On NESN’s Patriots Podcast when I was asked by Doug Kyed and Zack Cox what the general impressions are of Kliff Kingsbury in Arizona, I said that Kliff—despite having the team at 6-4 with the #1 offense in yards per game—-has drawn some fairly sharp criticism from the Arizona media.
To begin with, I think it’s fair to say that neither Kliff nor Kyler look the part of the typical NFL head coach and franchise QB tandem. Kliff is young and a sideline chameleon—-while Kyler is young and all of 5’10” (actually Kliff has recently been calling Kyler 5’9”).
But, perhaps even moreso, both Kliff and Kyler are exceedingly humble and thus are quick to harbor the blame when things go wrong. Such readiness to admit culpability often tends to invite the criticism of others.
However—-need I remind anyone that the Cardinals have a come a long way from the post-game rhetoric of “the system works” and “he’s a failure in progress.”
Speaking of the system—-following the Cardinals’ 28-21 loss to the Seahawks nine days ago, Arizona Sports Radio talk show host, Dan Bickley, was so critical of Kliff Kingsbury’s play calling that he suggested that Kingsbury should hire “an experienced offensive coordinator.”
I offered my own reaction to this a week ago or so in the “Bickley Blasting Kingsbury” article.
But, during the past week, Bickley and Marotta on 98.7 FM have been polling the fans to gauge their feelings about the job that Kliff Kingsbury has been doing.
First there was this:
#Cardinals fans - What aspect of last night's loss to Seattle was most costly?— Bickley & Marotta on 98.7 (@Bickley_Marotta) November 20, 2020
Followed up with this:
#Cardinals fans - How would you grade Kliff Kingsbury's coaching performance so far this season?— Bickley & Marotta on 98.7 (@Bickley_Marotta) November 24, 2020
Culminating in this:
Who is the best current head coach/manager in Valley pro sports?— Bickley & Marotta on 98.7 (@Bickley_Marotta) November 25, 2020
These polls felt to me like Dan Bickley went fishing to see whether Cardinals’ fans are feeling as uneasy and disgruntled about Kingsbury as he is.
The key answer to each poll that ti would appear Bickley was looking for:
1—-Playcalling (most to blame)
2—-Regressing from last year (Kingsbury’s 2020 coaching performance)
3—-Monty Williams (best head coac/.manager in the Valley).
In response to Poll #2, I tweeted:
The Cardinals under Kliff Kingsbury w Kyler Murray at QB are now relevant and capturing the imaginations of millions of sports fans. Bickley calling out for KK to hire an experienced OC is egregious. Near worst Red Zone TD % last year, #4 in NFL now. #1 in Yards. Top 3 rushing.— Walter B J Mitchell (@WBJMItch) November 24, 2020
I tuned in to hear Bickley’s reaction to the polls, and he said something to the effect of “there’s some guy talking about Red Zone TD %” as a reason why we should be impressed with Kingsbury but “I care a lot about the Cardinals” and “what I am seeing” is Kyler Murray making a bunch of plays on his own and not enough plays where “I would say now there’s a clever play.” “I just haven’t seen much growth in Kingbury’s offense and him as a play caller”
At no point however, did Bickley reiterate and take ownership of his novel idea that Kingsbury should hire an experienced OC. Thus, I tweeted back:
@Bickley_Marotta Cards' O has plenty of room for growth. But, for you to suggest that K2 hire an exp. OC when K2/K1 have more ypg than Reid/Mahomes for #1 in NFL (26 games after being #32 in NFL)is absurd. You dodged your OC suggestion and aren't owning it---nice hit and run.— Walter B J Mitchell (@WBJMItch) November 24, 2020
Then when I pointed out that Kliff already has an experienced former OC whom he consults with in Tom Clements (former GB OC who helped develop A. Rodgers), Blake chimed in and it made me wonder whether Bickley even knew that Clements was on Kliff’s staff.
Great point. K2 has proven flexibility in working w/ staff to cater the offense to the strength of personnel. Clements, Kugler, Raih and Heiden have a hand in play designs and game plans. Bickley not know that Tom Clements, who was GB OC who helped groom Rodgers, is on staff?— Walter B J Mitchell (@WBJMItch) November 24, 2020
- Kliff Kingsbury—-who was criticized nationally from the get-go for not deserving the job and for having a “pretty boy” offense that “wouldn’t be sustainable in the NFL”—-has been a model of adaptation in creating an offense that currently is not only #1 in the NFL in yards per game (at 414.3—-ahead of KC at 414.1), but is #2 in rushing offense (at 157.7—-behind only BAL at 160.5), and is #3 in Red Zone TD % (at 74.29%)—-all because Kingsbury has made his offense a collaborative venture with Tom Clements, Sean Kugler, David Raih, Jerry Sullivan and Steve Heiden.
- This is hardly a “pretty boy” offense. Anything but.
- Let’s be clear. This is not an Air Raid offense. Yes, it has some Air Raid components, but they have been sprinkled in with a power running game and with basic man-to-man and zone passing game concepts.
- Perhaps Kliff’s biggest challenge has been trying to keep all his coaches happy.
- But, when to comes to play choreographing and creative play calling, look at the design and execution of this Red Zone TD versus the Seahawks:
- This TD pass from Kyler to Chase Edmonds was a perfect call versus the Seahawks’ goal line zone defense which they were running in order to have the balance and man power to try to stop Kyler from running the ball for a TD. It was similar to the adjustment Kliff made in the 1st Seahawks game when they were zoning Kyler and thus Kliff dialed up a pass to the back end of the end zone behind the Seahawks’ zone to Christian Kirk. In both cases, Christian and Chase were wide open.
- Up until the loss in Seattle, the Cardinals’ offense had put up 5 straight weeks of 400+ yards and 30+ points per game. How often have we ever seen offensive numbers like those? The last three were against playoff caliber defenses in SEA, MIA and BUF. The main adjustment that Kliff made to trigger that 5 game bonanza was moving away from the WR screen plays in favor of taking more deep shots down field.
- Kliff Kingsbury was hired because of his ability to groom talented QBs and to cater his offense to the strengths of his QB and the surrounding personnel. In both cases, Kliff deserves high praise for what he has accomplished in 26 games. To suggest that he hire an experienced OC is to go against everything that Kliff was hired for—-what, is he going to become some kind of figurehead coach?
- Sure, everybody is frustrated when some plays don’t work—-but no one more so than Kliff himself. But, if we even knew the half of how each play is conceived and designed Imagine the Kliff Notes footnotes he would write after every play on his play sheet—of who designed it!), how it is repped in practice, and how one missed block or missed step attributed to its misdoing, we would have an even greater appreciation for the creative thought that Kliff and his staff put in to every play.
- When your team has the most yards in the NFL per game—-even despite the penalties which have caused 24 possession to stall in 10 games—-there is a whole lot of good play calling going on.
- Last night on All Patriots Access, the weekly Friday night show on CBS here in Boston, when Bill Belichick was asked about Kliff Kingsbury—-Belichick said two things that rang especially true—-(1) “Kliff is one of the brightest offensive minds in the game and he is building an explosive team in Arizona;—-(2) “Kliff earned the job in Arizona because of all the hard work he’s put in to the craft. He was on the IR his rookie year here in 2004, but we had him working and excelling on special projects.”
Certainly, Kliff and the Cardinals have a great challenge ahead of them versus Belichick’s Patriots.
The Patriots’ backs are against the wall and who are in a must win game, according to the Boston media.
There are a number of factors going into the game that could work against the Cardinals—-the east coast travel on an unusual week working practice around Thanksgiving—-Kyler working his way through the shoulder injury—-the latest COVID positives or exposure quarantines with Larry Fitzgerald being one of them—-Belichick had a superb plan two weeks ago for the Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ offense—-the challenge for Kliff going up against the legendary coach who drafted him and who inspired him to become a coach—-and will Kliff and Kyler be able to adjust to what Belichick is going to try to take away? Will the Cardinals’ defense be able to stop the Patriots’ strong running game with Damien Harris, James White, Sony Michel (back after 7 games) and Cam Newton? Will the Cardinals have better success in the secondary this week? Can the most penalized team in the NFL beat the least penalized team in the NFL?
I have heard from numerous fans this week that they believe this is a game the Cardinals should not only win, but win handily. I have no idea why anyone would think that. But, I believe that one of the litany of things Kliff Kingsbury learned from Bill Belichick is that Belichick never-ever-is of the mindset that his team not only should win a game, but should win it handily.
Thus, if the Cardinals falter versus the Patriots this week, the Kingsbury critics will likely grow louder—-to where we see Bickley and Marotta poll:
Which of these “experienced OC’ candidates do you like best:
- Jim Caldwell
- Adam Gase
- Doug Marrone
- Mike McCarthy
- Marty Mornhinweg