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Reality Check: Surging Cardinals still have much to prove in loaded West

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Despite offseason hype, Arizona still needs to earn the national respect they sorely crave.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In case you haven’t noticed, the Arizona Cardinals are one of the trendiest picks nationally to earn a playoff birth in 2020.

The team has an ascending young quarterback in Kyler Murray and have added a bevy of help this offseason to an otherwise middling roster. Most notably, Arizona made perhaps the biggest move of the offseason for any team by adding All Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

Combine that with the likes of DT Jordan Phillips, OLB Devon Kennard and a surging draft class that boast the ever talented Isaiah Simmons and it’s easy to see the optimism.

And yet, in my option, there is still serious cause for concern.

As much as I respect Cardinal head coach Kliff Kingsbury, there is some doubt that he can translate his modest success at the collegiate level onto the NFL stage.

Kingsbury is faced with the tall task of overcoming a slew of quality, in division head coaches that include Super Bowl champion Pete Carroll.

Sean McVay (LA Rams) and Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco 49ers) have represented the Super Bowl for their respective teams in the NFC each of the past two season.

The situation is eerily similar to 2013, with Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh (with Jeff Fisher) running ramped in the NFC West.

Each had been to the Super Bowl as a head coach, with Seattle and San Francisco the class of the leauge.

Then there was Bruce Arians.

The brash, first year head coach had been around the block as a coordinator and interm heads coach (2012 Coach of the Year with Indianapolis).

Arians wasn’t phased by the resumes within the West. Instead, he put together the best three year run of any single coach in Cardinal franchise history. From 2013 to 2015, Arians won 34 regular season games and secured two playoff births in the process.

The foulmouth, Kangol wearing Arians oozed confidence that was quickly adopted by his players. Additions like Tyrann Mathieu, Tony Jefferson and David Johnson spearheaded Arizona’s revival.

It was heaven in the desert as the team finally earned the respect of their peers for the first time since Kurt Warner suited up for the team.

Yet, after two middling seasons thanks to an eroding Carson Palmer, Arians opted to retire. Since then the once relevant Cardinals have been in complete disarray.

General Manager Steve Keim allowed key players such as Calais Campbell, John Brown and Tony Jefferson to leave as free agents. Suddenly the once vaunted Cardinal roster had quickly became a laughing stock.

Because of this, the Arizona Cardinals have won a total of 8 games in the past two seasons.

Woof.

Kingsbury is tasked with turning around a culture that has once again been left for dead since Arian’s departure. Unlike Arians, however, Kingsbury lacks the previous success at the highest level.

His 35-40 record at Texas Tech brings continued critcism, as does the decision to retain flalying defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.

Joseph was ousted a year ago from Denver but was quickly brought in to lead the Cardinal defense in 2019. His efforts resulted in a near last place finish in every major defensive category.

Yet he was brought back to the desert. His second and likely final chance to prove himself comes with a bevy of new additions.

It’s make or break time for Joseph and he knows it.

So to recap, we’ve got a unproven head coach combined with an underachieving defensive coordinator set to do battle with a division that is loaded with accolades.

Color me skeptical.

This is not to say the Cardinals can’t achieve a playoff birth in 2020, but a lot of things must fall into place for that to happen. Kyler Murray will, of course, need to take that large step in his development. I’m not as concerned with the supporting cast offensively, as Murray’s play alone should elevate the likes of Christian Kirk and perhaps Andy Isabella.

Murray’s maturation is the key for this team in combination with some kind of improvement defensively. The additions of Phillips and Simmons, in particular, allow the Cardinals some positional flexibility when attempting to defend the likes of San Francisco and Seattle.

Oh, and the team must finally figure out a way to overcome the Sean McVay lead LA Rams. Since McVay took over as head coach in 2017, the Cardinals are an egregious 0-6 against the Rams.

Not to mention this team hasn’t beaten Seattle at home since 2012.

On paper, there is no question Arizona is far more talented then their 5-10-1 showing last season.

But with expectations running ramped, I’d encourage serious cautious with some of these predictions. Vegas has the Arizona Cardinals O/U at 7.5. After last season, that sounds about right.

They are a couple bounces and calls away from either 6-10 or 9-7. That’s the NFL.

For it to bounce the right way, however, the Cardinals need to take care of business in the NFC West.