TEMPE, Ariz. -- The day after the Arizona Cardinals' season ended in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs, coach Kliff Kingsbury said losing wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in Week 14 influenced their finish.
"It was impactful, there's no doubt," Kingsbury said. "I mean, he's one of the top players in the entire league at any position. And particularly in the red zone, I think you saw some struggles there, as far as touchdown percentage, things of that nature.
"He's a guy, you got to know where he's at as a defense each and every snap and got to do things to try and take him away. And that opens up other aspects of your offense and so he's got a big value when it comes to being on the field and unfortunately, we didn't have him some. And we got to learn from that and be better the next time he has to miss time. Hopefully, it's not very often."
Kingsbury said what everyone already knew, and he could have said it a dozen different ways, but it still undersold how much losing Hopkins affected the Cardinals' offense. It changed everything.
When Hopkins went down late in the Week 14 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football clutching his knee, which led to season-ending surgery, Arizona's offense lost its focal point. The Cardinals were 10-2 -- about to be 10-3 -- and shared the best record in the NFL while holding a firm grasp on the NFC West.
Afterward, the season fell apart. Without Hopkins down the stretch -- he also missed three games following a Week 8 loss to Green Bay -- the Cardinals were 1-4, including the playoff defeat, and their offense looked pedestrian. The Cardinals averaged 18.8 points in the final five games without Hopkins compared with 30.2 in games with him.
It's not just that Arizona wasn't scoring. It wasn't moving the ball. The yard differential in Weeks 15 through the wild-card game was minus-26. When Hopkins and quarterback Kyler Murray were on the field -- Murray missed the same three games as Hopkins in November -- it was plus-62.
The passing touchdowns per attempt dropped from 5.9% with Hopkins to 2.4% without him in December and January. That struggle continued in the red zone, as Kingsbury said. With Hopkins, Arizona's red zone touchdown rate was 65.9%. Without him it dropped to 35.7%.
Murray's completion percentage was 71.6% with Hopkins and 63.1% without him. Arizona averaged 1.9 passing touchdowns per game with Hopkins and one without him.
And having Hopkins on the field dictated how defenses played the Cardinals. Murray was blitzed an average of three more times per game without Hopkins in December and January.
"I don't know about who's playing us different," Murray said. "I just know that when you don't have DeAndre Hopkins out there, you're going to look a little different as far as personnel-wise."
Murray described not having Hopkins on the field as "tough." It was for everyone, including Murray. Without Hopkins in those final five games, his average time in the pocket dropped .04 seconds and he completed 3.6% fewer throws of 20 or more yards.
Hopkins finished the year with 572 receiving yards and a team-high eight touchdowns on 42 catches in 10 games. In the final five games without him, no teammate came close to that total. Tight end Zach Ertz had 28 catches for 253 yards and wide receiver Christian Kirk had 24 for 264 yards and a touchdown, but A.J. Green had 12 for 194. Antoine Wesley, an undrafted receiver who played for Kingsbury at Texas Tech, essentially filled Hopkins' role in the offense. Wesley had three touchdowns in the final five games, all coming out of the isolated receiver position to Murray's left, which is where Hopkins lined up.
The good news for the Cardinals? Kingsbury said Hopkins is expected to be 100% within the next month.
"Hop, you're talking one of the top 10 players in the entire league," Kingsbury said. "It's going to start there when you're game-planning, and without him, you just have to find different ways."