clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Weeks 13-17: Cardinals Focal Points

NFL: Arizona Cardinals-Kyler Murray Press Conference Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Man, how exciting and challenging it would be to be the Arizona Cardinals’ team president right now.

If I could sit next to Michael Bidwill up in the booth for the next five games—-these are the focal points I would love to discuss with him:

  1. Can the Cardinals’ defense show enough improvement for the team to feel comfortable to keep Vance Joseph and his coaches in place?
  • Cardinals’ defense rankings: Yards—-31st; Points—-29th; Passing—-32nd; Rushing—-22nd.
  • MB—-let’s set a goal for the last 5 games—-if Vance Joseph and the defense can get all of these rankings out of the 30s—-then that could be the sign of improvement we need.
  • If not, it is imperative to get the defense in the most capable hands, especially with offensive savant Kliff Kingsbury as head coach.
  • If we need to move on from Vance Joseph—-here are 3 candidates who, imo, would be very capable replacements: (1) Gus Bradley (DC Chargers)—-with HC Anthony Lynn on the hot seat, Bradley might become available—-he is one of the best DCs in the NFL, so we should try to pounce on him no matter what. (2) Jay Rodgers (DLC Bears)—-bringing the Bears’ style of defense to Arizona would be very exciting. Rodgers is young, talented and is the brother of our Assistant HC, STC Jeff Rodgers. (3) Mike Nolan (LBC Saints)—-the job that Mike Nolan has done helping to improve their defense and, in particular, with the Saints’ linebackers, has been exceptional. His experience, as we both know, is impressive: 18 years as NFL DC, 4 years as NFL HC. Plus, let’s hear what Ernie Accorsi has to say about Nolan who was his DC in New York back in the mid 90s.
  • MB—-my issue with Vance Joseph is that we could blame the Cardinals’ defensive woes on the personnel if we are seeing QBs beating us by having to throw contested passes into reasonably tight windows—-but—-it’s the embarrassing coverage breakdowns and wide open receivers and easy TDs that point directly to the coaching. Let’s face it—-if our offense wasn’t 3rd in the NFL in scoring percentage—-this defense could be 32nd in all categories. It literally cannot get off the field and it is swiss cheese in the 4th quarters of close games.
  • One more thing—-the design of the blitz that cost us the 49ers game—-the twist blitz up the A gap from Budda Baker (who was lined up in the slot), was going to give Jimmy Garoppolo enough time to make a quick throw because of how far away Baker was from the A gap at the snap. Plus, how and why in that situation does the coach devise a blitz that has neither Chandler Jones nor Terrell Suggs rushing the QB, as both stayed at the line of scrimmage? If Jospeh had called up to you in the booth during the timeout and asked your opinion of whether to run that blitz as it was designed—-would you ever in a million years have said yes? The call defies any modicum of good football sense. With the game on the line why would we or any coach ever vacate the middle of the field?

2. Can the offensive line stay healthy and productive for all 16 games? Shouldn’t we wait to see whether they can before making any decisions for re-signing D.J. Humphries and A.Q. Shipley for next year and possibly beyond?

  • MB—-let’s take a look at the analytics here:
  • Overall Grades: LG—-Justin Pugh (67.2); RG J.R. Sweezy (65.7); LT D.J. Humphries (61.0); RT Justin Murray (59.6); LG Mason Cole (59.6); C A.Q. Shipley (51.2)
  • Pass Pro Grades: Pugh (78.9), Sweezy (72.2), Shipley (71.0), Humphries (70.6), Cole (70.3), Murray (63.1).
  • Run Blocking Grades: Pugh (58.5), Cole (58.0), Sweezy (57.5), Humphries (52.6), Murray (51.7), Shipley (40.9)
  • Penalties: Humphries (11), Sweezy (6), Shipley (3), Pugh (2); Murray (2), Cole (1)
  • What the analytics suggest is that LT D.J. Humphries is a slightly above average LT , RT Justin Murray is an average RT (although he is coming off his best game earning PFF’s top graded RT for Week 11) and C A.Q. Shipley is a slightly below average center.
  • What’s encouraging about D.J. Humphries is how he improved his pass pro versus Nick Bosa the 2nd time around (up from 32.0 and 2 penalties in Week 9 to 66.8 and 0 penalties in Week 11). Plus, D.J. had one of his best games in pass pro versus Jadaveon Clowney (77.7 in Week 4). if he can show for the 1st time in his career that he can be healthy for all 16 games, he will make a strong case to stick, providing he is not expecting top 5 LT money. In my opinion, using the franchise tag ($16M) on him would be a mistake.
  • The analytics would suggest that Mason Cole could be an upgrade at center over A.Q. Shipley. Shipley deserves a lot of credit for his leadership, perseverance and tenacity, especially at age 34 coming off an ACL injury and a full season in 2018 on the IR. With 2019 6th round pick Lamont Gaillard on the roster and the good potential to re-sign G/C Max Garcia, it would appear that the in-house options and depth at center are solid.
  • The good news on Justin Murray is not only that he is starting to make a case to be the RT in 2020, he is an exclusive rights free agent. Thus, it should be very easy and affordable to keep him. In addition, hopefully we will see big-time 2nd year improvement from 2019 7th round pick Joshua Miles, who, in limited action this year, has a 60.4 PFF grade.
  • The two bookend 2020 UFA tackles who feel like superb fits, imo, are LT Anthony Castonzo (31—-Colts—-82.1 overall, 83.0 pass pro, 73.5 run blocking) and RT Jack Conklin (25—-Titans—-70.6 overall, 72.8 pass pro, 69.3 run blocking).
  • MB—-we have to give a ton of credit to OLC Sean Kugler for the superb job he is doing with the offensive line, turning what was once a perennial weakness into a respectable force.
  • We might want to be concerned about some team with a play calling HC trying to sign Kugler as their OC. In order to prevent that, it might be a very good idea to promote him to OC for our play calling HC while still being principally in charge of the OL, and give him a raise.

3. Key Personnel Questions:

  • MB—-here are the current 2020 UFAs on our roster who, imo, we should re-sign: 1. RB Kenyan Drake (78.3)—-K2 loves him; 2. WR/TE Larry Fitzgerald (70.4)—-interesting that Fitz was leading the TE group in the tunnel at Santa Clara—-his versatility and leadership continue to be outstanding. 3. G/C Max Garcia—-shouldn’t be pricey and could remain a key depth player and possible starter if need be. 4. WR Pharoh Cooper (73.5)—-has stepped up as a gamer since his return, following a good training camp. 5. DT Rodney Gunter (65.3)—-deserves a 2-3 year deal. 6. DT Zach Kerr (70.5)—-has helped fortify our run defense. 7. S Charles Washington (76.7)—-currently has the highest PFF STs grade on the team.
  • Here are my thoughts about:
  • CB Patrick Peterson—-the hope is that he is spending the bye week getting physically and mentally prepared to play the best 5 games of his season. But, in light of recent behaviors, would it be a surprise that Peterson will spend the week playing golf instead? It would make sense that before free agency next year you allow and encourage Petersons’ agent to generate trade interest and then take the best deal you can. There is too much baggage with Peterson now and it is time to move on.
  • RB David Johnson—-it appears obvious at this point that Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds are better system fits at RB than David Johnson. Therefore, it is imperative for the Cardinals to know how David Johnson would fit in at WR. Kliff Kingsbury has lauded Johnson for his receiving skills, so put those skills to the task in order to find out whether Johnson has a future in the K-Raid at that position.
  • DE Terrell Suggs—-it looks clear that he is not dialed in, just as D.J. Swearinger wasn’t. Move on from him asap. Give Cassius Marsh, Pete Robertson and Vontarrrius Dora (promote to roster) his snaps.

MB—-thank you for hearing my thoughts. As my coaching mentor always liked to say, “I could wrong...but then again...I could be right.”

I hope that we will rejoice in a signature win (or more) against the Rams, Browns, Steelers or Seahawks. It was encouraging to see how well we played on offense versus the 49ers. I applaud and thank you, Ernie Accorsi and Adrian Wilson for bringing Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray to the Arizona Cardinals. The games are now exciting to watch and Cardinals’ players and fans have a renewed hope for the future.