Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray are now 10 games into their NFL careers with the Arizona Cardinals.
From the get-go, there were national and local pundits who believed the NFL would swallow them up and turn these collegiate “pretty boys” into Texas hash.
Yet, after 10 games, K2 and K1 are getting it done in a thrilling fashion.
Problem is, their most formidable enemy is not the naysayers or the team’s opponents, it’s the continued dysfunction within the Cardinals’ organization.
Imagine for a second what this ride has been like for Kliff Kingsbury.
The day he was hired, the most highly respected sportswriter in the valley, Kent Somers, took to Twitter and the Arizona Republic to say, “it was a bold move by the Cardinals, and a bad one.”
For those of us Cardinals’ fans who have often felt scorned by the Arizona media—-look at what the fans thought of the Kingsbury hire:
VOTE: What kind of head coach hire would Kliff Kingsbury be for the Arizona Cardinals? (Latest news: https://t.co/qH1yBhuXad Speculation: https://t.co/E6xtnbkZHX)— azcentral sports (@azcsports) January 8, 2019
So, Kingsbury was not even hours on the job before the top sportswriter in Arizona had deemed him a “bad” choice.
Then, Kingsbury was counseled by GM Steve Keim to hire a veteran NFL staff—-the most important of which was Keim’s decision to turn the defense over to Vance Joseph. And just like a year ago when Mike McCoy, the veteran OC with head coaching experience, was supposed to be a rock on his side of the ball and a mentor to Steve Wilks, the rookie head coach—-Joseph was hired to be the same for Kingsbury.
Little did Kingsbury know then that Vance Joseph’s defense was going to leave TEs and WRs wide open left and right—-and allow the opponents absurdly easy scores at the ends of halves. After 10 games—-little has changed—-even upon the return of Pro Bowl CB Patrick Peterson who has looked out of sorts after his 6 game suspension for PED violations.
Speaking of Peterson, imagine what it was like for Kingsbury to (a) learn that Peterson, the star player in the secondary, would be suspended for 6 games and (b) just a week before the NFL Draft that Peterson went into a hissy fit on social media calling the Cardinals FO “snakes in the grass” because the team wouldn’t restructure his contract so that he could get paid while on suspension.
Then OTAs came and Kingsbury had to learn of Peterson’s decision—-despite his suspension—-to stay home and play golf instead.
Also missing from OTAs was the Cardinals new “feel-good” free agent OLB/DE Terrell Suggs whom recently was rumored to have told a Ravens’ teammate that in playing this year he valued the Ravens so much that he would rather “steal from the Cardinals” instead.
Meanwhile, imagine what it must have been like for Kingsbury to have to go along with the Cardinals’ 3 month pre-draft strategy of keeping the NFL and the whole world in suspense about what player they would take with the #1 pick—-to the point of having to lie about the status of QB Josh Rosen—-and then have to try to atone for his own GM not even saying a single word to Rosen after months of having him twisting in the wind, going through the awkwardness of being the starting QB for Kingsbury’s first three weeks of team activities and then jettisoning him on Day 2 of the draft.
If this whole charade was primarily motivated to appease Roger Goodell and the NFL Draft producers—-then at least the NFL could have decided to review the obvious pass interference penalty on the last play of yesterday’s game—-just as it did minutes earlier for the Bucs.
We will never know whether the Cardinals would have gotten a better deal for Josh Rosen had they put him on the trading block prior to the draft. One’s likely guess is that they would have. But, regardless, Cardinals fans may be very pleased at this point that (a) the Cardinals drafted QB Kyler Murray and (b) that they acquired WR Andy Isabella and RB Kenyan Drake (2020 5th round pick—-most likely) for Rosen (particularly if they can re-sign Drake—-who shined versus the 49ers, but like most NFL RBs, struggled to find a crack in the Bucs’ front 7 that features V. Vea, N. Suh, JPP, S. Barrett, L. David and D. White—-a front 7 that leads the NFL in run defense).
As for Andy Isabella, why the coaches have been so reluctant to play this kid is mind-boggling. Sure, some guys have their fair share of struggles in practice, but some guys are just flat-out gamers—-just as Isabella has proven the past two weeks, Not only that, he has helped to open up the Cardinals’ Air Raid, as now they have become more excited and eager to throw the ball downfield, as evidenced brilliantly yesterday by Christin Kirk’s 6/138/23.0/3 TD and Andy isabella’s 3/78/26.0 production on a day when QB Kyler Murray threw for 27/44/324/7.4/3 TD/1 int.
Yesterday, Kliff Kingsbury called a gutsy game—-the 4th down pass to TE Maxx Williams was picture perfect, save for the rare case where the sun was right in his line of sight. The 4th down miracle catch by WR Larry Fitzgerald (8/71/8.9) was outstanding. The 4th down razzle dazzle fake punt (designed by STC Jeff Rodgers) pass from P Andy Lee to WR Pharoh Cooper was a momentum coup.
But—-the Cardinals made the STs gaffe of the day when CB Patrick Peterson got flagged for being in the neutral zone on a missed FG. And while Kyler Murray wished he could have the interception back when the Cardinals were in a position to seal the win, the other big mistake on offense was RB David Johnson’s fumble in the red zone a couple plays after the Cardinals got a tipped interception from S Budda Baker to LB Jordan Hicks.
Prophetically, it was GM Steve Keim who said during the week in reference to CB Patrick Peterson’s rough night against the 49ers that in order to win the Cardinals need “their best players to play their best.” Peterson was giving greater effort in coverage this week, but his holding penalty on a 3rd and 6 where the defense sacked QB Jamis Winston, extended the Bucs’ first TD drive, which with the off-sides penalty, resulted in 10 of the Bucs’ 30 points. Peterson injured his left calf in the second half and was knocked out of the game, which is why S Jalen Thompson was covering Mike Evans on the ill-fated no-PI reversal.
DE Terrell Suggs made some excellent efforts to stop the run on the goal line. And he had 6 tackles on the day defensing the run—-but if you go and watch his pass rushing efforts—-particularly at the end of both halves where the Cardinals surrendered 14 of the 30 points—-unlike the Bucs’ pass rushers who got after QB Kyler Murray big-time at the end of the game, Suggs’ effort was so poor that on a few occasions he didn’t even try to rush. How a player of his caliber could put those kind “no show” efforts on tape is mind-boggling.
As for RB David Johnson, who was designed to be the focal point of the offense (which once again prompted Johnson prior to the season to assure his Fantasy fans that he could very well achieve his 1,000 rushing/1,000 receiving goal this season), thanks in part to a sprained ankle, he continues to run at what looks to be half speed—-and while his ball security has improved this year—-failing to tuck the ball away on his fumble yesterday was tough timing for him and the team.
At the end of the first half for a second week in a row, DC Vance Joseph called pass coverage alignments that were egregious. Versus the 49ers he had CB Patrick Peterson lined up 5 yards deep into the end zone on WR Emmanuel Sanders, thus gift wrapping an easy quick out TD the 49ers—-and this week’s gift-wrapping versus the Bucs occurred when CB Byron Murphy was also lined up in the end zone and stood and watched as TE O.J. Howard caught a wide open, totally uncontested TD pass.
Last week Joseph was saying how great his defense has been on 1st and 2nd downs—but what good does it do them when they give up so many 3rd down conversions and easy TDs?
The Cardinals lost by 3 again yesterday, but look at the disparity of these stats:
Total Yards: Bucs—-457; Cardinals—-417
Total Plays: Bucs—-78; Cardinals—-65
Time of Possession: Bucs—-36:03; Cardinals—-23:57
Third Down Conversions: Bucs—-7/15; Cardinals—-1/10.
Red Zone TDs: Bucs—-3/4; Cardinals—-1/4
I think it is fair to say that the Bucs’ and Todd Bowles’ all-out pass rush philosophy, especially on 3rd downs was a deciding difference in this game.
But let’s face it—-the Cardinals’ defense is keeping the Cardinals’ offense on the sidelines far too long. It has also forced a young QB to feel as if he has to be perfect to win.
That may be the exact reason why QB Kyler Murray looked so utterly dejected after his interception—-it was as if he already knew the Cardinals were now going to give up the end of the half TD again and lose the game.
But—-this is a great lesson for Kyler moving forward—-he needs to take a page out of Russell Wilson’s book—-which is just “give me the ball las”t in close games and we will prevail. There have been games where Wilson has been awful, like the playoff game at Green Bay where he threw 3 interceptions, but then, when scoring was needed most late in the game, he delivered like Dominos Pizza.
Murray had a very good game going in his favor yesterday. He got the ball back only down 3 with one timeout and 1:43 on the clock—-which for Wilson is an eternity—-and hopefully will be an eternity for Kyler the next time and beyond.
But what was so mind-boggling was to see how Kyler (and ultimately Kliff Kingsbury because he had a timeout in his pocket) mismanaged the end of the game. With only 1 timeout—-you just don’t run a RB draw on 1st down.
At the end of game the clock is more of your enemy than the defense.
The Cardinals lost 23 seconds on a draw play that netted 3 yards.
Then came the hitch pass to Christian Kirk that the Bucs punched incomplete.
Then on 3rd and 7, the short pass to Kenyan Drake only netted 2 yards—-but kept the clock running and this time—-unbelievably, even though it was a 4th down and 5—-on this one play the clock wound down from 1:13 to 0:25. That’s nearly a full minute.
Yes the Cardinals got a PI on Kirk, but now a mere 25 seconds made it extremely difficult to get the offense in field goal range.
The Cardinals looked in such disarray at the end—-that it didn't help their cause for a PI review on the Hail Mary from Murray to Pharoh Cooper.
The play absolutely should have been reviewed. And the PI call should have been made.
But the Cardinals’ time mismanagement at the end of this still very winnable game has to be the focus of this week’s teaching points on offense.
If it’s anything the Air Raid should be able to do—-is run the up tempo 2 minute drill—-something that this offense should do more regularly like they did in the 2nd half versus the 49ers. In fact, it would be great to start the game in it versus the 49ers this week.
One may imagine that Kliff Kingsbury is telling Kyler: “We trust and believe in your instincts—- you are at your best when you remain aggressive—-it was great this week to see how aggressive we were taking shots downfield—-that we now know this offense can score from any down and distance—-and that always, no matter what, keep your head up on the sidelines, keep getting your teammates fired up and relish the opportunity to have the ball in our hands with the game on the line.”
The promising thing about K2 and K1 is the concerted cleaning up and new scheming they do on the offense from week to week.
Special teams does their part too.
How long will it take for the front office and the defense to do the same?