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Playing and Coaching Too Cautiously

Washington Redskins v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The two often go hand in hand.

Steve Wilks vowed when he got the job that every position was “open to competition”—-and yet a mere week or two into training camp he anointed Sam Bradford as the starting QB.

Kid Gloves.

Wilks has treated both Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen with kid gloves. Sure, no one wants to see a QB get injured—-but you can’t treat them like glass figurines.

Bradford’s limited action in pre-season involved handing the ball off and throwing 5 yard passes. He was never put to the test.

If the coaches are being extra cautious with you—-maybe you get extra cautious yourself.

Hmm—-what playing too cautiously at the QB position looks like—-it looks like 3 straight 2-3 yard passes on 1st, 2nd and 3rd and goal from the 10 yard line.

Rosen, on the other hand, as well as fellow rookie Chad Kanoff, were given opportunities to throw the ball downfield—-that was good thing.

But, Wilks threw the kid gloves on Rosen the second he bruised his thumb. Rosen said he was fine—-and by all accounts he was and is fine. The only way in which it made sense for Wilks to keep Rosen out of the last two pre-season games was for playing him in the real games as early as possible. But, does anyone get the sense that Rosen is a consideration for playing time at this point, unless Bradford is injured?

*The most important thing the Cardinals need to know coming out of this season is whether Mike McCoy is the right OC for Josh Rosen. That ain’t gonna happen if Wilks keeps the kid gloves on Rosen. It doesn't really matter if McCoy is the right OC for Sam Bradford. Both Bradford and McCoy are on 2 year contracts, which easily can be turned into 1 year contracts if things this year don’t click.

The Cardinals have a major 5 year investment in Josh Rosen—-and especially due to the fact that Steve Wilks is a defensive minded coach, pairing Rosen with the best fit at OC is of paramount importance.

Now—-it’s possible that McCoy and Rosen could be a match and an “odd couple” a la Felix Unger and Oscar Madison. Rosen is a fiery Type A, whereas McCoy is a stay the course Type B. Sometimes those pairings work like a charm—-like it did when Red Pollack rode Seabiscuit to stardom in the late 1930s.

Nevertheless—-the sooner the Cardinals know whether McCoy and Rosen are a good match—-the better.

Here’s a possible difference between Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen—-yesterday in the 3rd quarter when the Cardinals were finally moving the ball and got stalled on a 4th and 3 just inside the Redskins’ territory, Rosen, right from the middle of the field, would have begged and pleaded Wilks to go for it. He wouldn’t have just trotted off the field the way Bradford did.

Candidly, the fact that Wilks didn't go for it anyway is one example of how the Cardinals’ coaches were coaching too cautiously yesterday. If there ever was a time to go for it, it was down 21-0 at home, inside the opponents territory while finally showing some spark on offense.

The other most conspicuous sign of coaching cautiously was not subbing in for players like Deone Bucannon, Jamar Taylor and Tre’ Boston who were clear and distinct liabilities on the field yesterday.

If you truly want to motivate players in the NFL today, it’s not with pithy platitudes, lofty mantras or snappy acronyms—-it’s by hitting them in the wallet or taking away their PT.

Ideally—-you’d rather motivate by more traditional and less draconian methods—-but if you really want to get the players’ attention, then go back to the original promise of open competition. Confucious says: “He who plays best—-plays.”

Steve Wilks and his staff deserved so much better than what they got yesterday. They have been working their tails off. But, Steve Wilks saw the same kind of soft Cardinals who showed up in Carolina when his Panthers put a total 49-15 butt whooping on them in the 2015 NFC Championship.

This kind of playing cautiously and even scared has been the Cardinals’ stigma for years on end. Ironically, it was Alex Smith who once said (when he was playing for the 49ers), ‘If you jump on the Cardinals early and step on their necks, they will fold like tents.”

Right now, Wilks should do all he can to give a number of players good looks so that he can weed out the “pretenders” from the “contenders.” To be candid, while trading three picks to acquire QB Josh Rosen was a coup, it didn't help Wilks’ cause on defense—-only able to draft one defensive player—-and ironically that one player, CB Christian Campbell didn't make the team or practice squad.

Instead, Wilks and his DC Al Holcomb deserve credit for bringing out the talents in several UDFAs—-DE Alec James, LB Dennis Gardeck, LB Zeke Turner, CB Deatrick Nichols and S A.J. Howard (alas, until his injury). Those are now some of his new guys—-and in time Wilks will have a whole defense full of his guys—-and those guys should play faster and hit harder.

But, the defensive positional drafting criteria for Steve Keim and his scouts has now changed significantly. While ILB Deone Bucannon may have been a fit for a while as a $LB in the 34—-he currently does not look like a fit in Wilks’ nickel, which suddenly is the team’s base defense, primarily because the linebackers are weak and the safeties are better tacklers and cover men.

This is what virtually always happens when a team transitions from one style of play and coaching to another—-the roster gets turned over—-and the sooner the new coach gets “his guys’ in place, the better.

I believe that Steve Wilks’ heart is in the right place. I also believe that he knows the kind of coaching and playing it takes to win the NFL. If he brings that Carolina toughness to Arizona—-we should be in for a treat. I just hope he takes the kid gloves off the QBs, starts going for it on 4th and 3 when his offense desperately needs to keep a spark alive and that he starts going “next man up” when some of his starters are playing error-filled, half-hearted and penalty-prone football.