This has been a rollercoaster of a season so far. We’ve lost multiple games we should have won, and we’ve won multiple games we should have lost. This season has been, at times, exciting, exasperating, hopeful, and crushingly disappointing.
But what it hasn’t been is boring. And the national media has taken notice of this team for the first time since Bruce Arians left the desert. This added national scrutiny has actually been welcome as us locals are (still) trying to figure this team out.
With that idea of scrutiny in mind, here’s a quick list of five Cardinals who will bear close monitoring here in the last month of the season.
Note: This is not a list of impending free agents, all of whom we’ll be keeping a close eye on. We’ll explore our free agents in a future column.
WR Andy Isabella
Isabella has been more headache than hype so far in his brief Cardinals career. But there’s still that jolt of electricity whenever he touches the ball, and the best version of this Cardinals offense is the one where he’s the deep threat WR3. He had a season-high six targets with Larry Fitzgerald out on Sunday, but he was only able to turn them into 4 catches for 33 yards as the offense was out of sorts all day long. As much as I love Fitz (get well soon!), every rep he gets over Isabella from here on out is a wasted one from a player development standpoint. Let’s see what Isabella can do down the stretch so he doesn’t become a wasted draft pick.
LB Isaiah Simmons
Speaking of player development, Simmons needs to start playing more as well. He far outgrades both Jordan Hicks (52.9) and De’Vondre Campbell (50.8) with a 63.2 PFF grade and has proven capable of making plays rushing the passer and defending the run and pass. Yet he played only 16 defensive snaps against the Patriots—after playing 32, 32, and 45 in the previous three games. Simmons is the future and, potentially, the best ILB option we have in the present. (And remember, Campbell is one of those impending free agents.) It’s time to turn the #8 overall pick loose and let him play his game, even if he isn’t going to get the benefit of the doubt from the refs.
K Zane Gonzalez
It’s a good thing there won’t be any fans in the stands at State Farm Stadium this weekend—they’d surely be raining down boos upon the Cardinals’ embattled kicker. He missed potentially game-winning kicks in losses to the Dolphins and Patriots, and had other late misses in miracle wins against the Seahawks and Bills. Cardinals fans’ confidence in their kicker is probably as low as it has been since Phil Dawson was in town. And who can blame them? At this point, it doesn’t seem likely that the former Sun Devil (another impending free agent) will be back in a Cardinals uniform next season. But there’s still plenty of time for Zane to redeem himself. The only question is whether he has the mental fortitude to do so.
QB Kyler Murray
Kyler is on this list for one reason—health. He clearly hasn’t looked right in the last two weeks, both disappointing Cardinals losses. The Patriots game was especially concerning given that the running element of his game—the key to our offense—seemed to be almost entirely phased out of the gameplan. Of course, it could be that Bill Belichick is simply that good, but it sure didn’t seem like designed runs were in the playbook on Sunday, especially at the goal line at the end of the first half and on that final offensive possession before Zane’s most recent miss. If Kyler truly isn’t healthy and he needs to miss a game—even in the midst of the playoff chase—Cardinals fans need to be okay with it. But if he is healthy, then Kliff Kingsbury needs to take full advantage of his unique athletic abilities.
HC Kliff Kingsbury
And that brings us to the final name on this list. If Zane’s missed kicks cost us two wins, it’s only because Kliff’s strange ultra-conservative streak put the team in position to lose those games in the first place. I don’t know what causes it, but it sure seems like Kliff freezes up in big moments and coaches scared. And that simply won’t cut it in today’s NFL. I agree with my tastefully named colleague John Venerable that Kliff needs to be better immediately. We still have the inside track to the playoffs, but part of me wonders if making the playoffs—and, say, losing to the Seahawks again or getting shredded by Aaron Rodgers—would actually be bad for the team, giving Kliff a longer leash when he should absolutely be on the hot seat next year given how many brutal gaffes he has made so far this year. I want Kliff to succeed and learn from his mistakes, but we all know that old cliché about the definition of insanity, right? I hope he proves me wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.
The Cardinals have no shortage of players and coaches to watch closely these final five games. Who else will you be monitoring? Let us know in the comments.