There is likely two days left in the Steve Wilks era of Arizona Cardinals football.
On New Year’s Eve, the team will announce they have let go their head coach, after only one season.
And they should.
While a lot of blame falls on Wilks’ shoulders, there was little chance he was ever going to succeed with the Arizona Cardinals.
When you look at the initial press conference when Wilks was introduced, his vision of the team and then the ensuing use of assets never meshed.
Wilks wanted to stop the run and run the football.
The Cardinals proceeded to invest all their free agent money in quarterbacks and offensive linemen with injury concerns.
The Cardinals hired a defensive first head coach and invested next to nothing on the defense.
They kept a linebacker on the hook for nearly $9 million that had graded out the previous two seasons 62nd out of 94 qualifying linebackers against the run and 82nd of 88 qualifying linebackers against the run.
The Cardinals have exercised their fifth-year option on Deone Bucannon, who has been one of the NFL's top coverage LBs the last two years. pic.twitter.com/QdbCpMJ2OC— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 27, 2017
They spent every available asset in the draft, sans a lone sixth round pick, on replenishing a depleted offensive unit. Yet, they ignored a defense that lost much of its teeth.
Of the players that played 300 or more snaps on defense in 2017, when the Cardinals finished 1st in rushing defense DVOA per Football Outsiders, eight were gone, only eight remained and only two of those players were interior defensive lineman. The Cardinals now rank 27th in rushing DVOA.
They finished 10th in DVOA against the pass in 2017, they are 11th in 2018.
Steve Wilks deserves to be fired, I don’t think there are many that would argue that.
However, he came into a situation and his vision, the fingerprints he wanted to put on this team were never allowed to come to fruition.
Instead, he was tasked with getting the most out of young players who had never performed highly, Haason Reddick and Robert Nkemdiche, to replicate success of players who were part time, Budda Baker, and to fix the shortcomings of others, Deone Bucannon against the run. He had solid talent in Chandler Jones and Patrick Peterson, but he also had aging talent in Antoine Bethea and talent that had never played much in Josh Bynes, Olsen Pierre and Rodney Gunter, who would all assume crucial roles.
He was tasked with doing all of this, while also being given an offense that would struggle to succeed pre-merger.
With little talent on offense, having to reconfigure a defense that lost 8 of it’s top 16 players in snaps, the odds were long.
Yet, even with five wins being the mark by many pundits and Las Vegas, Wilks couldn’t get there.
He has struggled to adapt to the talent he has on the team, instead trying to fit square pegs into round holes.
When things go awry, the accountability always seems to come from the idea that the scheme was fine, it was poor execution, something Cardinals fans remember all too well from Ken Whisenhunt.
On top of all of that, Wilks vision of the NFL is archaic.
Look at the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens.
They have incredible defenses, but their offenses are diverse, they are full of schemes that allow their young quarterbacks to be successful, that use all the players in their arsenal, and that come with a number of gadget and trick plays.
Those teams are also irrationally aggressive.
They play ball control, but they take chances on offense, on defense and on special teams.
Wilks idea of bully ball is not one that works in today’s NFL, look at the Jaguars, who have superior or equal talent at nearly every offensive position than the Cardinals and how far they’ve fallen.
However, he never was given a chance to see his vision through because the team had to completely reshape and retool the offense from years of Bruce Arians making chicken salad out of chicken shit with it.
In fact, the last two season of Arians reign saw the Cardinals go from second in points per game in the raucous 2015 season (30.6), to sixth (26.1) to 25th (18.4).
The Cardinals were a bad offense before Wilks took over, and then they hired someone with a philosophy from the 1960’s.
The fact it got worse is not a surprise, in fact the drop off from Arians 2017 to Wilks 2018 is less, Cardinals are averaging 13.4 points per game this year, than that of Arians 2016 to 2017.
No, what happened to Wilks was not surprising.
There was nothing to hang your hat on with Wilks team. There was no identity.
Yet, knowing who and what Wilks wanted to be, the Cardinals should have invested every asset into building the defense he envisioned.
Instead, they gave him nothing on defense and instead spent lavishly on offense and created the worst offense the NFL has seen in 20 years.
No, Wilks is not a good head coach, at least not now, but he also did not get much help from the team that hired him.
That’s the unfortunate reality of this Cardinals season, but also one that needs to be fixed with the new head coach.
The vision between the next head coach and the front office has to align, or this isn’t going to be just a Steve Wilks problem.