So many dis- words can be applied to the Cardinals two-game season ending meltdown in a rare scenario where with one win they could qualify for the playoffs.
Aside from the disillusionment and dismay that I and likely a number of Cardinals fans feel right now, the one word I can think of to describe the state of the Arizona Cardinals at the end of year 2 of Kliff Kingsbury’s tenure as head coach is —- disarray.
At 5-2 coming off of two stunning prime time wins over the Cowboys and Seahawks, the Cardinals were thrilling to watch. It was a joy to hear NFL pundits and fans call the 2020 Cardinals “must see TV.”
So what the heck went wrong?
To start with, the best coaches and teams in the NFL have the maturity, discipline, work-habits and wisdom to be able to handle the 4 ‘“distraction” weeks of the NFL season: the bye week, the week of Thanksgiving, the week of Christmas and the week of New Years.
The Cardinals drew a bagel in all four of those tests—-after drawing the same bagel last year.
Coming out of the be week, the loss to the Dolphins with Tua starting in just his second game, aided and abetted by ultra conservative play calling and a missed FG, the Cardinals 34-31 loss at home was so disappointing that after the game QB Kyler Murray was despondent.
My concern at the time was that Murray was reading the writing on the wall —- first, in knowing that in a game where he had taken more hits than ever before in trying to use his legs to will the Cardinals to victory, Murray likely felt lthat if this kind of effort was not going to be enough to push the Cardinals over the hump, then what was there to look forward to?
Secondly, it is my opinion that Kyler was feeling leery about his team’s level of commitment vis-a-vis their daily work habits —- particularity with regard to a number of veterans who were in the habit of cutting corners and going through the motions, not just in practice, but in the games.
A good deal of air came out of the balloon that day.
And with it came an intense scrutiny from the local media. I tried to push back on the scrutiny, but I feared that a hornet’s nest was festering. I put my trust in Kliff Kingsbury’s and Kyler Murray’s work ethic and the enthusiastic commitment the Cardinals were getting from the younger players on the team like Budda Baker, Chase Edmonds and Dennis Gardeck.
Alas, what wound up determining the outcome of this once promising season were the signs that opposing teams were devising good schemes to try to limit Kyler’s ability to beat them with his legs. To date, we have yet to see Kingsbury’s answer to beating the opponents’ stacked boxes and their zoning of Murray.
While, on the other side of the ball, the opponents were acutely aware of how to exploit the Cardinals’ habitual weaknesses in losing contain, playing soft zones, being woefully passive on the perimeter and leaving some receivers wide open.
As it tuned out, the Hail Murray could not save the Cardinals from becoming one of the most stale, predictable and undisciplined teams in the NFL. These shortcomings were further evidenced in the other three distraction week losses to the Patriots, 49ers and Rams. Once unthinkably, the Cardinals were only able to score 17, 12 and 7 points in this games respectively.
To put it as succinctly as possible —- the Cardinals under Kliff Kingsbury with Kyler Murray at QB were supposed to be wonderfully innovative and creative. I was thinking there would be several times a game where we Cardinals fans could say, “wow, now that was clever!”
Kyler has given Cardinals’ fans an impressive number of wow moments—-however—-largely in spite of the predictably unimaginative play calling.
The reality is that on both sides of the ball it appeared week after week that Kingsbury’s and Vance Joseph’s philosophy is to “do what we do—-and each week try to do it better.”
It was maddening to see the Cardinals coaches unprepared to exploit the weaknesses of the opponents, particularly when the opponents were missing starting QBs and a number of star players at other positions. None of that seemed to matter, because the coaches were intent on doing their thing over and over.
The problem is —- the opponents are doing the opposite —-they are game planning to exploit the Cardinals’ weaknesses. And the Cardinals, week after week, by virtue of their own redundancies, made it easier and easier for the opponents to succeed.
To watch QB John Wolford extend drive after drive yesterday was agonizing enough —- but then to watch the Cardinals waste their second timeout with a little under 5 minutes left in the 18-7 game on a 3rd and 15 to call a QB sprint option to his left (with a gimpy Murray) that led to this sequence —-was unbearably incomprehensible.
1st & 10 at LAR 40
- (5:52 - 4th) (No Huddle, Shotgun) K.Murray pass incomplete deep left to D.Hopkins (J.Fuller). PENALTY on ARZ, Illegal Shift, 5 yards, enforced at LA 40 - No Play.
1st & 15 at LAR 45
- (5:46 - 4th) (Shotgun) C.Edmonds up the middle to LA 48 for -3 yards (A.Donald).
2nd & 18 at LAR 48
- (5:13 - 4th) (Shotgun) K.Murray pass incomplete deep right to T.Sherfield (T.Hill).
- (5:06 - 4th) Timeout #2 by ARZ at 05:06.
3rd & 18 at LAR 48
- (5:06 - 4th) (Shotgun) C.Edmonds left end to ARZ 49 for -3 yards (T.Reeder).
4th & 21 at ARI 49
- (4:24 - 4th) A.Lee punts 51 yards to end zone, Center-A.Brewer, Touchback.
For Kliff Kingsbury to compound making these dubious play calls with the game on the line by electing to punt the ball back to the Rams with 4:24 left with only one timeout available, for a team that won a game with a Hail Murray, is abominable.
Kingsbury quit on his offense and he quit on the team.
This is the precise moment that I knew I could no longer defend Kingsbury.
Kingsbury’s late game decision making may be one of the primary reasons to explain why he coincidentally is a 5 games under .500 head coach:
35-40 at Texas Tech (Big 12)
13-18-1 at Arizona (NFL)
This is part of what prompted this tweet the following after thew game:
Hard to defend SK & K2---there is nothing smart about the way they play and their use of personnel. This brand of football is the epitome of disarray. Top choices, imo, for GM and HC: Louis Riddick and Brian Daboll. We need smart guys with an edge. SK/K2/VJ will never beat LA.— Walter B J Mitchell (@WBJMItch) January 4, 2021
In my opinion, Steve Keim quit on the 2020 team at the trading deadline when it was crystal clear the team had some glaring needs at CB, DT, WR and RB.
I believe that Steve Keim, while he is excellent at making trades and finding good, back end of the roster talent (that actually should be used more), needs to be held accountable for the dysfunctional team culture that is exacerbated year after year by virtue of the double standards he creates for veteran players.
If there ever was a time to move on from him —- it is now.
A new, dynamic GM paired with a new, dynamic innovative offensive head coach with years of NFL experience, is the best and fastest way that the Cardinals will be able to challenge for championships versus the likes of Pete Carroll, Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan.
Louis Riddick is a no-nonsense alpha who can immediately change the culture and the way the Cardinals approach free agency and the NFL draft..
Brian Daboll is arguably the hottest play caller in the NFL right now, right up there with Andy Reid. In him the Cardinals would be getting their version of Andy Reid. Look at the job that he is doing with QB Josh Allen —-and look at how versatile WR Stefon Diggs’ role is in the Bills’ offense. Daboll would know how to use DeAndre Hopkins —- because he knows how to keep defenses off balance and guessing from week to week.
Who knows? Maybe Brian Daboll would want to bring Matt Patricia in as his DC. Obviously, Patricia failed as a head coach, but so did Bill Belichick in his first gig with the Browns. Matt Patricia, as a full-time DC, has the record, the background and the rings to prove he can deliver under the brightest of lights. The Cardinals need an experienced DC who can match wits with Schottenheimer, McVay and Shanahan.
Vance Joseph made some headway this season, particularly in dialing up pressures —-but these are the reasons why it’s difficult to believe that he is the best DC the Cardinals can employ in order to attain short and long term success in the NFC West:
VJ needs to go these reasons: (1) doesn't do jack to contain, even a backup QB: (2) soft zones are not college worthy; (3) CBs hold all over the field; (4) no down and distance is safe; (5) caters to under-performing vets; (6) can't get off the field: (7) coverage meltdowns.— Walter B J Mitchell (@WBJMItch) January 4, 2021
Cardinals have gone 3-9 versus the NFC West the past two seasons.
What kind of confidence do you have at this point to believe that the current GM and coaching staff can turn those numbers around?