and is 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 to improve.
“Not to our standard obviously, but I thought we started well,” Kingsbury said.
Said Murray: “I think there are a lot of things that we could have done better out there.”
But the stats from Thursday 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’s more. With Hopkins on the field:
Murray’s yards per attempt increased 1.13 yards
His yards per completion jumped .93 yards
His yards per dropback increased .83 yards
His QBR increased to 64.3 (47.3 without Hopkins)
Arizona’s yards per pass play went from 4.82 to 5.36 with Hopkins on the field and they averaged almost an extra half-yard on the ground.
“If you look at, like, when he’s played and he hasn’t, offensively it’s pretty dramatic,” Kingsbury said Friday. “Defenses have to play you differently. I mean, they just do. The run game opens up when they’re rolling another guy to him.”
Kingsbury pointed to three plays that showed Hopkins’ value to the offense that aren’t measured in a box score. Hopkins drew three penalties on Thursday night, one on third-and-10, one on second-and-10 — both of which were sacks of Murray that were negated — and another on a two-point conversion that allowed the Cardinals another shot at it, which they converted.
Kingsbury showed those plays to the Cardinals in a meeting on Friday morning, calling it “hidden yardage.”
“Since he’s been here, I can’t tell you how many times … there’s not a stat, I don’t think, on that, but it’s incredible 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 swings in the ballgame, especially with the struggles we’ve had on third downs.”
Hopkins’ impact wasn’t just massive, it was also immediate.
He accounted for 48% of the Cardinals’ targets, 50% of their receptions and 51% of their receiving yards on Thursday.
Hopkins didn’t downplay it when asked whether his presence helped the Cardinals’ offense finally open up. He knew it did.
“Yes, absolutely,” Hopkins said. “I think reads are easier for Kyler. I’m not saying that they’re not with other players out there, but he and I have been playing together for a couple years now, so, obviously, we know each other very well.”