Entering Week 10, the 8-1 Cardinals are the toast of the NFL. We’re coming off a dominating victory with our backup QB, and we’re double-digit favorites at home against the Panthers. We seem to have the inside track to homefield advantage in the NFC.
Of course, the Cardinals were also flying high around this time last season. After Week 10, they were 6-3 and in 1st place in the NFC West. But we all know how that story ended: 2-5 finish including a pair of losses to backup QBs to fall out of the playoffs entirely.
But this team is much better than that team, right? This team won’t suffer the same fate… right? All the evidence says that won’t, but if you’re an Arizona sports fan, there’s a nagging bad feeling that you just can’t shake. We’re kind of a cursed sports town, after all.
Well, today, let me do my best to reassure you that this time WON’T collapse down the stretch like last year’s team. Here are four reasons why that won’t (shouldn’t) happen.
Okay, this one is a gimme. But the importance of the extra year of experience can’t be understated. Last year, Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray were NFL sophomores playing winning football for the first time at the professional level. Several other key players were also on the greener side, like Isaiah Simmons and Byron Murphy. Now everyone is a year older, a year wiser, and there is a ton more veteran leadership on this squad (A.J. Green, Zach Ertz, Rodney Hudson, Chandler Jones back). This team fooled us once, but they won’t fool us again.
This goes hand in hand with more experience. Last season, Kliff was a liability more often than not. Flat out, bad coaching and/or game planning led to multiple losses last season, especially during the collapse. I pin those last two losses to backup QBs at the end of the season on Kliff—even with a compromised or absent Kyler, the team just wasn’t prepared to play and Kliff was badly outcoached in those two losses. I wanted the team to move on from Kliff after the collapse. But I’ll admit: I was absolutely wrong about him. This year’s version has been far from a liability—he’s been an asset and a contender for Coach of the Year. He’s outcoached several higher-profile coaches (including absolutely embarrassing Kyle Shanahan last week) and has been clutch in end-of-game situations. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Vance Joseph, too—I was once calling for his head as well, yet his defense is one of the best in the league. I’m no longer worried about this coaching staff at all and have the utmost confidence in them on game days.
This is a more minor point, but we all know how bad Cardinals kicking had been for the past few years. Last season, Zane Gonzalez missed a game-tying FG against the Dolphins and a potential game-winning FG against the Patriots. If he makes either of those kicks, the Cardinals very likely make the playoffs. This year, the Cardinals don’t have much to worry about in the kicking game with the steady veteran Matt Prater. He already has one game-winning kick (albeit a chip shot against the Vikings) and is overall 13/16 on FGs (with one miss that 68-yarder against the Jaguars) and a perfect 34/34 on XPs. If the Redbirds need a clutch kick in a big game, you can be confident that Prater will nail it.
More Depth—Especially at QB
Perhaps the biggest reason for the Cardinals’ collapse last season was Kyler Murray’s health. He was clearly compromised down the stretch last season, as he just wasn’t the same explosive, dynamic playmaker he was in the first half of the season. And, of course, he missed most of the Rams game in Week 17, giving way to Chris Streveler, who just isn’t an NFL-caliber QB. He posted a putrid 32.5 QBR in that game. With a better backup, we very well could have won that game. This year, we have a MUCH better backup plan in Colt McCoy. All he did last week was go 22/26 for 249 yards and a TD with no turnovers (63.8 QBR). He may very well get another start this week as Kyler rests his ankle. If we had someone like McCoy last season, we could have rested Kyler like we’re doing now instead of having him play hurt. Elsewhere on the team, several positions are deeper than they were last year—WR, RB, LB, and even emergency fill-ins like Marco Wilson and Sean Harlow are playing better than similar players last year.
Last season’s collapse was a true team effort: inexperience, coaching and kicking gaffes, and injuries all contributed. But this year’s team seems to have answers to all those issues: more veteran leadership, better coaching, a more reliable kicker, and stronger depth. This team is clearly prepared to weather the storm of a long (now longer than ever!) NFL season. There will be no collapse this time around.
How are you feeling here in Week 10, Birdgang? Any heebie-jeebies from last year’s collapse? Or are you feeling supremely confident? Tell us how you’re feeling below.