It would be way too easy to place the onus of the blame on head coach Steve Wilks for the Cardinals’ egregious ineptitude through two weeks.
If Wilks is to be blamed for anything, it might be for accepting the terms of his employment in Arizona. He was the first and only coaching candidate to accept Michael Bidwill’s conditions that the new head coach be amenable to developing Steve Keim’s previous draft picks, many of whom have thus far floundered. Wilks was also asked to embrace players with quirky personalities, rather than alienate them.
When Wilks was hired and was explaining his plan at his introductory presser, it felt like he was reading a script written by Michael Bidwill. It was detailed expose of how to counter everything that went awry during the last two years of Bruce Arians’ tenure.
The problem is—-some of the things Wilks said he was open to were things that his owner and GM would later handcuff—-like espousing open competitions at all positions.
Knowing that Wilks is a defensive oriented coach, Steve Keim wanted to make sure that Wilks was paired with an experienced offensive coordinator. From the get-go local pundits like Mike Jurecki and John Gambadoro were feverishly promoting Mike McCoy and reminding listeners that Keim wanted to interview McCoy for the head coaching job back in 2013, well before Keim ever reached out to Bruce Arians.
Thus, Keim set a plan in motion—-to hire McCoy and set him up with two veteran QBs in Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon—-then to insist that the Cardinals were simply “retooling” and shouldn’t miss a beat—-and finally to stock the offensive talent cupboard in the 2018 NFL Draft by selecting 5 offensive players out of his six picks.
However—-it is important to note that Keim’s offensive retooling plan was a 2 year plan—-he signed McCoy, Bradford and Glennon to two year windows—-and that wasn’t just by coincidence.
Over the years, McCoy has fared better with veteran QBs—-so pairing him with Bradford and Glennon for two years was the plan. At the time it seemed very reasonable because even though Keim had his sights set on drafting the QBOF in the first round, sitting at #15, the likelihood of him being able to draft one of the top rated, most NFL-ready QBs in the draft were not high, unless Keim would be willing to give up a plethora of high draft picks.
Thus—-the thought was that Keim would wind up drafting a project like Josh Allen, who would need a couple of years in practice to develop. Rumor was that when Keim had a deal in place with the Broncos at #5, Allen was Keim’s target. As we know, the Broncos stayed at #5 to take DE Bradley Chubb and two picks later at #7 the Bills traded up for Allen.
But then—-Josh Rosen happened. It felt like a miracle of sorts. Not only that Rosen, billed as the most precocious and NFL-ready QB in the draft was still available at #10—-but that Keim didn't have to give up multiple first round picks to draft him.
The minute the Cardinals were able to acquire Josh Rosen—-Keim’s initial 2 year plan of McCoy with Bradford and Glennon should have been modified.
Even Bruce Arians, who is leery and disdainful of how college QBs are being developed, insists that if you draft a QB high in the top half of the first round it does no good to sit him.
Drafting Rosen should have been a game changer.
Unfortunately, Steve Keim wasn’t around for the majority of training camp—-but—-Wilks had to have been given a memo that the McCoy/Bradford plan was still a full go—-and thus the QB situation was a fait accompli and not a competition.
As it turned out—-Rosen showed good promise in pre-season game 2, but was shut down by the head coach in games 3 and 4 due to Rosen’s bruised thumb, which Rosen said wasn’t hampering him at all.
After two bad losses to start the season which included cascades of boos from the fans at home—-there is now every reason to scrap the McCoy/Bradford plan—-except it would appear that Steve Keim is still pulling the strings. You have probably heard Keim gush about Bradford and say how immensely excited he is to see Sam Bradford with his elite skillset lead the offense.
You see—-the problem with Keim’s two year McCoy/Bradford plan is that who wants to root for and get emotionally attached to a coach and a QB who will be gone in a year or two?
From Bradford’s end—-why should he want to get too excited about once again being the veteran QB on a team that has just drafted their QBOF? Bradford has to know that he’s one and done in Arizona. That might explain why Bradford is playing hot potato with the football. He likely wants to play beyond this year and knows that if he doesn’t get injured, new teams will be lined up (he said he turned down more money from two teams when he signed with the Cardinals). Why would Bradford want to get too attached to new teammates whom he is likely going to be saying goodbye to in January?
Sure some would say that Bradford’s greatest incentive should be to light up the scoreboard so that he gets another lucrative contract elsewhere. Yes, but Bradford got a lucrative contract this year while only playing in one game last year——teams know about his talent—-all they really want to know is that his knee is fine.
As for McCoy—-it appears the coach is incorrigible. First of all, he could have adopted the verbiage of the play calling from Arians’ offense so as to cash in on the players’ familiarity with the language—-instead, much to Larry Fitzgerald and others’ dismay, he decided to change everything over to his language.
Secondly, the rap on him in Denver was that his playbook was too thick and difficult for the players to master, which was one of the main reasons why he got fired in the middle of the season last year. Steve Wilks said yesterday that the team needed to “scale back” the offense—-which seems absurdly ironic, seeing as the few plays the Cardinals have run have been so redundantly vanilla.
Thirdly, McCoy could have spent his unemployed months getting up to snuff on the current rage of innovative play-calling in the NFL—-as manifested by the likes of Doug Pederson, Sean McVay, Josh McDaniels, Pat Shurmur and last night from new Bears’ head coach Matt Nagy.
We have been watching the Cardinals for a few months now—-through 4 pre-season games and 2 regular season games—-have you once seen even one play from McCoy and thought, wow that was clever?
Winning in today's NFL often comes down to the competitive advantage the coaches give their players. Every team has talent to work with, but not every coaching staff can give their players the confidence that they have the strategic advantage that wins games.
To me, it is clear what the Cardinals should do. They should release McCoy and Bradford. McCoy was hired for Bradford, not for Rosen. Keep Byron Leftwich as QB coach and promote WR coach Kevin Garver to offensive coordinator. Garver is the young hidden gem on the Cardinals’ coaching staff. Well, not so hidden, that is, because back in January the Cardinals had to deny the Seahawks permission to interview Garver.
Garver was Nick Saban’s offensive analyst in 2011 and 2012—-both national championship years. He also is a favorite of Larry Fitzgerald’s...which says and means a lot. If Garver shows signs that he can get this offense rolling, there's a decent chance that Larry Fitzgerald could return next year.
Garver’s youthful energy would be a boon and a gust of fresh air for Josh Rosen.
Tomorrow I want to write about Steve Wilks’ challenges on the defensive side of the ball—-where there have been some positive flashes and signs for a promising future.
But, for today—-it’s time to encourage the Cardinals to be bold enough to move on from a plan that should have been modified the very minute Josh Rosen became an Arizona Cardinal.
Having a fresh start with Rosen should excite the team and the fans—-and should allow everyone to feel a little more patient and understanding of the process of bringing the present into the future.