The Arizona Cardinals (3-5-1) travel to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6) this weekend as Bruce Arians looks to get his first win since September against his former club.
At least one player on the field will be looking to take part in the first win of his own season, as second-year player Christian Kirk missed all three of Arizona’s wins in 2019.
With the absence of cornerback Carlton Davis for the second straight week, Kirk will be looking to take advantage of the holes exposed in Seattle for the Buccaneers secondary.
Someone’s getting their first win in far too long. Whether it’s the Bucs or Kirk, will be significantly impacted by just how this player fares against his competition. So let’s get to know Christian Kirk.
CHRISTIAN KIRK’S HISTORY
As a second-round draft pick in 2018, Kirk came on to a roster with a first-year head coach and endured a season which produced the first overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft.
To his personal credit, Kirk capitalized on his opportunities to help the struggling offense getting his first start in Week 3, turning in seven catches and 90-yards against the Chicago Bears in a losing effort.
Two weeks later, Kirk got his second start of his career and added his first NFL touchdown in his first professional victory in a 28-18 win over the San Francisco 49ers. A broken foot cost him the final five games of his rookie season.
In total, 43 catches, 590-yards and three touchdowns coming off of seven starts was enough to show he had the potential to help resurrect the franchise as he entered the 2019 season as an opening weekend starter.
CHRISTIAN KIRK’S 2019
In six games this season, Kirk is on pace to eclipse his first-year numbers with 34 catches for 329-yards up to this point. Hurting his current stat line, and contributions to the team, has been an ankle injury suffered against the Seattle Seahawks which led to his missing three straight games.
Coming back against the New Orleans Saints in Week 8, Kirk got back on track with eight catches for 79-yards. A good showing despite his team losing the game on the road to the team widely considered to be the NFC favorite to make it to the Super Bowl this season.
Last week, against the San Francisco 49ers, Kirk was held to two catches despite leading the team in targets, and had just eight yards for his efforts. It was the second time in his short career he’s been held to that exact stat line. Both coming on the road against playoff favorites. Last year’s came against the Kansas City Chiefs.
In 2018, the Arizona Cardinals didn’t win a game until Kirk scored a touchdown. This season, Kirk has yet to score and has yet to be active in a winning effort. He’ll be looking to notch at least one of each against the Buccaneers, and here are some of his play attributes which will help determine whether he’s successful or not.
o ROUTE RUNNING
Something the Arizona Cardinals do really well is get Kirk into advantageous match-ups. Which is why I fully expect to see them try and get him lined up against Jamel Dean when possible.
Kirk’s ability to get off against press and execute his routes crisply with suddenness and solid ability to change direction without losing speed represents a big problem for a Bucs secondary who’s confidence has to be waning after carrying much of the blame for their teams poor first half of the season.
While Kirk doesn’t have the same speed Tyler Lockett does, his ability to gain separation through route running is significant, and could lead to some deja vu moments if Dean and his secondary mates didn’t figure out a way to play better against similar looks from last weekend.
o BALL SKILLS
Kirk doesn’t have the longest arms (more on that in a bit), but he does have strong ball skills. Able to control his body well as he adjusts for passes which may not be in the most desirable spot for his designed route, if the ball is close to him, Kirk will usually come down with it.
In addition to this, his field vision and decisiveness as a ball carrier means he rarely makes a bad decision after the catch, and is really hard to lay big hits on or force into turnover mistakes.
Tackling is something the Tampa Bay defense has done well for the most part in 2019. Doing so again against Kirk and his teammates will be key as they look to turn short completions into big gains by making tacklers pay for bad angles and missed opportunities.
o CATCH RADIUS
Christian Kirk is small. Listed at 5’11 on NFL.com, and possessing a sub 31” wing span, Kirk simply isn’t anatomically capable of stretching up or out for passes thrown away from defenders.
When defensive backs get good position on the smaller receiver, they can force quarterback Kyler Murray to make difficult throws in small windows.
Again, Kirk is capable of gaining early separation, so winning early is the key for Buccaneers defensive backs. If they can prevent him from getting separation, guys like Dean should have the opportunity to use their length advantage over Kirk to break-up passes and potentially nab an interception or two.
o DEEP PASS LIMITATIONS
He’s not slow, but Kirk’s 4.47 speed is slower than Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting’s and .03 faster than what Vernon Hargreaves III turned in at the NFL Combine in 2016.
Because of his height deficiency, this lack of top end speed is a hinderance when trying to threaten opposing defensive backs with long routes and deep strikes. For Kirk to get a deep pass target, he’ll have to do so using routes that move him from one side of the field to another.
Inside out from the slot is one way the Cardinals like to try and get Kirk involved in their attempts to get chunk plays. Armed with the knowledge they don’t have to be worried as much about your traditional nine route, means Todd Bowles’ defensive backs can focus on using the sideline as an extra defender and shade towards the wide side of the field where the passing windows will be larger.
Accentuating the weaknesses of Christian Kirk is a challenge the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defenders will look to do trying to get a win in their true home return after playing away from Raymond James Stadium for the entire month of October and in their one November game so far.
Knowing what he is capable of and how to leverage against it, will go a long way, and if they do so then victory will be achievable in Week 10 of the 2019 NFL season.