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Cardinals’ Coaching Staff Notes

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

When Steve Keim took control of hiring Kliff Kingsbury’s coaching staff, Keim’s main objective was to surround Kingsbury with as many veteran NFL coaches as possible.

This objective was wise, but, in some ways, it was very risky.

Wise because Kingsbury came into the job with no NFL coaching experience.

Risky because what if the veteran assistant coaches were not fully on board with Kingsbury’s exotic offense?

Not only did the majority of Kingsbury’s new offensive assistants have to learn his offense well enough to teach it, which for some veteran NFL assistants who are used to doing things their own way is more than a tad challenging, the assistants also had to show the players their passion and commitment to this offense in order to get the players to buy in.

Steve Keim and Kliff Kingsbury both said during the hiring process that it would be good for the new head coach to incorporate some time-proven NFL offense staples into Kingsbury’s college version of the Air Raid.

Thus, veteran offensive assistants such as Tom Clements (QB coach), Sean Kugler (offensive line coach) and Jerry Sullivan (WR coach) were brought in as much for their ability to collaborate as their ability to coach their units.

Collaboration can be tricky. Especially amongst veteran coaches who have their own styles and philosophies.

The good news is that it generally appears that Kliff Kingsbury is well liked by his staff and his players.

if you saw the video of Michael Bidwill handing Kliff Kingsbury the game ball for earning his first win as an NFL head coach, the cheers in the room from the players and coaches were very spirited.

Many of Kingsbury’s players, like Larry Fitzgerald, have expressed their fondness for playing for him—-and as LB Jordan Hicks recently did to the FOX crew last Sunday, when he told them that the main reason why he signed in Arizona was to play for Kingsbury.

As the weeks go by, it appears that QB Kyler Murray, RBs David Johnson and Chase Edmonds and the offensive line are improving from week to week.

In fact, the most promising development has been the steady growth in confidence of the offensive line under the auspicious leadership of Sean Kugler who craves a run-pass balance the likes of which we saw versus the Bengals. Kingsbury’s offense because of the its unpredictability and the pressure that a running, accurate passer QB like Kyler Murray puts on the defense often provides favorable number in the running game. We are even seeing Murray take more direct snaps from the center than what was first imagined.

However, the one offensive unit that has yet to get fully on track is the WR unit, partly due to injuries and partly due to inexperience.

It’s quite possible that the WR unit is actually suffering from being overcoached. There is such a thing as overcoaching. In today’s jargon, the acronym for it is TMI.

Kingsbury’s former hire at Texas Tech, David Raih, who had been the Packers’ WR coach under Mike McCarthy the past few years, was a natural fit.

However, legendary technician, Jerry Sullivan, was added to assist during training camp and then was asked to stay on. Sullivan is a WR coaching guru, no doubt. But, he is the ultimate stickler who is great for seasoned WRs like Larry Fitzgerald, but perhaps not as readily effective for rookies and younger players.

The Cardinals’ WRs have looked very mechanical in an offense that preaches imagination and at times, the freedom of spontaneity.

After five games, KeeSean Johnson has yet to have a breakthrough game and Andy isabella, with his 4.31 speed hasn’t even been targeted once.

isabella said a couple weeks ago that he was still getting used to doing things differently from what he was instructed in college, which is curious because his college coach, Mark Whipple, coached for several years in the NFL.

The Cardinals also have Andy Isabella’s college offensive passing game coordinator on the staff in Mark Whipple’s son, Spencer.

As the games have rolled by, at first Kyler Murray was being left alone on the bench between series, then backup QB Brett Hundley was trying to engage Murray in some tablet analyses, then David Raih started getting a little involved and the past two weeks Spencer Whipple has been conducting the QB discussions.

For those of you who read my articles on a regular basis, you know that for weeks now I have been concerned about this lack of organization on the Cardinals’ bench. I have been questioning why QB coach Tom Clements is not sitting with Murray and Hundley between series.

Here is my guess as to why:

I think that from day one Kliff Kingsbury has told his coaches that he wants to be the principal voice in Kyler Murray’s ears.

As a former coach, I can tell you, you always worry about the amount of chatter your QBs hear from other coaches, from players, from parents, etc.

Everybody is an armchair QB.

Just as Kingsbury wants to be left alone to call the plays on game day, he wants his QB to listen to his voice and his voice only.

Meanwhile during games, Kingsbury is getting Tom Clements’ insights from the coaching box.

I think this is very wise—-but—-only if Kingsbury takes this a step further.

The best solution to the bench coaching would be for Kingsbury to put assistant head coach Jeff Rodgers in charge of the sideline while he goes and sits with Murray to hash out what they are both seeing and then, most importantly, to map out the first few plays of the next series. In fact, at times Kingsbury could huddle the whole offense at the bench to preview the next few plays.

Then, when that’s accomplished, he can hustle back over to the sidelines.

As for the defensive coaches, it was clear from the get-go that Steve Keim wanted Vance Jospeh as the defensive coordinator so that he could take full command of that side of the ball in order to free up Kingsbury to coach the QBs and run the offense.

Keim also wanted Kingsbury to be able “to lean on” Vance Joseph for head coaching advice, seeing as Joseph spent his last two years as head coach of the Broncos.

Keim worked hard to provide Jospeh with quality defensive personnel across the board—-but there have been a number of surprise and unfortunate defections for various reasons from the following players who were supposed to have key roles: DT Darius Philon, DT Robert Nkemdiche, CB Patrick Peterson, CB Robert Alford, S D.J. Swearinger.

Joseph’s defense thus far has routinely allowed long, time consuming first drives most of which have resulted in TDs and early holes for the team.

Joseph has shown the ability to adjust to the failings of the first drive—-but later on in the games, the defense has manifested a poor pattern of giving up leads in immediate fashion.

However, the pass coverage, which at times has been surprisingly non-existent, has started to tighten up, despite the fact that in recent weeks Joseph is not getting the kind of edge pressure from Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs that he says is the number one priority of his defense.

Part of this may be due to the fact that Joseph has elected to switch Jones, the NFL’s top sack leader over the past five years, away from his accustomed role as the RDE. Jospeh has also, on several key passing downs, elected to drop Jones back into zone pass coverage. Meanwhile, Suggs, whom Joseph has been using at RDE in place of Jones, has been slowed by injuries and inconsistent play.

Getting the pass rush back on track will be critical this week versus Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the Falcons. Plus, there cannot be any more wide open receivers and tight ends roaming through the defense.

The irony is that of all of the assistant coaches, Vance Jospeh, the one who Steve Keim hired to be a greatest help to Kliff Kingsbury, has given the new head coach the least amount of help.

Jospeh was more animated this past week on the sidelines and his defense had its best stretch of the season in quarters two and three versus the Bengals, but they could not hold a 14 point lead almost midway through the 4th quarter.

Hopefully, Vance Joseph can deliver in the weeks ahead. Hopefully, he and the players can build on last week’s second and third quarter success and then find a way to close out games when the offense has the lead. Otherwise, one has to wonder whether Vance Joseph is the right coach for the job moving forward.

It’s very possible that tweaking the staff from year to year to get the right coaching combinations and fits will be important. But, hopefully, every member of this current staff will prove that he is the right fit.