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“Fix It” Plans

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals-Training Camp Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If you have been listening to the most recent press conferences or media coverage of the Arizona Cardinals, then you have been hearing the term “fix it” or “fix this thing” from Steve Keim and Vance Joseph.

Beginning with Vance Joseph, here are some of the things he said at this week’s press conference:

  • “We’ve had one game where I felt our effort wasn’t outstanding and that was Sunday,” Joseph said after practice Thursday. “Outside of that, we’ve played the best teams toe-to-toe. Baltimore, San Fran twice, all those teams we’ve played, they’re good football teams.”

What? One game where the defense’s effort wasn’t outstanding? He cannot be serious.

First let’s understand what ”outstanding” effort requires—-(a) hustle; (b) focus on details (c) assignment accountability; (d) physical toughness; (e) mental toughness; (f) answering the bell when the game is on the line; (g) teamwork; (h) communication.

This is—-without a doubt—-the worst Cardinals’ defense I have ever seen since I became a fan in 1963—-not only that—-it is the most undisciplined, poorly coached and ill-prepared defense I think I have ever seen in the NFL.

I was so alarmed after the first three weeks that I suggested that the Cardinals bring in a defensive mentor—-when a defense makes it so easy for a QB to play “pitch and catch” like he is playing a game of touch football in his backyard—-that’s a serious problem.

Even worse—-as the season has progressed without any mentoring for Vance Jospeh—-the defense has gotten progressively worse.

Yet, Joseph claims that his defense played the “best teams toe-to-toe”? What???

Toe to toe? We can’t even see man on man. Look at these QB passing lines:

  1. DET—-Stafford: 385 yards, 3-0 TD/int, 110 RTG.
  2. BAL—-Jackson: 272, 2-0, 105 RTG
  3. CAR—-Allen: 261, 4-0, 144 RTG
  4. SEA—-Wilson: 240, 1-0, 114 RTG
  5. CIN—-Dalton: 262, 2-0, 108 RTG
  6. ATL—-Ryan: 356, 4-0, 145 RTG
  7. NYG—-Jones: 223, 1-1, 79 RTG
  8. NO—-Brees: 373, 3-1, 116 RTG
  9. SF—-Garoppolo: 317, 4-0, 137 RTG
  10. TB—-Winston: 358, 1-2, 75 RTG
  11. SF—-Garoppolo: 424, 4-2, 115 RTG
  12. LAR—-Goff: 424, 2-0, 120 RTG

Yards given up per game: 426.3—-32nd in NFL

Passing yards given up through 12 games: 3,960—-32nd in NFL

Most passing TDs given up: 31—-32nd in NFL

Most points given up: 351 (29.2 ppg.)—-31st in NFL

All the while benefitting from an offense that consistently moves the ball and puts points on the scoreboard.

Outstanding effort? There are players on Joseph’s defense who mostly run at half speed and when they are beat, they don’t run like mad to recover. Some, when they are blocked, make no effort at all to disengage the block and some even run away from blocks. Some of the tackling efforts are just plain pitiful to the point of being an embarrassment.

When asked about whether he is worried about losing his job, Jospeh said, “I’m not [concerned], I’m not. I’ve been coaching a long time in this league, I’ve had success as a coach so I’m not worried about that. That’s not my call, my job is to fix the defense.”

“We have to go to work and simply fix it, and we have a plan here. And right now, it’s the first year of the plan. It wasn’t going to be easy, that’s why we’re here. It wasn’t fixed, that’s why we’re here, so we’re trying to fix it and we will.”

In 12 games—-this defense is not better today than it was in Week 1. In fact, the pass defense has gotten worse. Receivers are still wide open all over the place. During the 5 game losing streak, the opposing QBs are averaging 390 yards (1,905) per game and 3 passing TDs (14 passing TDs) a game.

In two of those games the offense got the team a 4th quarter lead where, with one stop, the Cardinals win the game.

In the Bucs’ game, with a 27-23 lead and 2:38 on the clock, the Bucs offense rips through the defense for 92 yards in 6 plays in 1:57 and takes the lead at 30-27.

In the 49ers’ game, with a 26-23 lead and 2:20 left, the 49ers’ offense bolts 65 yards in 8 plays in 1:41 and scores on a wide open pass over the middle in zero coverage.

Then with a whole bye week (save a canceled Wednesday practice in the first week) to “fix” the issues and in front of their own home crowd, the defense gives up 549 yards to a struggling offense, which included 424 yards passing from a struggling QB.

“We understand that there’s going to be a process and moving forward we’re going to get it fixed. We’re closer than everyone thinks. We are close, but it’s hard to win NFL games on Sunday.”

The defense is close? Closer than anyone thinks?

How about we ask the Cardinals’ opposing TEs just how close this defense is?

Now moving the attention to Steve Keim who has exonerated Joseph by claiming that “VJ has done the best he can with what he has”...

Friday on Doug and Wolf Steve Keim said, “I come to work everyday and do the best job I can. I have a great plan in place for the offseason, very excited about fixing all the areas where I feel like we need to fix and very excited about the future.”

Steve Keim truly believes that he and Vance Jospeh will be still around next year to do all the fixing the Cardinals need.

Keim is getting passionate support from his friend Ron Wolfley, who screamed into the microphone on Friday: “Steve Keim won 50 games in 5 years.”

Want to talk about 5 years?

It’s now been 5 years since the Cardinals have played any meaningful games after Thanksgiving thanks to being well out of playoff contention.

While some fans and many of the Arizona media still tend to romanticize all 5 of the BA years—-those last two years under BA were grueling—-let’s not forget that by Thanksgiving those teams were 3-7-1 and 4-7.

During the 5 year playoff contention drought, Steve Keim has put the defense in the hands of James Bettcher (whom the players complained about when he put in a totally brand new defensive scheme that they hadn’t played all year in preparation for Carolina the week of the 2015 NFC Championship game—-which if you go back and look at that national humiliation you will see a defense that looks exactly like the Vance Joseph one we have now—-heck, that day the Cardinals’ defense made QB Cam Newton look like Joe Montana and WR Chucky Brown look like Antonio Brown—-so much so that the Panthers amassed 476 yards while tallying 49 points), then in the hands of Steve Wilks with Al Holcomb as DC and now in the hands of Vance Joseph.

According to Cardinals insider John Gambadoro, if Steve Keim had had his choice when BA retired he would have promoted Bettcher, BA’s top recommendation, to head coach and paired Bettcher with Mike McCoy.

Want to know how Bettcher is doing with the Giants? 26th in yards per game and 29th in points per game.

Steve Wilks is doing a solid job in Cleveland (15th in yards, 17th in points)—-but, to be fair, Steve Keim didn’t hand him the kind of talent on all three levels that Wilks has in Cleveland—-and Wilks is calling the plays, not Al Holcomb. Solid yes. But great yet? No.

In light of Steve Keim’s coordinator appointments the last 5 years—-how can any Cardinals’ fan or team member feel confident that he can pick the right coaches?—-and, just as significantly—-how can anyone at this point feel that he can draft the right players on defense when his 1st round picks on defense have been Deone Bucannon, Robert Nkemdiche and Haason Reddick?

Of ALL his defensive draft picks, Keim has only re-signed one to a multi-year 2nd contract. Only 1 in 7 years. Only 1. And look at that how that turned out. Tyrann Mathieu happily deposited $31M in guaranteed money into the National Bank of Arizona for two subpar, lackluster seasons and was subsequently cut after he refused to rework his contract.

Now we are seeing the exact same thing all over again with RB David Johnson—-Johnson, the 1 and only offensive draft pick of ALL of Steve Keim’s offensive picks that he has re-signed to a multi-year 2nd contract. With $31M guaranteed again.

Much of the excitement that Kliff Kingsbury and Kyle Murray have brought to the organization has been routinely mitigated by the atrocious efforts we are seeing on the defensive side of the ball. Not only has this defense caused suffering for the fans—-look at how demoralizing this has been for Kyler Murray and Kingsbury and the Cardinals’ offense, for that matter.

The offense has played well enough to have won 7 or 8 of the 12 games, including 3 of the 5 games on the current 5 game losing streak.

To have to bear the weight of these losses after playing so well has become an odious burden.

Even if Murray and the offense play the perfect game—-there’s a better than 50/50 chance that if the other team gets the ball last—-hands down—-they are going to win.

For a young QB who has never had to face this kind of losing in his life—-and for a rookie head coach, who despite his enormous success as a play caller at Texas Tech, has been stigmatized as a loser head coach because of his poor defenses—-just imagine how onerous—-and even scary—-these gut wrenching losses are to them.

Despite all of this, many in the Arizona media are now out in full force support of Steve Keim.

The aforementioned Ron Wolfley is standing on the table for Keim.

Fox Sports 910’s Jody Oelher wrote an impassioned plea this week titled “Would You Sacrifice Kliff for Keim?” in which he argued: “A new GM would likely view Kingsbury with a lot less confidence than Steve Keim. In fact, its safe to say that Keim likely was the only GM that was willing to offer him a head coaching job in the first place.”

First of all—-can everyone get it straight???—-Steve Keim wasn’t the one to offer Kliff Kingsbury the head coaching job. When Kingsbury was hired, Michael Bidwill thanked Ernie Accorsi and Adrian Wilson for helping him with the decision. The fact that Bidwill chose to seek counsel outside of Steve Keim and the organization is very telling.

Keim’s job was to take over from there and surround Kingsbury with the best possible coaching staff, free agents and draft picks. The single one hire that Keim had to get right was at defensive coordinator. For the second year in a row (see Mike McCoy) this appointment was a colossal whiff on Keim’s part—-a whiff that has taken much of the joy out of this season. As miserable as it was to endure watching lat year’s offense, it’s in some ways even more miserable this year to watch this year’s defense.

Secondly, if Michael Bidwill opens up the GM position, and I believe in light of last year’s bold moves that he will, obviously the candidates would have to be 100% on board with Kingsbury as head coach and with Kyler Murray at QB.

However, Arizona Republic’s Bob McManaman tweeted yesterday:

Now I am big fan of McManaman’s work, so this tweet was tough to take, but I would say that if the Cardinals should adopt this kind of “the devil you know is better than the one you don’t” mentality, then the Cardinals might as well have stuck with QB Josh Rosen. After all, Kyler Murray was too small, right?

To answer Bobby Mac’s question, a possible GM candidate that we at ROTB have been discussing over the past few days is the Colts’ Assistant GM Ed Dodds. Dodds is widely considered one of the most promising and talented GM prospects in the NFL. He was a scout for the Seahawks during their Super Bowl years and now he is working hand in hand with GM Chris Ballard, who is arguably one of the most talented, young GMs in the league.

If you look at the Colts’ 2018 NFL Draft—-they absolutely hit the jackpot, drafting 2 rookie Pro Bowlers in G Quentin Harris (#6 pick) and LB Darius Leonard (#36 pick) and then adding their starting RT in Braden Smith (#37 pick) and another starting caliber linebacker in Matthew Adams (#221 pick).

Interestingly, it appears the Cardinals will likely be picking in 2020 right around where the Colts were in 2018 at #6. The Colts were 4-12 in 2017 and improved to 11-7 in 2018.

The Colts’ top UFA in 2020 is LT Anthony Castonzo, who is having another stellar year at 31 years of age. Being a Boston College grad and proud of the Eagles’ great history of developing NFL caliber offensive lineman, Anthony Castonzo is the most naturally gifted tackle to wear the maroon and gold. To see him in Cardinal red and white would be a dream cone true.

In conclusion, this off-season is of utmost importance to the Cardinals in their quest to get back into playoff contention, while playing in the toughest division in the NFL. It’s just too difficult for some like myself to feel confident in the direction of the team moving forward if Steve Keim continues to make those decisions. A breath of fresh air and new excitement feels like it would come at the perfect time.

Furthermore, the Cardinals need a defensive coordinator who can match wits with Brian Schottenheimer (Russell Wilson), Kyle Shanahan (Jimmy Garoppolo) and Sean McVay (Jared Goff) and all of the other formidable OCs in the NFL.

Thus far in 4 NFC West games, Vance Joseph’s defense has given up an average of 351 yards passing (a game) and a TD/int ratio of 11-2. Under no circumstances should the Cardinals risk another year of this kind of defensive ineptitude.

Yes, Budda Baker has every right to feel frustrated about playing in 3 different defenses the last 3 years—-but—-coming from DB U (University of Washington), Budda, in his heart of hearts, knows what good defensive coaching and tight coverages look like.

The Cardinals are sitting on a potential gold mine on offense. Thus, If the Cardinals want to rekindle the romance of tight coverage and gang tackling to make things golden on the other side of the ball—-then bringing in the most talented prospectors is of paramount urgency.

As you started to last year, go for the GOLD, Michael Bidwill!