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Fight To Win Young Cardinals

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Many coaches in the NFL break the regular season down into 4 quarters—-with the goal being to try to win each quarter—-which would mean winning 3 out of the 4 games.

Obviously, the first quarter of the season did not go as well as the coaches or players had hoped. The record was 0-3-1. But—-for the most part the Cardinals were competitive in all 4 games.

During the second quarter of the season, the Cardinals found their stride, winning 3 of 4 games.

Thus far in the third quarter, the Cardinals are 0-1, but their 28-25 loss to the 8-0 49ers showed how much the Cardinals are progressing on offense, despite their defensive woes. If they can somehow get the defense straightened out—-who knows? Perhaps they could run three straight games again—-versus the Bucs in Tampa, the 49ers (coming off a MNF tussle with the Seahawks) in Santa Clara—-and then after the bye week versus the Rams (coming off a MNF battle with the Ravens) at home.

However, if what the Cardinals’ beat writer for The Athletic, Scott Bordow, said about the Cardinals’ players after the 49er loss is true—-we can stick a fork in the Cardinals right now. Here is what Bordow reported in his post-game article “A Loss Accepted...”:

“The doors to the Cardinals locker room swung open about 20 minutes after a 28-25 loss to the San Francisco 49ers Thursday night.

Many of the lockers already had been cleared out. The players who remained got dressed, talked to reporters and looked forward to a weekend off.

Something was missing, though. There was no anger. No frustration. No loud voices or heads buried in hands. Observing the scene, a thought occurred: The Cardinals have decided to grade themselves on a curve this season.

Don’t misunderstand. The loss stung. Larry Fitzgerald was asked a question about moral victories and in a soft voice tossed it aside.

But the Cardinals understand who they are and where they are. They’re coming off a 3-13 season and have a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback trying to get the hang of this NFL thing. So, yes, a three-point loss to an undefeated 49ers team didn’t cause the anguish it might have if expectations were higher.”

While Bordow’s rationale is logical—-I hope to high heavens that he is greatly mistaken.

I think that there are a few isolated veterans on the roster who might be taking the losing in stride, kind of like an expectation—-but this team is being taken over by the younger players—-and from what we have seen from the youth on this team, losing is unacceptable and extremely frustrating to them.

Right now the biggest obstacles the Cardinals face are of their own making. They have managed to be very competitive in virtually all of their games, except the one that got away from them in New Orleans—-but they have veterans on defense who are underachieving within a defensive scheme that thus far, at best, has been passive-aggressive.

This kind of play on your heels defense has to change—-and it has to change now, not some day in the future. For one, on the last meaningful play of the Thursday night’s game, I cannot get the image of two Cardinals’ defenders standing side by side in zone coverage, standing in cement, with no 49er with 5 yards of them, while right before their eyes, backup TE Ross Dwelley is wide open as he easily converts the final 3rd down of the game.

If only the handful of lethargic veterans on defense could be playing with the kind of passion that the veterans on the Cardinals’ offensive line are displaying, game in and game out—-this team might have a winning record at this point.

Back during training camp—-Steve Keim saw this coming from a mile away when he warned the team that some of the players were just coasting and going through the motions.

One of those players was FS D.J. Swearinger—-and Swearinger was so complacent and uncompetitive that he was cut after a few games.

What Swearinger was putting on tape was an egregious array half hearted efforts in coverage and tackling.

Over the past couple of weeks we have watching some of the same from Haasan Reddick (who lost his starting job), Terrell Suggs (who reportedly left the Ravens to steal from the Cardinals instead) and Patrick Peterson (who is suddenly playing at 34 speed and backing off from receivers instead of leveraging them, while still being an embarrassing liability as a tackler).

Help is already on the roster—-Joe Walker played well in his first start in Reddick’s spot—and for reinforcements, the Cardinals just signed veteran, starting-caliber ILB Zach Brown—-on the edge Cassius Marsh has been bringing hustle and energy to the front seven (and who knows maybe Haasan Reddick can do the same there at his most natural position, if he ever gets the chance—-would love to see Dennis Gardeck on the edge as well)—-and at CB there is another Peterson on the roster named Kevin who is scrappy and tenacious and was playing well before the other Peterson took his spot.

You win in the league with tough guys—-with guys who won’t back down. With guys who put the team first.

No player should be given special treatment—-if a player is not doing his job—-get him out of there. Next man up.

Up front the interior defensive linemen are now busting their butts and laying down hammers—-Corey Peters, Rodney Gunter, Jonathan Bullard, Zach Kerr and Quinton McDonald have a strong rotation going, while injured rookie Zach Allen is now on the verge of returning. DE Chandler Jones is having another big year getting to the QB and stripping the ball.

MLB Jordan Hicks is making a number of good stops in the running game, but now needs to pick up his play in coverage.

On the back end, the two Huskies, S Budda Baker and CB Byron Murphy are playing aggressively and could profit from a more aggressive all-around scheme and being put in the right spots as Baker mostly was on Thursday night—-he just needed a safety to help him bracket All Pro TE George Kittle. There is not a safety in the game who can consistently cover Kittle one on one, without help.

The rookie safety tandem of Jalen Thompson and Deionte Thompson—-are gaining valuable experience—-they look eager to put the wood on ball carriers and receivers. Jalen has shown talent in coverage, while Deionte is making strides in deep coverage, which is always is tremendous challenge for rookies in the NFL.

On offense, the Cardinals are on the verge of becoming a potential juggernaut.

It starts up front with an rejuvenated offensive line that is playing like a litter of pit bulls let loose in a butcher’s shop. This past game, the Cardinals may have even discovered their most talented lineup in LT-Humphries; LG-Cole; C-Shipley; RG-Sweezy and RT-Pugh. One could make a very good argument that those five are the most talented offensive linemen on the roster.

At TE, Maxx Williams has emerged as the toughest, baddest and most aggressive TE the Cardinals have had in eons. Why he hasn’t been signed to a contract extension by now is mind-boggling. That would send the right kind of statement to the team. With each game, TE Charles Clay appears to be gaining strength and stamina—-and suddenly is a big play waiting to happen.

At RB, Chase Edmonds was hitting the holes with the kind of burst and speed the offense requires until he injured a hamstring (he’s out probably until after the bye week), but newly acquired RB Kenyan Drake is tailor made for the offense, as he dominated against a top five defense in his first game—-perhaps this will finally light a fire under David Johnson’s tail—-Johnson has been productive, but has played slower and more tentatively than expected.

At WR, Larry Fitzgerald has been productive when he’s had his chances, while the youth of the group, Christian Kirk, KeeSean Johnson and Andy Isabella are starting to flash their talent and are on the verge of flourishing in the system. Pharoh Cooper, Trent Sherfield and Damiere Byrd have chipped in well at times.

And—-at the point guard position—-QB Kyler Murray is spreading the ball around and making a flurry of chunk yard slam dunks with his accurate arm and super quick feet.

On special teams, the Cardinals have a stellar one-two punch in K Zane Gonzalez and P Andy Lee. The coverage teams are go-getters, led by Trent Sherfield, Dennis Gardeck and a now healthy Zeke Turner. In the return game, Pharoh Cooper has popped a couple of good runs since his return to the Cardinals.

There are makings of a winning team here—-whether the complacent veterans change their stripes or not. The youth on this team bends to take over—-and with that—-hopefully the expectations will shift to the point where—-at no time—-will a loss be accepted.

You know—-the NFL has been paying close attention to this team—-as one player from each of the 3 phases has garnered league-wide honors: QB Kyler Murray (NFC Offensive Player of Week 6), DE Chandler Jones (NFC Defensive Player of Week 7) and K Zane Gonzalez (NFC Special Teams Player of the Month in October).

Therefore, fight to win young Cardinals—-go out there and set new standards and leave anyone who’s not on board—-in the dust. Beep beep.