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Despite K-Raid, Cardinals’ Organization Mired in Dysfunction

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San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Note: I wrote that majority of this article on Saturday, but I emailed Seth Cox to say that I wasn’t gong to post it until after Sunday’s game because I had already written a critical article on Steve Keim a few days ago and sensing how excited so many of you were for Sunday’s game, I didn’t want to dampen your enthusiasm. I was as hopeful about this game as most of you, but in light of how poor the Cardinals’ defense has been, it was difficult to picture a win over an angry humiliated Rams’ team. Then hearing on Friday that Kyler had injured a hamstring, I feared this game suddenly had all the makings of a disaster. Thus, here is what I wrote Saturday morning:

To quote Charles Dickens’ famous opening line of A Tale of Two Cities, “these were the best of times and the worst of times.”

Kliff, Kyler, Larry and the Cardinals highly creative and multi-dimensional offense have been a thrilling joy to watch.

On the flip side, not only has the Cardinals’ defense been virtually unwatchable—-the organization itself remains a laughing stock embarrassment to the NFL and to the state of Arizona.

Over the past few years Cardinals coaches have publicly belittled and berated underachieving players in addition to mocking an archival (that is now putting a yearly pounding on the Cardinals) and throwing aspersions at the league with regard to scheduling and officiating.

The Cardinals’ front office has recently fired an offensive coordinator in mid-season and axed a first year head coach after one season, making him the primary scapegoat for their own mistakes. Meanwhile, two of its executives have gotten popped for serious DUI violations. And the team president used his team and NFL platform to engage in a national promotion of a highly controversial nominee to the United States Supreme Court.

Such careless and destructive decisions have trickled down to the players, where in just over 6 months:

  • two players were dismissed from the team for domestic violence allegations
  • the team’s star CB, who has shown contempt for the organization was suspended for 6 games on PED and cover-up violations (and then treated like a homecoming hero upon his return)
  • another star free agent acquisition with local ties reportedly told a former teammate that he had too much respect to “steal from” his old team, so he decided instead to “steal from the Cardinals” (to the tune of $7M guaranteed)
  • another reasonably high profile free agent whom the Cardinals signed just a week before the season, made the roster, thus guaranteeing his salary, then basically stayed to himself for a couple of weeks before earning his release (and weekly paychecks for the rest of the season)
  • another reasonably high profile re-acquisition from late last season, started the first few games and showed little to no interest in running hard or tackling (which was once his forte), thus leading to his abrupt dismissal
  • the team’s star running back who in 2018 held out of the team’s mandatory mini-camp for a new contract and was rewarded with a 3 year $39M contract with $31M in guaranteed money has been relegated to the sidelines due to lackluster effort
  • while the star CB in his 5 games back from suspension came back out of shape and has looked nothing like his old self in coverage and has made critical mistakes that have helped the Cardinals suffer through a 4 game (now 5) losing streak
  • and now, another 2019 veteran free agent who was injured in pre-season and placed on the IR (which means he was getting paid from the team) who didn't stay with the team during his rehab has been suspended by the NFL for all of 2020 for betting on NFL games.

Ironically, a couple of days before Josh Shaw’s suspension, during this week’s ROTB podcast with Blake and Johnny, I made the comment that “if a team was going to throw games, this is what it looks like:”

  • leaving receivers wide open ad nauseam (especially in the end zone, where the Cardinals lead the NFL in passing TDs surrendered)
  • leaving the middle of the field wide open with a 3 point lead with 30 seconds remaining while having the two best pass rushers drop into “peel” coverage,
  • lining up off-sides on a critical field goal attempt
  • allowing one of the star edge rushers (who doesn’t practice all week) take plays off by not even trying to rush the passer with half-time leads and end of game leads on the line
  • choosing to run 3 man rushes and soft zones on crucial third and longs
  • incurring an array of boneheaded penalties (94 on the season, tied for 3rd worst in the NFL)

The NFL has stated that they could find no evidence to prove that Josh Shaw was betting on NFL games with insider knowledge or by colluding with current NFL players—-but that doesn’t necessarily ensure that Shaw wasn’t.

Now—-I am not insisting that the Cardinals have been throwing games—-to be clear—-what I am saying is, at times, it has looked like it. And—-that’s bad. Wicked bad.

Three days ago during a radio interview, the Cardinals’ GM, Steve Keim, had this to say about Vance Jospeh, Keim’s appointment as the team’s DC and mentor to Kliff Kingsbury:

“I think VJ’s doing the best he can. We’re playing a lot of young guys over there on that side of the ball. To be honest with you, some of our playmakers need to step up. There’s a lot of guys we have expectations from and they have to answer the bell. It starts Sunday. I think creating pressure on defense consistently, getting off the field on third down, playing with more discipline defensively—-if we can improve in those areas, there’s no doubt we’ll put some Ws on the board.”

VJ is doing the best he can?

Wow. How can a GM say this about a defense that has been so ill-prepared? To put it metaphorically in medieval terms—-the Cardinals’ defense has been akin to leaving the drawbridge over the moat with the castle doors wide open and unattended.

Think of what Keim’s statement says to the players on the defense (basically implying they lack the requisite talent to succeed—-the very players Keim signed or drafted)—-

And think of how what this statement says to the fans in terms of how far the bar for success and/or accountability has been lowered.

Keim is pinning the failures on the “playing a lot of young guys”—-yet the two “young guys” CB Byron Murphy and S Jalen Thompson are not at the crux the problem—-both Murphy and Thompson have been playing hard and hustling their butts off—-and at least they have been tackling people with some fervor and pop.

The truth is, Vance Joseph has 4 players who have played in Pro Bowls in Chandler Jones, Terrell Suggs, Patrick Peterson and Budda Baker. Jospeh was given one of the top 2 LBers in the 2019 UFA class in Jordan Hicks, who is 2nd in the NFL in tackles with 110 (averaging 10 tackles a game) and looking like a Pro Bowl candidate. Jones is 2nd in the NFL in sacks and Baker is 6th in the NFL in tackles with 98 and is currently right at the top for Pro Bowl votes at safety.

In Corey Peters, Jospeh has a stalwart in the middle of the defensive line. He (67.1), Zach Kerr (70.5) and Rodney Gunter (65.3) all have above average defensive tackle grades. Backup DE Cassius Marsh has a 68.5 grade. And Chandler Jones tops the defense with an excellent 81.3 grade.

To pair with Jordan Hicks, Joseph has a former 2017 1st round pick in Haason Reddick whom Jospeh has failed to develop—-but if you look at where Joseph is lining Reddick up on the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle—-he would have to be a superman to play the run and be able to cover the TE who is lined up outside of the tackle.

In the secondary, Jospeh has 8 time Pro Bowl CB Patrick Peterson, the #33 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, CB Byron Murphy, whose talent has been obvious from day one, one time Pro Bowl S Budda Baker and S Jalen Thompson (a 2019 Supplementary Draft 5th round steal who was widely projected to be a 1st Team All Pac-12 selection this year had he stayed at Washington St.).

The Cardinals’ defensive woes are not for a lack of talent—-they are for a lack of decent coaching. Vance Joseph’s soft zones have not improved one iota from the first game until now, and their man coverage has been uncharacteristically soft from Peterson (50.3 coverage grade). Conversely, waiver wire claim, Kevin Peterson’s coverage has been stronger (63.9).

Every cover man is going to get beat by a step off of the receiver’s break, but the key to good coverage is “recovering” by sprinting like mad to catch up—-watch how poorly the Cardinals cover men have been coached—-they are often give too much cushion, which defeats the whole purpose of leverage—-and when they get beat by a step or two, they glide instead of sprinting. When the ball is in the air—-they glide instead of sprinting.

Keim, who said he would go pick up Patrick Peterson himself at midnight of the day he was reinstated, and then doubled down on Peterson when he insisted that ”he is the best cover CB in the NFL”—-now is making excuses for Patrick Peterson: “I think it’s been up and down a little bit. Pat’s competing, he’s working hard. Sometimes when you miss six weeks of football, you got to get not only your legs back in you but also the feel for the game, the speed of it, the anticipation, the ability to read routes.”

What a crock.

It’s statements like these that are at the very core of the team’s dysfunction—-because of two simple things—-(1) the enabling of veteran players who are selling the team short by making excuses for them; (2) the lack of accountability.

One of the major problems with Steve Keim is—-he consistently puts his faith and money in the wrong players. At this point, one has to question Keim’s ability to judge character. Look at all three of Keim’s only lucrative multi-year 2nd contracts on players the Cardinals drafted: Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and David Johnson—-all dogged and are dogging it right under Keim’s nose.

On the other side of the ball, Kliff Kingsbury is showing what accountability looks like by playing Kenyan Drake ahead of David Johnson. Clearly, Drake has been running much harder and with a greater sense of urgency. if Peterson stays true to such accountability, he will play Chase Edmonds over Johnson. Edmonds has earned at least the #2 RB spot and might actually be the best fit in the offense.

But, getting back to Keim and the coaches’ kowtowing to Patrick Peterson—-

When Patrick Peterson didn’t even bother to hustle after the 49ers’ WR Dante Pettis—-that’s like an outfielder not sprinting after a ball that gets by him to the wall. Peterson should have taken out of the game for that costly (the ball was highly lobbed) and embarrassing lack of effort—-too bad because maybe someone else could have helped the Cardinals get the ball back at the end of that very winnable game while Peterson stood in cement in a soft zone next to an open Emmanuel Sanders on 3rd and 9.

Peterson really needs to hone “his feel for the game” as Kiem suggested? Anyone knows that in a zone, if there’s a receiver in your area you guard him. That’s learned and honed in Pop Warner.

When Peterson and Johnson are interviewed—-what do they have in common? They both market their own brand by donning logo hats with their initials on them.

Do you think Kyler Murray will ever take the Cardinal or NFL off his signature bandanas?

Did you catch what Murray said this week when asked about what his bye week was like? Murray said, “I didn’t like it.”

And just when he said that, I couldn't help but think of the Cardinals’ veterans like Peterson who would tell him him to shut the front door.

Therein lies this team’ biggest blessing and its biggest problem.

In a symbolic way, it is no wonder why Murray just incurred a hamstring injury—-because Murray, as a rookie, has been putting the team on his back since the first day he arrived. And by now, with as much success as he and the offense has had only to see it erased by abominably poor defensive schemes and efforts—-the weight has gotten so heavy to the point where must feel like he has to play the perfect game in order to win—-same with Kingsbury—-he must feel he has to call the perfect game—-as there is such little margin for error.

But, if the Cardinals are ever going to fully embrace the spirit of Kliff Kingsbury, Kyler Murray and Larry Fitzgerald, then they need a significant change in leadership—-they need a dynamic, charismatic no-nonsense GM who can hold coaches and players accountable (especially in eliminating the double standards and preferential star treatment of veterans).

The Cardinals need a GM who will identify team-oriented, high character core players as the ones to re-sign to multi-year deals.

The Cardinals need a GM who will stop the incessant charades and every growing distrust among the players. The way Steve Keim handled the Josh Rosen situation was a careless andd classless embarrassment—-all for what? Currying favor with the NFL? Well, it appears that the NFL could care less about the Cardinals right now—-as they wouldn’t even display the decency of conducting a booth review of a clear pass interference violation at the end of the Bucs game.

The Cardinals need a GM who do the proper vetting and hire a top notch defensive coordinator—-because without that, as Sean McVay has with the Rams in Wade Phillips—-it defeats the whole purpose of having Kliff Kingsbury as the head coach and Kyler Murray as the quarterback.

Kliff Kingsbury needs a defensive coordinator who can take care of his side of the ball and thus allow the head coach the freedom and as much time as possible to focus on making the Cardinals’ offense one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.

If this type of change in leadership and culture doesn’t happen asap—-then exasperated Cardinals’ fans will have to continue to cope with one of the most self-destructive aspects of the organization’s dysfunction:

Good, old-fashioned croneyism.