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Wild Card Sunday Madness

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

In the first game on Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings pulled off a stunning upset of the New Orleans Saints, in yet another OT game 26-20. Quick Notes:

  • Amazing that the Saints got screwed by the officials again at home when the NFL review crew pulled the same game-ending plug on the booth review rules the way they did on the Cardinals at Tampa Bay by swiftly deciding to let the play on the field stand—-when it was blatantly clear for all to see that TE Kyle Rudolph pushed off to gain a separation advantage over the CB on the OT TD.
  • This controversy once again should re-open the OT rules discussion of whether it is fair for the team that wins the OT coin toss to win the game on a TD without giving the other team’s offense a chance to match the score.
  • Oh the caustic irony of the Saints being able to influence a change in the PI review rules—-only to one year later work against them when the NFL didn’t even bother to take the time to do a proper review of the game-winning TD.
  • The Saints didn’t exactly do themselves any favors by turning the game over in the 4th quarter to QB/RB/WR phenom Taysom Hill, who was beast moding his way toward winning the game until Sean Payton reinserted Drew Brees, who on his 1st play back fumbled a poorly advised passing attempt under duress. It seems that not only young QBs like Josh Allen were the ones making game changing mistakes.
  • Enter Vikings’ mega-million dollar QB Kirk Cousins who finally shed the 400 pound “can’t win a big game” gorilla—-when he threw absolute dimes to WR Adam Thielen and TE Kyke Rudolph to seal the win.
  • As Cardinals fans (many of whom still reeling about missing out on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in the 2017 NFL Draft)—-we heard the rumors in the 2018 off-season that Pat Shurmur and Kirk Cousins were the Cardinals top choice for head coach and QB—-and then see Steve Wilks/Mike McCoy and Sam Bradford/Josh Rosen as the backup plan—-to now seeing the team in the hands of Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray—-and with an astute NFL former GM turned pundit such a Gil Brandt predication a possible “worst to first” ascension for the Cardinals in 2020—-are you, despite all of the frustration the past few year, happy with the new leadership and direction of the team? Here’s Brandt’s prediction if you haven’t seen it yet:

In the nightcap with the Seattle Seahawks’ 17-9 dispatching of the Philadelphia Eagles and wrapping up the 3rd win for the visiting teams in four games, two storylines are of great interest to Cardinals’ fans:

  • The stellar play of Seahawks’ WR D.K. Metcalf, whom the Cardinals could have taken instead of WR Andy Isabella with the #62 pick in the 2109 NFL Draft. BTW—-Cardinals’ fans aren’t the only ones lamenting missing out on the new Adonis of NFL WRs, as Metcalf was bypassed by virtually every NFL team as the 9th WR taken in the draft. But, the Cardinals’ fans were extra teased during the draft buildup by this potentially portentous commercial starring Larry Fitzgerald and D.K. Metcalf:

If only...right?

Well, let’s slow down a minute. How could so many teams miss the boat on Metcalf? Especially the Cardinals.

First of all, there were medical red flags on Metcalf—-involving a cervical neck fracture that ended his final college season with Ole Miss half way through the season. In 2 years at Ole Miss, Metcalf played in only 21 games.

Props to ROTB writer and podcaster Blake Murphy who astutely pointed out on Twitter last night how the Cardinals has already signed 6-3, 216 former 1st round WR Kevin White who played his best football in the West Virginia Air Raid. White was injury prone with the Bears (with similar injuries to Metcalf’s) and, as is the case quite often with tall WRs well over 200 pounds, is the wear and tear they put on their necks and backs while caroming backwards to the turf on 50/50 balls, or getting cut and summersaulted in the open field by free safeties.

Then there was the issue of Metcalf’s college production—-he only had 4 100 yard receiving games (vs. Kent St., Louisiana-Monroe, California and Arkansas)—-only 1, as you can see against SEC defenses. His total numbers in 3 years were: 67 catches for 1,228 yards (14.2 ave.) and 14 TDs.

The truth is—-Andy Isabella put up bigger numbers in his final year at UMass [102 catches for 1,698 yards (16.6 ave.) and 14 TDs] than D.K. Metcalf’s career numbers.

Isabella’s college career numbers: 231 catches for 3,526 yards (15.3 ave.), plus 342 yards rushing—-8.6 ave., for a combined 32 TDs.

As previously stated, Metcalf only had one 100 yard game versus an SEC defense (4/107 yds. a 38-37 loss to Arkansas in 2017)—-

Compare that to the phenomenal performance Andy Isabella put on versus an SEC defense at Athens, Georgia versus the Bulldogs in 2018: 15 catches for 219 yards and 2 TDs.

Let’s not forget that the Bulldogs’ secondary included the 1st round CB taken in the 2019 NFL Draft: Deandre Baker (Giants).

Also, it would be wise to mention that this same Georgia secondary in 2018 held Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy to 3 catches for 24 yards (6.0 ave.) and South Carolina’s Deebo Samuels (49ers) to 6 catches for 33 yards (5.5 yards).

“What a player. I mean, he did a phenomenal job,” the Bulldogs’ Jake Fromm said. “It didn’t matter who we put on him, he was finding a way to get separation and get open. I don’t know if he dropped a ball. I don’t know if anybody else caught a ball. But he did awesome. It seemed like every time they threw it there he was again catching it. Man, great player, really exciting, really fun to watch.”

You can see many of the highlights of that game and other om this video:

So—-why has Metcalf been so successful in year one while isabella was so slow to develop?

The NBC crew did a very good job of relating how QB Russell Wilson took D.K. Metcalf under his wing from day one and how positively Metcalf responded to the tutelage, to the extent of Metcalf writing out copious notes and game plans.

With Doug Baldwin retiring, and with the Seahawks not signing a UFA WR of note, D.K. Metcalf from day one was expected to be the team’s starting WR along side of Tyler Lockett.

With Kyler Murray being a rookie starting QB, he not only had to focus on taking command of the entire offense, he had to build chemistry first and foremost with Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk.

Then, in training camp, Murray was trying to split his time between UFAs Kevin White and Damiere Byrd, the the three rookies, Andy Isabella, Karrem Butler and KeeSean Johnson, plus WR returnees Pharoh Cooper and Trent Sherfield.

Coinciding with Andy Isabella’s knee sprain in training camp, which set him back some, Damiere Byrd and KeeSean Johnson were emerging as the #3 and #4 WRs.

Then, after starting the season on 10 personnel, Kliff Kingsbury shifted to employing 12 personnel in order to amp up the team’s running game.

Add to that, one of the more surprising aspects of Kingsbury’s offense in his 1st season as an NFL coach, was his tendency to keep the starters on the field as often as possible—-this was partly due to some scheme alterations, but also, imo, had something to do with Kingsbury’s realization that in the NFL his offenses would only get 65 snaps a game versus the 85 he would get at Texas Tech.

As we saw throughout the season, Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk were Kyler Murray’s #1 and #2 WR targets—-and in some games, even they weren’t targeted as much because of Kingsbury’s heavy use of his starting RB.

I have been wondering too how difficult it was for the rookie WRs to command much attention in the offense because of how many voices were in their ears between Kingsbury’s (OC), Tom Clements’ (passing game coordinator), Jerry Sullivan’s (WR Coach) and David Raih’s WR Coach).

The rap on Isabella in practices was his inconsistency with regard to route running and catching the ball with his hands and not his body. OK—-first of all, those are fundamentals of the NFL game that all rookie WRs have to begin to master. Secondly, so much of being a consistent pass receiver in the NFL depends on the chemistry and timing between the QB and the WR. In the games, Isabella ran crisp routes and caught the ball well. But, the majority of the plays were designed for other receivers.

Isabella needs more reps with Kyler Murray and a more WR friendly offense in 2020.

  • Josh McCown’s 17 Year Journey

it was so amazing and moving to watch Josh McCown play his heart out in what was his only playoff appearance in 17 years.

In many ways, if Josh McCown could have entered the NFL in this day and age, the chances are stronger today that he could emerge as a very good starting QB, especially now that teams are much more eager to play athletic, multi-dimensional QBs.

It was interesting to think back to the 2003 season about how Josh McCown impacted the 2004 NFL Draft when on the last game of the season he knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs and the Cardinals out of the #1 pick when he adeptly scrambled to his right and connected with WR Nate Poole in the back right corner of the end zone to pull out the last second victory: (fast forward to the 14:50 mark)

Rewatching the end of this game—-three things stand out to me: (1) the game was nearly lost on the penultimate play when McCown was hit and fumbled, but the Cardinals’ recovered! (2) Nate Poole is #89—-which now gives me an even more special vibe for Andy Isabella; (3) Nate Poole’s catch was so remarkably similar to Antonio Holmes’ game inning catch in the Cardinals’ only Super Bowl game.

Stunning too to think that had the Vikings won—-with only Shaun King, Josh McCown and John Navarre at QB—-would former Vikings’ head coach, turned Cardinals’ head coach, Dennis Green have drafted Eli Manning?

Would Archie and Eli Manning have demanded the Cardinals to trade him the way they did the Chargers?

You know—-I actually think that Dennis Green would have elected to take his Vikings’ waterboy and Cris Carters’ and Randy Moss’ protégée, Larry Fitzgerald, with the #1 pick—-anyway.

it’s just so fascinating to ruminate about the Vikings’ connections with the Cardinals, especially when considering that McCown’s 18-17 miracle win was the last game Dave McGinnis would coach and Dennis Green would take over—-and Josh McCown would be the first QB to throw a Larry Fitzgerald TD pass and the last QB to hand the ball off to Emmit Smith, while going 9-10 as the Cardinals starter under Green.

When Green wasn’t keen on “McCowning his ass” as the Cardinals’ QBOF, and then turned to Matt Leinart instead, Josh went on to become arguably the league’s most popular QB2, stopgap starter over a span of 13 years with the Lions, Raiders, Panthers, Bears, Bucs, Browns, Jets and, of all fates, leaving the ESPN analyst’s booth this year in August to become the Eagles’ QB2.

It was fascinating to watch Josh McCown play respectably well yesterday (completing 18 0f 24 passes—-75%—-for 174 yards and rushing 5 rimes for 23 yards) in his only playoff appearance—-with one of those incompletions being a dropped flat pass by RB Miles Sanders on a key 3rd down conversion play.

Alas, Josh was unable to deliver the last second magic that he delivered for the Cardinals in the last game of the 2003 season, as this time he was unable to escape the pocket, but what a 17 year football journey this was to behold—-especially with the coincidence that if Larry Fitzgerald, the Hall of Fame to be WR who caught his first TD from McCown, returns to the Cardinals for his 17th season.

To see Josh so emotional on the field in the arms of Zach Ertz afterward and then here in his post-game presser just puts the 17 year journey in a poignant perspective:

It’s pretty cool to think that in 2019 the Cardinals finally got their #1 pick and they used it to select the fleet-footed, strong-armed QB Kyler Murray, the first real mobile starting QB they’ve had since Josh McCown.

It’s pretty cool too to think of how well the Cardinals played the remaining teams in the NFL playoffs, having had close, highly competitive games versus both #1 seeds, the Ravens and 49ers (twice) and having split with the Seahawks, earning their signature and best win (24-10) of the season at Century Link Field in Seattle in Week 16.