Coach Jay Gruden brings his Washington team west in search of his first season-opening win in five tries. The Arizona team he’s facing is a bit of a mystery.
The Cardinals have overhauled almost everything in the wake of the retirement of coach Bruce Arians.
New coach Steve Wilks, defensive co-ordinator at Carolina last season, is promising a physical, power-running approach. But Gruden isn’t sure just what to expect when the teams meet Sunday in newly renamed State Farm Stadium.
“That’s a great challenge really. There’s a lot of film to look at from their past history as coaches," Gruden said. "Obviously, in Carolina and coach [offensive co-ordinator Mike] McCoy, we’ve got a lot of stuff on tape when he was a co-ordinator and a head coach. It’s just hard to figure out how they’re going to use the personnel that they have and how they’re going to go about putting their Xs and Os together.”
The 125th meeting in the history of the franchises will feature veteran quarterbacks making their debuts with their new teams, Alex Smith for Washington and Sam Bradford for Arizona.
Smith, acquired in a trade with Kansas City, hasn’t lost an opener since 2014, but doesn’t overemphasize the game just because it’s the first one.
“Every team wants to start fast, every team wants to go 1-0 this week, but at the same time, I mean, realize that, you know, it’s football,” Smith said. “Someone’s going to win and someone’s going to lose, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not going to define us.”
Bradford is especially eager to get back on the field. He’s coming back from yet another significant left-knee injury. He said he feels better than he has in “a long time.”
The offence he directs will revolve around the multitalented David Johnson, who returns after fracturing his left wrist in the season opener last year.
“I feel good,” said Johnson, who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns two seasons ago, “probably the best I’ve ever felt coming into a season, and I can’t wait to get started.”