'There's a drop-off': Losing DeAndre Hopkins stings but Arizona Cardinals confident in other WRs

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins isn't expected to return during the regular season, which has just four games left, all of which could have an impact on the Cardinals' playoff seeding.

Hopkins is set to have surgery in Los Angeles after suffering a knee injury with 1:13 remaining in Monday night's loss to the Los Angeles Rams, but a recovery time hasn't been set. His return for the playoffs, depending on how far Arizona goes, could be possible.

As the Cardinals began to move forward without Hopkins this week, quarterback Kyler Murray kept reiterating his trust in Arizona's other receivers, but Murray also stated the obvious.

"There's a drop-off if DeAndre Hopkins isn't on the field," Murray said.

Murray doesn't know what it's like to play without Hopkins this season, but he's about to find out. They were both injured at the same time earlier this season -- Hopkins with his hamstring and Murray with his ankle. There have only been 94 out of 645 snaps where Hopkins hasn't been on the field with Murray since Hopkins was traded to the Cardinals during the 2020 offseason. During those snaps, there's been a clear dip in production. Murray averaged 7.8 yards per dropback with Hopkins on the field and just 5.6 without. His off-target percentage with Hopkins on the field is 10%. Without Hopkins, it jumps to 22%.

"Obviously, that's a big hit," Murray said. "That's a guy we all love and trust out there on the field. When I was out, he was out, and the guys stepped up. I think that's something that great teams do. It's a long season, and not all the time are you going to make it to the end with your full army. That's how I look at it.

"Me and him both have already went down this season, but unfortunately a freak incident, freak accident play where he gets hurt. We've just got to have guys behind him step up, and I'm confident in every single one of those guys. We've got a deep receiver room. We've got a deep running back room. We've got a ton of skill."

Without Hopkins, Arizona will rely on receivers A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore and Antoine Wesley as well as tight end Zach Ertz and running back James Conner.

During the three games Hopkins missed with a hamstring injury earlier this season, Cardinals pass-catchers combined for 753 yards and three touchdowns on 75 catches. Kirk led the way with 174 yards and Moore had a team-high 18 catches during that stretch. Ertz added two touchdowns and Conner added another.

"It just sucks, man, with what D-Hop brings to the table," Green said. "Everybody knows what he means to this team. So, we're not gonna replace him. You can't replace him. But we also have a great group of guys in the receiving room that we're just gonna rally behind, just not putting pressure on anybody else.

"Losing D-Hop sucks."

Green talked with Hopkins on Wednesday while Hopkins was in Los Angeles getting another opinion on his knee from famed sports orthopedist Dr. Neal ElAttrache, and said Hopkins was in "great spirits."

Without Hopkins on the field, Green moves into Arizona's WR1 role. Green was careful not to put the added responsibility of being the focal point of Arizona's passing game on his shoulders, though.

"I felt like we did a great job this whole year just spreading the ball around and getting everybody involved in the game," Green said. "It works game-to-game."

Not having Hopkins on the field will change both how defenses attack the Cardinals and how Arizona schemes its offense. During the past two seasons, Hopkins lined up to the left of Murray on 91.9% of his routes. Hopkins led the NFL in receptions and receiving yards, and was tied for third with five touchdowns when lining up as the isolated receiver during the past two seasons, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

Green said defenses played the Cardinals "honest" throughout the season. That may change now.

"You always have to have somebody watching D-Hop," Green said. "So, I think there's maybe, like, a little bit more man-to-man, maybe, at some point. But I think with the way we played this year and how Kyler spreads the ball around, not focusing on just one receiver, really helps things out."