The Cardinals are not going to the postseason.
By now this is universally known.
After squandering multiple opportunities to clinch a playoff spot for the first time in half a decade, Arizona’s once promising season ended with an emphatic dud at the hands of the LA Rams. A season that started with so much promise ended with a Cardinal franchise that is left with far more questions than answers.
For that, I believe it’s fair to say that the 2020 Arizona Cardinals, on multiples fronts, failed this season.
Lets explore them, shall we?
Kliff Kingsbury failed to silence his many critics.
Back in January of 2019, the hiring of Cardinal head coach Kliff Kingsbury was met with much criticism. Kingsbury was fired by his alma mater, Texas Tech, while sporting a sub .500 record in the process. Yet his offensive prowess was enough for Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim to roll the dice on the innovative play-caller.
Kingsbury, flaws and all, put together a solid rookie campaign. He elevated the once dormat Cardinal offense from dead last in total production to 13th in offensive effeciency (via Football Outsiders).
With the offseason addition of DeAndre Hopkins combined with the maturation process of Kyler Murray, Arizona’s offense was the trendy national pick to take the next step toward elite status. Kingsbury’s “air raid attack” was ready to catapult the Cardinals to the post season and beyond!
Not so fast.
The Cardinal offense, while effective early in the season, was proven to be complete and utter fools gold. After averaging nearly 30 points per game through the first half of the season, Kingsbury’s unit plummeted to 21ppg over the final eight games. As you can imagine, this complete collapse in offensive efficiency coincided with the team’s overall win total plummeting seemingly every week.
Kingsbury’s Cardinals, after jumping out to a 5-2 record, ended the season on a 3-6 stretch to finish a mediocre 8-8. The Cardinals, who started the year 2-0 in the vaunted NFC West, ended the season on a four game losing streak within the division. Kingsbury remains incredibly outclassed by his three West peers who have all reached the Super Bowl at one time or another. He is 3-9 against the NFC West in two years, including 0-4 against McVay’s Rams.
The offensive collapse isn’t this team’s only problem but it is by far the most glaring. Despite Kyler Murray’s ascension in year two, the intermediate passing game never developed under Kingsbury. The running game, which was increidbly effective a year ago, seemingly disppeared as the weather turned. Penalties were an issue from start to finish and unless Kyler Murray was playing at an elite level, the unit’s margin for error was incredibly slim.
Keep in mind that Kliff Kingsbury is suppose to hang his hat on consistent offensive production. If he’s not doing that, what is he good for?
I don’t expect Michael Bidwill to fire Kingsbury, at least not this offseason. But it’s more than fair to wonder what the second year head coach has accomplished through 32 NFL games.
Who has Kingsbury elevated offensively? Outside of Murray, who has he devleoped over his first two years? Again, more questions than answers which will only feed the narrative that his “ascension” to NFL head coach was made out of desperation and ignorance by an NFL franchise that shares those same traits.
Steve Keim failed, again, to put together a competent offseason.
The Cardinals were a trendy pick to reach the postseason in part because of the series of “flashy” moves the team made over the course of last offseason. Cardinal GM Steve Keim, in year two of his rebuild, was aggressive early and often in free agency.
Yes, we know and love the acquisition of WR DeAndre Hopkins. That move alone likely earned Keim another full year of personnel decisions from Michael Bidwill. However a strong argument can be made that the rest of Keim’s 2020 offseason fell flat.
Shortly after the Hopkins trade, Keim made the following free agent signings:
-DT Jordan Phillips
-OLB Devon Kennard
All of them would go on to dissapoint.
Phillips, in particular, was the big ticket addition upfront on the defensive line. After securing a career best 9.5 sacks for Buffalo in 2019, Phillips was incredibly average for a Cardinal defense desperate for interior pressure upfront. The former Oklahoma Sooner was also ailed by a hamstring injury that eventually landed him on IR after playing a mere seven games for the Redbirds.
Devon Kennard, following his abrupt release from Detroit (Detroit!), was quickly snatched up by Keim and company in early March. Keep in mind that Arizona had made significant progress on a free agent deal with OLB Markus Golden before pivoting to Kennard following his release. Kennard responded by seeing his playing time reduced to begin the season to the point in which Keim had to surrender 2021 draft capital to bring back the aformentioned Golden midseason.
Lastly there’s Campbell, who admittedly took a one year deal and looked serviceable at times. However, his presence alone inadvertently created a much bigger issue that would seemingly linger all season...
The Cardinals failed to develop Isaiah Simmons as an every down player.
It’s January 3rd of 2021 and I don’t know where Isaiah Simmons fits on this defense next season.
The very fact that we’re still having this conversation following the Cardinals spending the eighth overall selection on the former Clemson product last April is completely unforgivable of this franchise. Simmons was touted by Keim and Kingsbury alike as a generational prospect that could help cement Arizona’s much malign defense into one of the best in the league.
Yet it was evident from day one that the Cardinals and their coaching staff had no real plan for Simmons’ development outside of just kind of throwing him out there...
Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph didn’t help things much either, as he continually sat the former Butkus Award Winner in favor of the ever depreciating Jordan Hicks and free agent bandaid De’Vondre Campbell. Yet by all the advanced metrics available, the Cardinal defense was more productive with Simmons on the field.
That is, to me, a testament to his ability to produce despite coaching when you consider how limited his opportunities were to make plays. Yet here we sit entering 2021 with his role completely influx.
The Cardinals failed to find a quality number two receiver.
With all of the offseason attention rightfully given to the arrival of All Pro DeAndre Hopkins, very little was made of the remaining options at receiver for Arizona. The Cardinals had invested a premium in the receiver position over the prior two offseasons, and it was due time those investments paid off.
I guess we all assumed that somebody had to step up, right?
Lets start with 2018 second rounder Christian Kirk, who spent the 2020 season finale on the COVID-reserve list. Kirk was the logical choice to ascend to the number two receiver role, especially when you consider all of the favorable matchups the former Aggie would get with Hopkins now in the fold.
And for part of the season, it looked as if Kirk was ready to take that next step in production. Between weeks six through eight, Kirk accumulated 246 receiving yards and five touchdowns while averaging well above 20 yards per play. The Cardinals offense was hitting it’s stride alongside Kirk and it was great to see him flourish alongside Murray.
Until it wasn’t.
To say that Kirk all but disappeared over the Cardinals final eight games would be a gross understatement. During that pivotal stretch of play, Kirk would haul in a mere 22 catches for 234 yards and zero touchdowns. His plummet in production was a large contributing factor in Arizona’s second half offensive inefficiencies.
Kirk became an absolute vegetable on the field and fooled us all in the process.
Well what about the rest of the Cardinal receiving core? Second year receiver Andy Isabella has been all but confirmed as a massive NFL bust. The former UMASS product was inactive for much of the final quarter of the season before being activated due to injury in the season finale against LA. Isabella is one of Steve Keim’s worst picks in recent memory and it’s fair to question whether or not he makes the team next season.
Then there’s Larry Fitzgerald, who the Cardinals paid another $11 million dollars to in 2020. Yes, he’s absolutely the greatest Arizona Cardinal ever but he’s also 37 in an increasingly young man’s game. By season’s end he was greatly hampered due to injuries and suffered a scary battle with COVID-19.
At the writing of this article, speculation surrounding Fitzgerald’s NFL future is running ramped but let me just say this...
Shame on the Cardinals for devoting eight figures in a salary cap league to a player that, while effective, has no business being the team’s number two receiver. Again, that’s not on Fitzgerald, rather Keim and company for mismanaging a cap that could have gone to more explosive options within the draft or free agent market.
The Cardinals failed to develop quality depth at CB.
Patrick Peterson, much like Larry Fitzgerald, is a Cardinal legend and will no doubt one day have his jersey hung in the rafters at State Farm Stadium.
But the reality of the situation, today, is that Peterson will be 31 years old next season. The free agent to be was frequently exposed by younger, more athletic receivers in 2020 and yet the Cardinals may be forced to overpay him by default.
That’s because, over the past several offseasons, the team has failed to develop a quality option should they allow Peterson to leave. Back in 2018, Robert Alford was given a bloated three year contract that resulted in a total of zero games played in an Arizona Cardinal uniform. Byron Murphy was the 33rd overall selection in the 2019 draft, and while the former Washington Huskee has shown promise, he has been consistently utilized as an inside slot corner by Vance Joseph.
You could make the argument that journeymen Dre Kirkpatrick, who was signed by the team out of desperation several weeks before the season, was Arizona’s most consistent CB in 2020.
That’s not a good sign moving forward, especially when you take a gander at the free agent cornerback market. Peterson, by all accounts, is certainly the most accomplished and probably the best option for the 2021 season.
But the problem is that Peterson will likely garner several multiyear offers, to which the Cardinals would be foolish to match. Defensive backs, specifically corners, do not age well post 30 and we’ve already seen Peterson’s legs appear to give this season. The franchise tag is an option, however, would be much better served on the emerging 26 year old Haason Reddick.
Steve Keim has backed himself into a “corner”, in more ways than one, and a diminishing salary cap can’t save him now.