clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

4 warning signs we should have seen about this Arizona Cardinals coaching staff

Looking back at comments and the methodology that led to the current Cardinals, should fans have been concerned from the start?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals hired Steve Wilks on January 22nd, 2018. They since hired Mike McCoy to run the offense and be the OC three days later on January 25th along with Defensive coordinator Al Holcomb.

Those three are the core of Arizona’s coaching staff structure in terms of playcalling and decision-making, with McCoy and Holcomb calling the plays and Wilks managing and running the team, as well as giving it its philosophy with his choices as the head coach.

The team had multiple coaches who were interviewed, including in-house candidate Giants DC James Bettcher, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, Eagles DC Jim Schwartz, Eagles QB coach John DeFilippo, Patriots DC Brian Flores, Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak and Falcons Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong.

Many of the other coaches were hired ahead of Wilks and if not for Josh McDaniels turning down the belle at the ball to hold out for a Belichick retirement in New England, he would have been the last head coach hired just like Bruce Arians.

First of all...

Let me be clear that the book is not out on Wilks or this staff and there is indeed always areas where success is still possible. And it’s a great story about a great person as well.

There was a tremendous positive response to Wilks’ hiring, as he was the only minority coach hired in that offseason, reports had come out that Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin had personally called the New York Giants to stump for him, and he was seen as an up-and-comer and still might be in the NFL.

That said, it has so far been a disappointing hire after a 1-5 start with little improvement.

And in looking back there was another side of Wilks that came out, which I’ve documented in tweets in the following that painted a slightly different picture of the hire.

Should we have seen the Wilks & McCoy pairing as concerning from the start?

Let’s take a look at the four reasons why the hiring should have been concerning...

1. Commitment to running the ball flies in the face of new-wave NFL analytics that see passing as the way to win games

When he was hired, Steve Wilks said one thing: he wanted to run the ball on offense.

Perhaps at the beginning, the idea was that Arizona had 0 quarterbacks on the roster, and hiring a coach who could run the ball would lead to success while the team could win with defense like Jim Harbaugh did with the Niners and a Kirk Cousins or Alex Smith (Arizona even was looking at Alex Smith until he was traded and settled for Bradford).

It was clear that they didn’t want to embrace a rebuild but rather wanted to “win now”. But Rosen might have changed things...

However, this is coming off of a Super Bowl in which the passing game of the two best team in the league was center state:

Eagles passing first downs: 19

Patriots passing first downs: 23

Eagles rushing first downs: 6

Patriots rushing first downs: 4

Nick Foles passed for 373 yards, 3 TD’s and 1 INT and Tom Brady had over 500 passing yards.

And then teams doubled down in this NFL offseason...

Steve Wilks came in wanting to run the ball when the rest of the NFL is built around throwing the football, with passing stats and passer ratings higher than every before.

And in that sense, it made a stark contrast watching the Bears and Vikings offenses and how unique and spacious they looked versus Arizona struggling to run the ball up the middle.

That said, you could still have a ground game that works and have a decent passing game with the right coordinator. Of course the hire that was brought in was...

2. Mike McCoy had a lack of success on offense, especially in running the ball

Our own Seth Cox has already shown the well-documented history of Mike McCoy not finishing with an offense that finished with a top 16 overall in rushing in his entire history as a playcaller or offensive coach except for one year: 2011.

Yup. The Tim Tebow year that got him his head coaching gig. He made multiple changes to the offense specifically to avoid Tebow throwing the football and guess what? It worked.

Seth’s detailed breakdown can be found here.

The very next year they went out and got Peyton Manning and since then they were a passing offense.

Outside of that, he has also not utilized running backs in the passing game, rather having that role increase more frequently after he left the Chargers each year:

McCoy’s scheme favored a power-run but he was never successful in creating a run-oriented offense and rather he seemed to favor the pass.

The Cardinals have struggled and rank 32nd in the league in rushing with Mike McCoy not favoring David Johnson’s rushing ability AT ALL...

And perhaps the reason for that is that ultimately, Steve Wilks hired an offensive coordinator who’s never had a great run-heavy offense to craft a rushing attack, misfit from the start.

But it’s not just on offense...

3. Concerns about Wilks’ approach with the Panthers defense in its effectiveness

This was rampant as there was a lot of criticism in how he handled the passing game and focused too much emphasis on the run defense and not enough on stopping the passing game.

Particularly when the stakes were huge against the playoffs in which Steve Wilks was praised for having his defense shut down the 1-2 punch of Ingram and Kamara in the playoffs....until you realize exactly what the constant blitzing ended up becoming...

The Panthers lost that game.

But even that might have been fine. Some coordinators can live by the blitz and die by the blitz.

Bruce Arians even was known to prefer to send the house. The biggest issue with Arizona that was something we should have seen beforehand that this staff might be problematic is this:

4. Wilks and McCoy were advertised as being adaptive in their approach to scheming around talent when their history was almost anything but that

Just look at these articles when the coaching staff was still a new hire:

But some disagreed, particularly with Chandler Jones moving into a defensive end role and Patrick Peterson playing one side of the field in a zone coverage role.

Why take an elite outside linebacker that led the league in sacks standing up and a Hall-of-Fame man coverage corner and put them in roles that might fit your scheme not be nearly as effective?

It would

There’s a few tweets that can be mentioned here but there was the idea of Mike McCoy and Steve Wilks being adaptive and flexible coordinators:

I was personally told pre-Wilks that if Mike McCoy was brought on with the OC, he would have a perception of adapting to the offense when in actuality, he would be forcing them to do the opposite in running his system. And would do it in an overly complex manner that would result in very few amounts of points.

Don’t believe me?

Check out why he was fired from Denver last year.

In short, some of the same issues and problems that have dogged the Broncos have dogged Arizona. Lack of points and not adapting to the players.

But we heard and saw that they were going to throw the ball to David Johnson?

We even saw plays of it in camp.

And here is the reality...

Feeling a bit lied to yet?

Me too.

In short, while the book is out still on the future of this staff, there’s enough outcry about McCoy and enough questions about Wilks’ conservatism that it’s very possible that Arizona fans should have expected not merely a departure from Arians’ risk-it-biscuit mentality but also signs that the organization was handing the ball of to two minds that have notable flaws that defenses and offenses have taken advantage of.

Which, rings false rather than good coaching.

It’s why fans get frustrated when the coaching staff repeatedly talk about “execution” yet don’t adapt themselves or do anything differently. Almost like they firmly believe they are not the problem.

And the end result is that you feel like this staff is in over their head and don’t know how to fix it....because the past evidence suggests that their faults seem to follow them wherever they have gone so far.

I was even a bit surprised at how poorly received it was when I asked and added in a bit of insight and received the following response:

And in the end, most Cardinals fans, justified or not, are currently wishing the same for this staff.

Can they turn it around?

It might take doing something they haven’t been willing to do so far this year.

Take a risk and make a change.

You can follow @blakemurphy7 on Twitter.