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2019 Arizona Cardinals: The Crafting of a New Identity

NFL: Arizona Cardinals- Kliff Kingsbury Press Conference The Arizona Republic-USA TODAY N

In yesterday’s Boston Globe, award-winning columnist Dan Shaughnessy wrote “You cannot beat the Patriots, you can only envy them.” It’s a superb article and here is the link if you would like to read it.

So true.

Let’s face it—-there is only one Bill Belichick and one Tom Brady.

No head coach and franchise QB in the NFL can rival their experience and football acumen.

In watching how the Patriots beat the Rams 13-3, the Cardinals can learn a few important things such as:

  • That devising clever pass rushing twists and blitz schemes to get in the face of QB Jared Goff can stifle the Rams’ offense—-as can pre-snap coverage disguises.
  • That flexing 2 TEs (Gronkowski and Allen) and running a spread with 2 bigger RBs (Burkhead and Devlin), while isolating the slot WR (Edelman) over the middle can create mismatch problems for the Rams’ secondary and LBers. Even when the Pats didn’t practice that combination scheme all week.
  • That using a FB in the red zone to run off-tackle isolations on the Rams’ LBers, can be very effective. James Devlin stuck those blocks in textbook fashion.
  • To beat the Rams you need to out-physical them. You need to come after them.

Every team in the NFL who plays the Rams next year can tuck those tidbits away.

Beyond that, what the Arizona Cardinals really need to do is craft their own identity.

There is no sense trying to be something they are not.

It all starts with new head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Kingsbury runs his own offense. Yes, many of the principles of Kingsbury’s offense were ones he learned from Mike Leach while playing and coaching the Air Raid offense.

But—-what Kingsbury has done, is he has tried to make his version of the Air Raid more diverse and balanced.

What Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels did in turning to the spread 2 TE, 2 RB, 1 WR spread that helped them score the game’s only TD, is right out of Kliff Kingsbury’s own playbook. Kingsbury in recent years has loved incorporating bigger receivers on the outside and RB tandems that he can motion and move around in order to create coverage mismatches.

As a coach, Kingsbury is upbeat and charismatic. His modus operandi is to rely heavily on practice repetitions and to provide the players with constant feedback (mostly encouragement, but sprinkled with instructional tweaks). His goal is for the players to be so well versed in what they are doing that they can play loose and fast and with a certain degree of creativity (which he calls “freedom within the system”).

Steve Keim has surrounded Kingsbury with a host of experienced NFL coaches—-something that Kingsbury himself has welcomed and embraced.

But, ultimately, while Kingsbury is going to be wide open to suggestions, he has to trust his own instincts and be his own man. That’s how he is going to win the respect of his players.

Kingsbury’s offense is high energy and is driven by explicit detail within a brisk tempo. He needs his players to bring the energy and enthusiasm—-the way WR Larry Fitzgerald does. The Cardinals’ offense needs to become fun and exciting again. Not only should the excitement inspire the players, but when the fans see how much fun the players are having, they are going to be jacked.

What Kinsgbury needs is someone to emerge as a bona fide leader on the offensive line. Maybe that leader will come from free agency or the draft—-or maybe he comes from within—-but it’s time for the Cardinals’ offensive line to galvanize in ways that have not been manifested in recent years.

Kingsbury needs to get some bounce from RB David Johnson. This past season, there were far too many times when Johnson looked tentative and lethargic. That has to change.

And, of course, much depends on the type of leadership and energy QB Josh Rosen brings in his 2nd season. Rosen will need to demonstrate that he can be highly effective in running the new offense.

But, one thing that Kliff Kingsbury is particularly adept at is getting all of the QBs ready to step in when needed. That’s how Davis Webb beat out Baker Mayfield at Texas Tech after Mayfield got injured—-and how this past season true freshman Alan Bowman was beating out injured starter McLane Carter until Bowman got injured. Even still, Kingsbury got a great win versus TCU with 3rd string QB Jett Duffey at QB.

Kingsbury loves to pack his QB, WR/TE and RB stables—-he loves them deep and talented, much the way the Patriots do.

On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals can be equally excited about the addition of defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. Joseph brings his own version of the 34 base defense and a highly aggressive style of play which will have the Cardinals going back to playing a good deal of press man-to-man coverage.

One of the boons in hiring Joseph as DC is that Joseph’s Broncos last year played versus the the NFC West last year, going 2-2. They beat the Seahawks 27-24 in Week 1 and trounced the Cardinals 45-10 in Week 7. They lost to the Rams 23-20 in Week 6 and lost to the 49ers 20-14 in Week 14. Having prepped for those teams last year should give Joseph a head start this year and beyond.

In terms of defensive leadership, the Cardinals have several veterans to lean on such as DE Chandler Jones, DT Corey Peters, LB Josh Bynes, CB Patrick Peterson, SS Budda Baker and FS D.J. Swearinger. With a handful of key additions, the Cardinals might boast one of the more prolific defenses in the NFL. And they are going back to schemes which the players feel more comfortable and confident in.

The Cardinals are excited to have Jeff Rodgers back as special teams’ coordinator. It was quite a coup for Rodgers to craft a new identity on STs to the tune of becoming the 5th highest ranked ST units in the NFL. Rodgers has all of his key STs players returning (Andy Lee, Aaron Brewer, Dennis Gardeck, Zeke Turner, Michael Walker, T.J. Logan, Christian Kirk and Pharoh Cooper). It looked like young PK Zane Gonzalez was settling down toward the end of the season, thus there is hope in further improving the kicking game.

Rodgers has helped to change the perception of the Cardinals’ STs. If Kinsgbury and Joseph can do the same thing with the offense and defense, the Cardinals will truly have a new and exciting identity.

With just over $50M in cap space (currently) and 10 picks in the NFL Draft including the 1st picks in rounds 1-6, the Cardinals are in a unique position to upgrade their roster.

In order to accomplish his key part in crafting the Cardinals’ new identity, GM Steve Keim can do a stronger job of acquiring players who are highly physical self-starters who demonstrate a passion and love for the game. The Cardinals really cannot afford to take any more high draft picks with maturity issues or ones who may not adapt well to position changes.

Keim has acknowledged the shortcomings of past drafts and appears to be more committed than ever to mastering the draft process.

The Cardinals’ new identity depends on Keim’s free agent and draft acquisitions as much as it depends on Kingsbury, Joseph and Rodgers bringing the electricity, excitement and ballers’ mentality back to Arizona.