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4 Job-Saving Expectations for the 2019 Arizona Cardinals

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What must the Cardinals show this year to prove their current leadership in place is exactly what they need to move forward?

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

The 2019 Arizona Cardinals enter with pretty low expectations overall. 2nd lowest super bowl odds, most people picking them to land a top 5 pick in the 2020 draft, but a lot of intrigue.

With the team keeping Steve Keim in at GM and moving on from Steve Wilks, Mike McCoy and Byron Leftwich, what does Arizona have to do in order to consider the season a success, or at least, not a failure?

#1. Show Kliff & Kyler was the right choice

There are still Cardinals fans who believe the team should have kept Josh Rosen and spent money and capital to build the team around him versus take on his dead money.

Well...unless there’s something I’m missing those fans either:

A. Haven’t seen how Murray is SO much better than Rosen in both the practices and the games alike

B. Don’t get that Rosen was only $4 million in dead money...basically that’s maybe one single veteran player on a 1 year deal

It’s time to get off the Rosen boat, folks. That said...

The hype for this offense and Murray in Kingsbury’s scheme has risen to maybe unexpected and unattainable levels, but we’ve seen offensive coaches drive offensive improvement in teams over their first season because it’s an offensively-driven league right now.

Even if the Cardinals are an average offense, they won’t be a bad one, and that’s a huge improvement over what they had.

The one issue? If they are historically inept and bad with an even worse offense than last year, but that’s almost impossible to think about being the case. If anything, an offense that teases being “ground breaking” that ends up looking average or expected for the NFL would be the biggest disappointment but it’s a far cry from 2018.

#2. Show an infusion of talent (draft and FA) so fans won’t worry

This one’s a two-folder, and fortunately the draft portion seems to be taken care of with some early returns (at least before the games have been played) with 2 rookies from last year starting and one in a backup role behind David Johnson, and a HIGH number of contributors from Murray to Murphy to Isabella to Allen to Johnson and even Miles, Galliard and a find like Chris Jones.

The question and issue is...the free agent additions, which have already seen injury.

Right now, Steve Keim’s popularity in Phoenix amongst the fans seems to solely hinge not on the handpicked coach and QB, but in how well he can do to add talent around them.

Most fans, I’d argue, think that he can’t build an offensive line and needs to go.

I’ll say patience with that...to a point.

This was a two-year rebuild from the end of 2018 and, frankly, part of that is because Steve Keim entered into a two-year rebuild after 2017 and screwed it up by not embracing the rebuild. Bad deals and choices and it’s clear that had to change.

My opinion is that the patience needs to be given throughout the entirety of the season...things may change for better or for worse but calling for a GM’s head this soon is instability that could crush Arizona.

If things go disastrously wrong again on the offensive line or if the team can’t stop the run, but Kliff and Kyler can produce there will be a LOT of fingers pointed at Keim assigning blame rather than praise.

Because really, that’s what happens to leaders.

#3. Show defensive improvement

Keim hand-picked Vance Joseph to lead the defense in a 3-4, attacking style like under Todd Bowles. There will be a lot of free safety cover 1 or cover zero without as many blitzes and a lot of man coverage.

This means that the Cardinals could be dangerous on 3rd and long if teams get pinned back. Or it could mean that if they can’t stop teams rushing the football, they’ll have to keep guys in the box and that one-on-one coverage might mean teams eat them up.

If that’s the case, the early returns haven’t been good. But again, it takes time and the whole season is the point to analyze, not 2 preseason games. Still, if Vance Joseph flops, it’ll be tough to say that he’s “the answer” in a 2nd year given how tenuous his end of season has been the last 2 years in which he was either fired or thought to be.

#4. Improve on the win total

Fans may say “I’m fine with a few more wins” but really unless you’re a Patriots fan you’re probably still sad after every loss a team has on the season. It’s all about winning in this league.

If the Cardinals go 3-13 after going 3-13, it doesn’t matter if they break Kurt Warner or Carson Palmer passing records or set new sack totals. Fans will call for heads.

And if the expectation is 8-9 wins, perhaps adding a quarterback like Kyler Murray could help a lot with meeting that. But if it’s a 6-7 win season then that’s what national media seems to be saying, right?

Nope.

Most have them with Arizona landing ANOTHER top 5 pick and have them with a far bigger drop off in talent, unlike the Browns of 2018. So while we can say “well at least they’re competitive while losing” that’s not why they overhauled the organization.

If Arizona can’t double their win total from a year ago it probably will (and should) be considered a failure of a season. If they can provide a competitive team that wins more often? Hopefully fans will feel optimism and be able to look to the future.

Conclusion:

I’ll say this...the Cardinals are rebuilding and did it wrong once before. They need to get it right this time around from every individual core player, coach, and GM.

From Kyler to Kliff to Keim. If something isn’t holding up it’s end, I think there’s a limit to the patience if the eye test doesn’t get passed.

If Kyler and Kliff perform, perfect. If they struggle, I think it’s a good measure of HOW MUCH they do. If we’re talking another #1 pick and it’s that bad, maybe you gambled wrong. But...

If the offensive line struggles and gets hurt without decent replacements being found to move in, I think that is a weight that could hold Murray and Kingsbury back and that’s on Keim and his staff.

Keim HAS to improve the OL or I think the Cards should find someone who can make those decisions. Doesn’t have to be a lot, just has to be noticeably better even outside of Murray nd have a plan/development in place.

Vance Joseph HAS to improve the run defense and show he can utilize the secondary weapons and figure out the linebackers. That’s not as hard to do from Week 7 and on with Patrick Peterson (which should be when he’s truly being graded). If not, then maybe Keim made the wrong hire.

So look at those two things:
-Can Keim improve the O-Line and we see guys develop under Sean Kugler?

-Can Vance Joseph improve the run defense without sacrificing the pass defense too much (with or without P2)?

The best case scenario is this was the right team.

The worst-case is if none of it is, or if you only feel good about Kliff & Kyler at all and you have to let go of Keim and Joseph.

And yes, I do think THOSE two fates are tied versus Kingsbury and Murray. While we haven’t seen on-field success from those two, there’s enough buzz and chatter about them and seeing how they work together (plus how valuable play-callers have become in the NFL) that it’s possible that Kliff can be “graded” separate without throwing out the entire baby with the bath water.

Because while Keim hand-picked Kingsbury, he picked Joseph to be his partner and they were content to roll with Josh Rosen until, well, Kliff Kingsbury’s fit with Murray came up.

I wouldn’t want it. And I don’t think it happens, honestly, but I don’t know given that last year’s staff only got 1 year of patience total.

I just don’t think Keim’s truly on the hot seat at all after Year 1.

Course...It’d be not a move that fans would hate, despite the fact that the organizational instability would be off the charts. But better to make a difficult move than doubling down on one if it’s wrong.

Just don’t double down on that after 2 preseason games.

Sit down, buckle up, enjoy the ride of the 2019 season and let’s check back in 2020 and see where we go from there.

Don’t worry, fans. The future will figure itself out, and they’ve got a fun QB now. Enjoy the ride as long as it lasts.