The Arizona Cardinals have steadily continued to invest into their media department, giving more and more access with in-depth behind the scenes looks.
Cardinals Flight Plan, a mini-series documenting the Cardinals’ offseason and season, is one such way that NFL teams are giving fans better access to the coaches and players and while it’s a more filtered look than something like Hard Knocks, it’s nothing short of a real portrayal of the team.
If you haven’t seen the episode yet, you’ll want to check it out below before going any further.
So what are the top takeaways from the latest episode, Cardinals fans? Let’s check out how:
#1. Fitzgerald and Chandler Jones as vets were instrumental for Kyler’s rookie season...as was D.J. Humphries
Larry Fitzgerald’s been in the league since 2004 and probably has metaphorically been playing with a gold jacket since that incredible 2008 playoff run. Meanwhile Chandler Jones is one of the best athletes on the planet and currently has led the league in overall overall sacks over the past few seasons.
The first game before Murray was ready to step foot on the field, Fitzgerald had been coaching him up on how he liked to play (snatching it up high away from guys) and was there in the tunnel with him and gave him the following words:
“I love you, we’ll be with you all day.”
Man, how little do we hear those words from our co-workers, eh? Fitz is something special and that “love” words is such a deep sign of confidence. He also went to a despondent Murray after the first game did NOT end in a win but a tie telling him they could build off that 2nd half. Not JUST the 4th quarter but the whole 2nd half (Lol, stretching the truth there juuuuuust a bit but in a good way, right?)
Chandler, meanwhile, almost immediately sought out a bond with Murray and bragged about him to cameras and other players, even carrying his helmet and some of his equipment out to the practice field one day.
For perspective....the normal thing in the NFL would be the EXACT OPPOSITE. First-round QB Tim Tebow got “hazed” with a rookie haircut because...he was a rookie. Didn’t matter he was one of the most famous college QB’s of all time as that’s how it was in the NFL and Jones could easily just have Murray carry HIS pads painting a picture like: “Hey rook doesn’t matter what you’ve done you gotta earn it first, baby.”
Instead? He seemed to indicate that not only had Murray already earned that, but he even showed deference to the 21-year old rookie, which spoke volumes. Imagine you have a new young co-worker hired right out of college and you’re SO confident in his ability to lead you carry in his workbag for him, help get him the door, etc. rather than make them go and get a coffee run as a joke for the department.
He also was demonstrating how constantly he had Kyler’s back, such as after he scored a rushing touchdown he went:
“Once you get a rushing touchdown you can put on the music; you want me to put on a song, I got you.”
The “I got you” stands out. This is a 29-year old super star essentially letting a guy 8 years his junior know he’s with him and that bond of trust likely was easier to carry over to the rest of the team.
Another guy, somewhat surprisingly for some? D.J. Humphries, who espoused how he had been in Murray’s shoes and was a vocal leader on the offensive line. Some fans, sadly, seem to have been unable to buy into Humphries and made up their mind on him early in his career. Hopefully those fans recognize how, er...misinformed that opinion was.
#2. Kyler’s got a surprisingly great sense of self-effacing humor
Kyler’s interactions with other players that you don’t see can be pretty fantastic as he’s normally so straight and serious. Some linemen were talking early in the season and looking at his size, went:
“Can you imagine Kyler trying to make a tackle?”
Murray defended himself, saying for them to watch the cut he made on film. And thankfully, we don’t have to imagine anymore how good of a tackler Murray would be.
Kyler Murray had the best close and tackle I’ve ever seen from a QB. Explosive!! pic.twitter.com/l2mVmaTHDM— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) December 16, 2019
Kyler also talked about how he was wearing tighter compression pants kind of like underwear when being mic’d up and joked to a teammate about it, saying; “They need fine content they come to me.” His joke about him and Kliff bringing in cupcakes for each other “We’re not at that level yet” was a thread in the season.
But one of the funniest ones was an opponent saying that Murray being listed at 5’10 must have been a “lie”. The response?
* Murray smiles * “[I’m] 6’1”
Now that’s funny.
There’s an idea of how the best leaders (according to the Five levels of leadership) need to have a sense of humor, often self-effacing showing that they don’t take themselves too seriously. Kyler’s clearly had this attribute, and it’s been fun to see glimpses of it.
#3. Kliff Kingsbury might be the best boss ever (especially for millennials?)
Something that stood out was how remarkable Kingsbury was in terms of direct interaction and encouragement with Murray. He’s not as much of a “rah-rah” guy trying to force guys to play harder but when he needed to be he stepped up.
He continued to espouse his need to call better plays in the season.
It was stunning to see how with Kliff Kingsbury’s recent comments about how terrified he was at those results how much of a rock and how steady he was on the sidelines, and as someone in the crowd the twists and turns of the game leading into the 4th quarter was done well, not shying away from the pain. Kliff looked like a rock and there was no indication that he was frightened anywhere to be found.
If his time with the Cards ever does come to an end, there’ll be other teams lining up for a talent like that who can relate the way that many millennials want: direct, not overly complimenting but not overly critical and reassuring and responsive.
#4. Kyler showed LEGIT growth just from one play on a read-option
Kliff showcased one play at the beginning of the year in February to show how Kyler improved.
A read-option play that featured two linemen pulling to the left in space with one cornerback way out on the side. Murray handed it off for a stuffed run to Chase Edmonds up the middle that didn’t seal the game whereas if he pulls the ball down and takes off it’s a 3 vs. 1 matchup in space and the game is over.
Later in the season? It led to this run on almost the same play:
#5. David Johnson and Patrick Peterson’s absence was felt
The Cardinals in 2016-2019 had essentially a “big four” of talented players in their core makeup: Larry Fitzgerald, Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson and David Johnson.
Naturally, Peterson’s suspension and Johnson’s injury and lack of production has put them in the Cards picture being a bit fuzzy. It was still a bit strange as the leadership they’ve shown isn’t necessarily Murray related, but it’s strange as a Cardinals fan after seeing the heart and soul of the Cards offense and Cards defense be less of the focus. Some clips included Christian Kirk and Budda Baker instead.
That’s what happens when there’s questions, sure, but even more so I think it was less the expense of them as players or their futures BUT rather the rise of Budda/Christian as important players and also the sheer fact that a young start at the quarterback position dwarfs most all else. That’s the frank truth, and given the focus of this episode it shouldn’t be as much of a surprise.
Honorable Mention: Props, Cards Media Dept.
Maybe it goes to say but I thought the breakdown of the Week 1 game of Kyler and the team versus the Detroit Lions was some of the best work that the Cards production team has ever done, piecing together some of the excellent footage from NFL Films and their own from the mic’d up to tell the narrative and showing the ebb and flow of Murray’s first start.
I can tell you...I was actually at that game.
The sheer emotion from the excitement of the 4 wide, 10 personnel sets to the crushing mistakes, sacks and the entering into the 4th quarter down 24-6 (the same score as Week 1 of the miserable 2018 season) wasn’t just disappointing for fans but it also was SO well showcased in seeing Murray’s frustration, and Kingsbury’s reassurance.
Could there have been a bit of luck factored in that wasn’t shown? Maybe. The Lions had a muffed punt, Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs forced a clutch play and the Lions’ Matt Patricia called a timeout on a would-have-been third down play brought the Cards back into it and gave them a shot.
The plays and emotional swing of the music, the cuts and everything leading up to that final touchdown drive was just as magical as it was being in that stadium. The tension of the moment as all the fans waited with baited breath hoping and praying that Murray could manage the impossible...and he and Kingsbury did.
“I can’t believe we’re heading to overtime, Wolf.” Dave Pasch said in the episode.
But given the excellent work showing Murray’s progress from Stage 1 to the 5th stage, I think a lot more Cardinals fans (and NFL fans in general) WILL be able to believe in QB1 after watching this episode if they didn’t already.
So big ups to them, as I thought this was their best episode since the 2019 Draft episode in 2019.