Just when it seems like things are about to go well for the Arizona Cardinals...they stumble and trip over their own feet.
The Cardinals couldn’t get their offense going and dropped in the standings out of the playoff race, needing the Bears to lose a game and facing a “must-win” game to hang in, they looked disinterested and inept at times.
Every game outside a tie has a winner and loser, so let’s break down who were the ones in this game:
Winner: Robert Saleh’s Future Head Coaching Gig
I don’t know where he ends up but to get the most out of his guys, many of them backups, in a meaningless game and willing them to victory almost with a solid gameplan and good coverage was awesome to watch.
Unless you’re a Cardinals fan.
The Niners made tight passes and broke up plays and punched Arizona in the mouth on offense. Saleh was fired up and looked like he was willing his guys on despite having not a lot to play for.
He will be a hot head coaching candidate in this offseason and there’s a great chance that he will be beloved by whatever team gets him. I think he does get a job this year... I’ll just be happy to see him out of the division, all things considered.
Loser: Vance Joseph’s run defense & credibility
Vance Joseph’s defense has baffled the likes of Russell Wilson and Josh Allen, forcing 5 turnovers from each of them.
Against the likes of Jalen Hurts, Teddy Bridgewater, Jared Goff and now CJ Beathard? Two.
That’s kind of crazy but the Cardinals barely got to Beathard and didn’t make it look difficult at all in part due to giving up over 220 yards on the ground on 27 touches. Jeff Wilson Jr. ate them alive getting holes blown open and running around wild the whole game to the point where San Fran wasn’t even having to dial up exotic plays or bootlegs versus simply handing it off and breaking tackles. He got outcoached and if Kyle Shanahan can do this with Beathard, you have to wonder if Arizona’s got the 4th rated overall staff in the division.
Winner: Haason Reddick’s contract
Reddick made another sack and forced a fumble, putting him at 13 on the season. The dude’s either going to get paid or franchised and seems to be finding his stride at the right time.
He’s stepped up where Chandler Jones left off and if Jones can bounce back next year and Reddick remain this productive, Cardinal fans have to be salivating at the defensive possibilities.
Loser: Kliff Kingsbury’s Chances
Kliff probably wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much flak in this game if he hadn’t gone for it on 4th and 2 from his own 35 yard line and then seen the Niners run for a score immediately after while the game was still close.
He converted a 4th and 5 earlier with Murray running and on this play the team tried and failed to get the slant route to Deandre Hopkins with the ball batted down. The team also saw their final chance go away with a late 4th down play and while they went deep for a lot of passes, the drops put Kyler’s yards per attempt at one of his lower results this season.
People are looking at the Niners having nothing to play for and Arizona having everything to play for and are wondering “where did that clunker come from?” In fact, we saw one such similar one from a less talented Jets team taking down a more talented Rams team just last week.
That said, the detractors and critics also saw others targeting areas besides the head coach as the main area of complaint:
future alabama offensive consultant kliff kingsbury— charles (fedex slayer) mcdonald (@FourVerts) December 26, 2020
Kliff Kingsbury is going to be Jim Harbaugh's offensive coordinator at Michigan soon— Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat) December 26, 2020
And the positives (maybe?)
Hes rightfully going to get his share of the blame but the GM is the guy to look at there as they havent dont a good job of building that team and if not for the coach they probably dont draft Murray. Most likely both are on the hottest of hot seats next year— Jason_OTC (@Jason_OTC) December 27, 2020
Final point because people getting riled up. Does Kliff has his faults? Certainly. But he took this team from a DUMPSTER fire to playoff contender in 2 seasons. Think he deserves another season to right his wrongs.— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) December 27, 2020
Certainly the pair of takes, eh? Kliff=the problem versus pluses and minuses. Today? He took an L along with his team.
Winner: Fred Warner as the best ILB in football right now
I could compare De’Vondre Campbell’s touchdown play to the exact same one Jeff Wilson Jr. ran for a touchdown the year before in AZ, but I won’t (partially because it’s taking a while to find the tweet!)
What I will do is point out how Fred Warner was a monster today. 14 tackles, 8 solo, 3 passes broken up.
Dan Arnold likely has a huge day if not for Arnold simply destroying him with legal, physical play, and he was a nightmare. On the other side, the only Cardinal who showed some life besides Budda Baker was Jordan Hicks, who dropped a sure handed interception. The team didn’t get it done when it counted. Warner’s probably the best ILB in the division now, which is saying something with Bobby Wagner still with Seattle!
Speaking of Arnold, he’d have ended up as a loser on the day for a few drops and a fumble but there was a bigger one that I noted that had to be mentioned...
Loser: Arizona as a home favorite this season
The Cardinals are 1-5 when favored at home overall under Kliff and that is...not great. It means that repeatedly they’ve gone out as the better team and flopped against a home crowd.
I think part of the blame goes to the coaches, but they can only do so much. Do you have to get your boss to scream at you & put the fear of God in you to get you to be productive in the busiest time of the year?
You shouldn’t. And neither should these players.
It looked like some of the players were mailing it in on the defensive side, with broken tackles and poor, sloppy angles taken. One play had two Cardinals miss on the same guy, and ultimately the fact was that the Cardinals saw a lot of the game swing from some of the same “usual suspects”.
- Christian Kirk dropped a sure touchdown for at least the 3rd time this season, and didn’t react to the read on a fade leading to an interception on a Niners blitz
- Isaiah Simmons and Budda Baker took the same route to George Kittle rather than contain, and he turned it upfield for a big gain
- Multiple offensive linemen had false starts on 3rd and short, making it a 3rd and long, with Justin Pugh and Mason Cole particularly adding to their totals this season
- And finally, while Larry Fitzgerald’s poured his heart and soul in for the team, he’s no longer getting downfield or breaking tackles and is still looking like a more reliable option to catch it than Dan Arnold on the day
With that let’s move to this last one...
Winner & Loser: Larry Fitzgerald
If this is it for Fitz at State Farm Stadium....what a career. The man is still catching passes and making plays like 7 years after many had thought he might be done.
It’s such a shame if that’s the case that this might be how he went out—hardly making an impact while a bad Niners team trounced them on offense in front of no fans to cheer him on.
It’s disappointing not just for fans but might be to him as well given all that he’s gone through from 2017 to now in which he’s finally seen his stats take a dive and a new #1 receiver replace him the same year Arizona got a Pro Bowler at the quarterback position who wasn’t a year or two short of retiring.
And it’s disappointing for this 2020 season as well.
Really, this is a team that when they have the ability to earn their destiny has seemed to mail it in. And GM Steve Keim will have to separate a lot more wheat from the chaff in his offseason if the Cardinals are going to be having him as a part of their main trifecta going forward.
Because when you drop an embarrassing game like this in a must-win situation...everything in the season is at stake not just for now but for the years to come.
Here’s hoping that the best is yet to come, no matter what Larry Legend chooses to do at the end of the season.