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Culture Shift in Arizona

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NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

This season Arizona Cardinals’ fans are seeing a profound and delightful change in the team’s culture and modus operandi.

The false bravado and self-aggrandizing ways of Cardinals’ teams past are being replaced with a humble respect for teamwork and the sheer value of sustained diligence.

I don't know about you—-but yesterday when I heard Kliff Kingsbury’s and Kyler Murray’s reactions to Murray being named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week (in light of his stellar performance versus the Falcons)—-I nearly swooned from complete and utter delight.

First of all, the fact that K2 and K1 are already joined at the hip in a common spirit of “getting better every day” and that they seem to know each other so keenly and even humorously well, is a boon.

Kingsbury laughed when he was asked what Kyler’s reaction would be to winning the Player of the Week honor. He quipped, “He probably doesn’t care too much about it.”

Hours later when it was time for Kyler to express his reaction to the honor—-Kyler completely followed suit by deflecting the attention away from himself and focusing it on what the recognition means “to the improvement of the team.”

Kyler Murray was the same way at Oklahoma—-he was the consummate teammate—-the consummate galvanizer——and an extraordinary lightning rod.

Not only has Kyler endeared himself to his teammates on offense by virtue of his humble and diligent leadership, he has been forging a positive rapport with a number of the defensive players. For example, from day one, Chandler Jones has been effusive in his praise for Kyler as a dynamic playmaker and as a devoted teammate.

There are Cardinals players of the past and perhaps a few remaining in the present who have tended to preen before the cameras and toot their own horns.

But, this kind of basking in self promotion appears to be dwindling away, as it is being replaced by quiet resolve and concerted action.

No one in the organization could be more happy with this evolution than WR Larry Fitzgerald. For years, Fitz has quietly tried to spearhead the humble, respectful, low-keyed, diligent, approach by example—-but now Fitz’s legendary modus operandi is being fostered by his own head coach and his rookie QB—-which this time around has taken a positive effect on the entire team and its culture.

We can see the auspicious effect that this approach is taking on the Cardinals once much-maligned offensive line. These guys are playing their butts off—-and finally they feel like they playing with greater purpose and with greater respect for their roles in the team’s success.

On the other side of the ball, we have seen some good flashes of leadership from Chandler Jones, Corey Peters, Jordan Hicks—-and most delightfully from the cadre of young ballers in the Cardinals’ secondary—-namely Budda Baker, Byron Murphy, Deionte Thompson, Kevin Peterson and Jalen Thompson. None of these young players is an outspoken “me first” kind of guy—-they take every aspect of their jobs seriously. They hit—-and, with new regularity—-they hit hard.

How about the bone-jarring tackle Byron Murphy made on Julio Jones the second Jones caught the ball over the middle on his second catch of the day? How about Deionte Thompson in the second quarter finishing off the thit on Devonta Freeman as Freeman was trying to shake loose from an ankle tackle? How about the hit on the Falcons’ second possession that Kevin Peterson delivered on Julio Jones on a 3 yard pass that stopped Jones in his tracks (no JJ-RAC, baby!) and that subsequently led to a Falcons’ punt?

What is happening now for the Cardinals’ team is a full commitment to hard work and group effort—-one that is carrying its way from the practice field to between the stripes on game days.

There is a humble reverence for the opponents and yet a growing sense of confidence in the daily and weekly preparations to the point where the Cardinals’ players feel they are gaining a competitive edge. Each week recently, Kyler has been praising the wrinkles the coaches have created in their game plans for each new opponent. Boy it feels so refreshing to hear that from the QB.

For the first time in a long time—-the Arizona Cardinals are letting their preparation and their play do the talking.

Player of the Week Award?

No big deal.

Except for the nice recognition it gives to the improvement of the team.

When NFL pundits talk about “winning cultures”—-this is precisely what they mean.