Although there are always many levels to NFL games, this is one of those where most everyone, and I mean everyone, will be keeping their eyes glued to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. And perhaps a little dose of Robbie Anderson.

Especially with Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore declared out for the Thursday night game.

Unfortunately, we won’t be able to watch Hollywood Brown for at least a month and probably six weeks.

Of course, we won’t see Hopkins when the Cardinals are on defense and they will be looking to continue their success of limiting the opposition’s best player, which in this case is running back Alvin Kamara. They also have to ensuring that the versatile Taysom Hill (when he’s on the field) doesn’t explode for big plays.

But this is mostly about Hopkins.

Yes, we wonder how much impact he will have after not being in pads for a game since last December, but he doesn’t have to have a large number of catches or yards to potentially change the trajectory of the offense.

Last Sunday, the Cardinals scored three points on two trips to the red zone, and on the game’s first possession they reached the 1-yard line only to be pushed back to the 5 on a Kyler Murray run. A third-down pass for A.J. Green was incomplete.

The team also failed on their last 11 third-down plays after starting out 4-for-5.

Last season, Hopkins scored eight touchdowns with four from inside the 10-yard line. He is also a go-to receiver on third down. Convert, say, even only three of those last 11 misses where five were for six yards or less, and that obviously moves the chains and keeps drives going.

While the word “savior” has been thrown around as something Hopkins likely won’t be, the reality is that even the slightest improvement at those critical times in games can be a huge positive.

When asked Wednesday about Hopkins surely having the ability to do that from the jump, coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “We need somebody that can come in and be that security blanket in those situations. Make a play on third-and-4, third-and-5, and then in the red zone help us put the ball in the end zone.

“He’s been that when he’s played for us. So hopefully he can provide some spark in those areas.”

As poorly as the offense has been at times, it wouldn’t have taken much to have turned the tide in losses to the Rams, Eagles and Seahawks.

There’s also the intangibles that he brings.

“He puts a pep in everybody’s step,” Kingsbury said Friday. “Just with his energy. He’s always talking, very competitive. I think it starts there and there’s a level of confidence that players and coaches feel when he’s out there. He’s a guy that at any moment you get it close to him, he can make a play.”

When asked about being in football shape, Kingsbury said, “He’s a unique athlete. One of the most special competitors I’ve been around. So he’s excited. He’s looked sharp and we’re going to try to utilize him as best we can and be smart about it.”

As for whether there will be a snap-count limit, the coach said, “We talked about it and he just rolled his eyes at me.”

Hopkins said, “I’ve always been a guy who’s in the game in the fourth quarter, I’ve never been a receiver to come out or attempt to come out. And I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”

Quarterback Kyler Murray talked Tuesday about having Hopkins for this week’s game. “It’ll be great,” he said. “Just having him out there today, you can tell his energy. It seems like every time you see him out on the field, there’s a reason why he’s the best, and I’m excited for him. I’m excited to be able to throw him the ball again. I never took that for granted, but I’m just happy for him. The team is definitely appreciative of having him back.”

A somewhat emotional Hopkins explained what it was like being around his teammates again.

“Chills, man, chills,” he said. “It almost brought tears to me. I love this game, I love being around the players. They’ve been fighting and trying to win some games. Just being around them and seeing how happy they were to embrace me, it felt good.”

After not playing at the end of last because of a knee injury and now missing six games by virtue of a league suspension, Hopkins came to appreciate the game even more. Especially after turning 30 in June.

He said, “I love this game. I grew up around football. I grew up in the city of Clemson. My uncles played in the NFL. My brothers, first cousins played in the NFL, so this is a sport that I grew up watching. My grandpa was a Hall-of-Fame player in the state of South Carolina, so football is something I grew up in.

“If I couldn’t play, I’d still want to be a water boy or a trainer. Not being able to play, obviously it was hard, but I love this game and I’ll always have appreciation for this game. Football is a game I love and it’s hard not to play it, but when you deal with real life growing up … “

He also realizes the impact he can have on a game by his mere presence.

“One person can’t go out and win a game, but it does help having someone like myself out there who can dictate how defenses play us,” Hopkins said. “I’m able to help create other mismatches on the field. And so I think my presence out there dictates that.

“Last year was a great example of that and me not having a game over 100 yards, a lot of people saw it of me having a down year. I look at it as a productive year because I got a lot of guys open. There are a lot of things that go into a football game more than just fantasy stats or yards.”

Hopkins does accept responsibility for what happened although he said there will be some things to talk about after the season about his positive PED test.

He said, “I felt like I let my team down, but I wasn’t going to let myself get down knowing we have 11 games to play.”

But, there are no worries about how he’ll perform.

He said, “I think people are more nervous of me being out there, my opponent, than me being nervous. I’ve been in the NFL 10 years, I’ve been productive every year, whatever quarterback is throwing me the ball. I’ve never had a concern or worry.”

What about Robbie?

Anderson was acquired Monday, the day after Brown injured his foot against Seattle, from the Panthers for a sixth-round pick in 2024 and seventh-round choice in 2025.

At first, there was concern that Brown’s injury might be season-ending, but after hearing two opinions, it was determined that he would be out at least a month and likely for six weeks.

Anderson played at Temple for former Carolina coach Matt Rhule, who was fired after Week 5. Anderson had sideline arguments with receivers coach Joe Dailey during the Panthers’ loss to the Rams Sunday and was sent to the locker room by interim coach Steve Wilks.

With the 6-foot-1 Hopkins back, Anderson brings even more height at 6-foot-3.

As for how much Anderson might play Thursday night, Kingsbury said, “If we get in him, we’ll limit it. Make sure he’s confident. We want him to able to play full speed and have confidence out there. Just try to limit the package and I don’t want his first experience to go out there against a really good defense and not feel confident and not play up to what he’s capable of. (We’re) still working through that to see how he feels tomorrow.”

Anderson said Wednesday, “Whatever they put on my plate, I’m going to give it my all. It’s a quick week and I want to be able to master my craft, but it’s not a normal week, so I’m just trying to pick up everything they kind of selected for me to learn and master that as (best) I can.”

Is Kingsbury being coy? Could be. It wouldn’t take a whole lot of knowledge of the offense for him to mostly go deep and put pressure on the defense, even if it’s only for 10-15 plays.

Murray said, “I’m very familiar in just playing against him a couple times, understanding his skill set, and what he’s capable of. I’m excited for him as well. I know through the grapevine, social media and stuff like that, he hasn’t been very happy or whatever the past couple years, but I know he can go, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Also chiming in was Hopkins, who said, “He helps us a lot. Obviously, I’m not a (4.3 guy). I can stretch the field, but Robbie has speed that you can’t coach. I feel like him being a big guy as well — he might not look as big — but Robbie’s a tall guy. He can go up and get the ball and stretch the field. I think our offense, it sets up perfect for his style of play.”

While there are those that wonder what Anderson is like as a person, Kingsbury acknowledged the positive intel provided by receivers coach Shawn Jefferson, who was Anderson’s position coach with the Jets.

“That played a role in it,” Kingsbury said. “There’s no question just having that insight and the success he had with Coach Jefferson, we felt really good about that relationship and what it could be here. There was a lot of trust in their relationship there in New York and we feel very good about the type of player and person he is.”

Of being reunited with Jefferson, Anderson said, “I’m excited about that. My last year in New York, he really showed me how to really grind at a new level. I took that to Carolina and that’s what really helped me develop my work ethic that I feel like it is now and will continue to do so.”

The kicking conundrum

Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship was signed to the practice squad Tuesday and could be needed if Matt Prater isn’t able to kick Thursday night.

Kingsbury said it will be a game-day decision and added, “We’ll see how he feels kicking. He’s made great progress, but I don’t know if he’ll be ready or not.”

It’s possible the Cardinals would elevate Blankenship to the active roster Thursday by 1 pm Arizona time to have him on the game-day active list in the event it’s determined Prater isn’t ready. He could also be security if Prater does kick, but aggravates his hip injury. It would be unusual to have two kickers active, but in this situation, it makes sense.

Something similar could happen with guard Cody Ford, who was designated for return from reserve/injured Tuesday, but the team basically had only walkthroughs Tuesday and Wednesday.

Kingsbury said he will be evaluated prior to the game “to see what he can do,” but he can only be on the game-day roster if he’s activated from reserve/injured by 1 pm.

The sky

Fans will be able to see it as the Cardinals announced the roof at State Farm Stadium is expected to be open for the game.

Those fans hope by the end of the game the sky won’t be falling. After all, the team’s last home win came in Week 7 of 2021, which on Thursday will have been 361 days.

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me:


Howard Balzer is in his 47th year covering professional football as a writer, editor and broadcaster and has covered 41 Super Bowls. His connection with pro football began in 1976 with College and Pro Football Newsweekly, and since then he has been a featured columnist for The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly, USA Today Sports Weekly and The Sports Xchange. Balzer moved to St. Louis in 1978 to work for The Sporting News, where he became Pro Football Editor in 1979. He was an analyst on ESPN's initial broadcast of the NFL Draft in 1980 and continued in that role through 1988. He has won seven writing awards in the Professional Football Writers of America competition, won an Emmy for commentaries on KPLR-TV in St. Louis in 1986 and was nominated for an Emmy in 1988 and 1990. He was named the 2016 winner of the Bob Broeg Media Award presented by the St. Louis/Tom Lombardo Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. The award is for enthusiasm, integrity, professionalism and devotion to the game of football and is reserved for individuals whose contributions to football in the St. Louis area have made a significant difference. Balzer was an officer (secretary and secretary/treasurer) for the Professional Football Writers of America for 33 years and was inducted into the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. Balzer relocated to the Phoenix area in 2020 as the publisher of the FanNation AllCardinals site and is now the Cardinals reporter for PHNX. He is entering his 19th year as one of 49 voting members on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is also on the Hall's Seniors Committee. He is the co-host of the weekly Pro Football Hall of Fame radio show on SiriusXM NFL Radio and is a part-time host at ArizonaSports 98.7 FM.