It’s been a long journey for Arizona Cardinals fans over the last 365 days.
Just one year ago today, the team had the valley abuzz with the excitement over the team trading up to select Josh Rosen at #10 overall, finding their hopefully next franchise quarterback for a song, a 3rd and a 5th rounder.
Now, one year later, for many Cardinals fans, this year’s #1 overall selection felt like a drop in the bucket for one reason or another.
One because, well, many expected this to be the pick for months given the national media’s speculation.
And two, because there’s a solid majority of Cardinals fans waking up today who are going through their own version of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and ultimately, acceptance today.
Josh Rosen was a popular, popular guy amongst the Cardinals fan base because, in essence, they saw a lot of themselves in him.
To be beat up by a terrible team with poor coaching week in and week out was something that fans felt just as much as I’m sure Josh did (though maybe not the physical pounding).
But through it all he always had a smile, got back up and was tough and a fighter, helping fans through their own similar frustrations with the team. And now he’s unfollowed the official team accounts on social media and the team has a new beau in the fold with the #1 overall pick for Kliff Kingsbury in a QB. With many fans preferring the team to trade down or add a talent FOR Rosen, rather than replacing him.
It feels like your mom came home one afternoon and introduced you to her new beau and that her and your father were getting a divorce.
And in this case Kyler Murray is now your new step-father.
That’s not going to be an easy adjustment. And I don’t expect it to be for many Cardinals fans, even if they can see the upside with a player like Kyler.
I’ve already gone over in detail part of the reasoning of why I was able to change from supporting the team building around Rosen to instead focusing on Murray despite the investment into Josh.
I’ve detailed what makes Kyler Murray a candidate to be a superstar (SUPERSTAR!) prospect in a way that Josh Rosen...probably won’t be here in my 2019 quarterback breakdown.
I could talk about how I believe quarterback play comes down to accuracy, decision-making and ability to avoid back-breaking plays (sacks and turnovers) and really....that was the original direction I thought to go, here. Every one of those three arenas, Kyler Murray’s been better at it than Rosen. Not to mention his health...
But here is the ultimate reason why I believe it’s the right move for the Cardinals.
You had it under Bruce Arians. Ideas such as “No Risk It, No Biscuit” and the “bash and bomb” offense that would live and die with the deep ball for the big play and a blitz-heavy defense lit up the NFL in 2015.
Arians and Keim were working in tandem and built a bottom 5 roster in the NFL quickly overnight in finding guys who fit Arians’ scheme and Todd Bowles took the talent that was there and pushed a team that had little pass rush to become a dominant one in the 3-4.
The team’s identity of “Next Man Up” and their philosophy of toughness, as tough as their head coach, carried the team.
Heck, in down years, the team still won games and was competitive BECAUSE of that identity.
Who could forget the Cardinals on a national thursday night game without Carson Palmer and an ineffective Drew Stanton beating the Rams and their vaunted defense with RYAN LINDLEY taking over and making the playoffs despite missing Carson Palmer for most of the year and rallying around Drew Stanton.
Who could forget that team losing Carson Palmer AGAIN in 2017 only to finish 8-8 with Blaine Gabbert and Drew Stanton leading the team to 50 wins?
The identity of the team carried them.
But in 2018?
This team had no identity under Steve Wilks.
Rather than build around Patrick Peterson’s strengths (your strengths and identity go hand-in-hand) Steve Wilks changed everything around to fit himself, not to fit his team. His identity was flawed and empty as a head coach.
On offense, Mike McCoy boasted of a “flexible” offense that could adapt and beat you in multiple ways behind Sam Bradford and a passive, predictable run game. The “flexible” identity idea soon gave way to realizing....there was no identity. No clue, and he was gone.
On defense, Steve Wilks forced a 3-4 team into his 4-3 scheme and little improvement happened and he became more and more set in his ways, blaming players for getting out of their gaps and using phrases like “We had a great game plan, we just didn’t execute.”
Translation: It’s not my fault.
When you don’t have a culture of accountability from the top down like Bruce Arians had, you’re doomed as you’re only as strong as your leaders and from the bottom up, it became clear that Arizona began giving up on the season and their coaching staff. Wilks was one-and-done because that identity was now gone.
So how has Arizona committed to fixing their problem?
They decided to embrace the “outside the box” hire in Kliff Kingsbury. Hiring him right out of college after he was fired, they took on a coach whose identity was built around his mentality of scoring big or going home.
Every play Kingsbury runs has an option to be a “home run” play, and his scheme is smart, precise and new age driven with analytics based on film watching and tendencies to beat a team and put up points. In one of Kingsbury’s finest games in 2016 with future MVP and Madden star Patrick Mahomes vs. Oklahoma under Baker Mayfield, the Sooners attacked with an aggressive press-man coverage and Kingsbury took advantage of the one-on-one matchups to put up 59 out of a total of 125 points in the game.
It’s an identity built around solid, smart and accurate quarterback play and offensive excellence, a “run and shoot” offense and what the “Air Raid” has evolved into. Kliff was top 10 in scoring in the NCAA every year.
It’s AN IDENTITY.
Something they haven’t had.
We’ve seen Pat Mahomes just win an MVP award built off of it and we saw last year’s Super Bowl runner up QB in Jared Goff come out of an air raid scheme and more and more NFL teams incorporate it.
If the Cardinals rolled with Josh Rosen, could it have worked? I think so, plain and simple. We’ve seen Kliff adapt and feature different types of quarterbacks but to fit Josh Rosen’s strengths would mean more plays from under center with deep drops and play-action. Rosen struggled out of the shotgun last year and honestly, was a great fit for an old-school OC like Mike McCoy according to many.
Could Rosen fit Kliff? Sure. He ran spread and air-raid concepts in college. But riddle me this...
In Arizona and other states, there’s a new-fangled coffee company named Dutch Bros. that’s taking over with a fast, friendly service that preaches “being a people company, not a coffee company.” Their CEO is young and full of life, exuberance and social causes, drawing thousands of young people to him with that charisma and their company has thrived due to it.
...Can you imagine if Starbucks hired the Dutch Bros. dude as their CEO?
Imagine the man walking into a store saying “No, no, you have to CARE about the customer here not just write their name on the cup!” while a barista is working to pump out three orders for a large party that’s getting drinks delivered to their office. Or imagine having a barista at Dutch Bros when you walk up seeing them buttoned up in clean aprons with small jazz music in the background who hands you your coffee without a word.
It’s almost laughable, and it’s why fit is so important. Kliff Kingsbury’s been trying to recruit and land Kyler Murray for almost 6 years now, in part because they will be a fantastic fit together not just in terms of ideology on the football field, but also in terms of personality.
Watch the difference between how Steve Keim calls and talks to Kyler Murray below and compare it to Kliff Kingsbury.
It’s clear right away how:
- Excited Kliff is (really)
- How openly friendly and engaging they are
- How Kliff and Kyler talked was on a nearly equal level
Kliff isn’t Steve Wilks (thank goodness) but he also isn’t a Bruce Arians.
Kliff isn’t that guy to swear at you when messing up and hugging you later, but that doesn’t make him less of a leader, and he’s clearly bringing youth, vigor, and his OWN set of swagger.
And it’s that confidence that I think is going to be different. It’s not a brash, bold “there were 9 mistakes made ahead of me” type of confidence that we got from Josh Rosen. Now this isn’t a slam on Josh but despite the struggles, the fact that he is still on the roster and AZ hasn’t traded him yet tells you just HOW confident they are in Kyler Murray.
Rather, it was a quiet confidence and desire to be the best that Murray instead expressed, and this is coming from an alpha player who’s struggled to lose in his entire sporting career.
Kinda like one Larry Fitzgerald.
Sure, that comparison is going to be a bit lofty and overwhelming for fans and is definitely hyperbole, but have we seen Fitz walk out there on the field and do anything but lead with his actions?
If Fitz came out and said “There were 2 mistakes made ahead of me in 2004” people would be wondering who brainwashed or switched bodies with him.
Perhaps that overly hyped, exaggerated confidence that the entire 2018 Cardinals expressed without much that it delivered on was part of the problem. It has to be shown on the field and like it or not, Josh Rosen...really didn’t last year.
Perhaps this new identity of demonstrating that actions speak louder than words will be what eventually wins fans over.
There were fans last year who openly LAUGHED at the Browns taking Baker Mayfield over Sam Darnold. “Browns gonna Brown!” they said. They chuckled at taking a Big 12 quarterback in a conference without defense who was under 6’2 and that the Jets were the big winners.
Who’s laughing now?
Baker Mayfield ultimately changed the culture in Cleveland from the moment he stepped onto the field. They went from multiple times picking in the top 5 to having a shot at the playoffs, setting rookie touchdown records and being one of the most interesting and hyped teams in the National Football League.
Heck, they had the confidence to trade for Odell Beckham Jr. and FIVE primetime games next season.
If Kyler Murray can bring that to the Arizona Cardinals, perhaps they’ll even be in one of those primetime games this season, given that the Browns playing the Cardinals later in this season might be a reunion that sees itself get flexed into the national spotlight.
Imagine how far Arizona would have come from last year’s 2018 squad, which saw only ONE nationally televised game that ended as a 45-10 blowout that cemented the end of Mike McCoy’s tenure and likely was the beginning of the end for Steve Wilks and maybe even Josh Rosen.
And now that the team’s stepfather’s shown up and the divorce has been looking messy, fans are skeptical. As perhaps they should be...it won’t be easy. Fans will have to be won over by the play on the field and the win-loss column.
Kyler’s done pretty well for himself there as a quarterback, I’d say. That much is true, but it won’t be enough. As Kliff Kingsbury said, “The talk is over, now they gotta deal with you.”
Their identity is still a bit unknown until we see the games.
But they have an offensive identity now. A firm, solid identity of Kliff & Kyler and I think it’s got a chance to wreck the league next year.
And as of 24 hours ago, that’s not something I think I could have said about the 2019 Arizona Cardinals.