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The Importance of Kliff and Kyler

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NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

If back in Week 1 of the 2021 season, a writer brandishing a Nostradamus wand would inform us that the Arizona Cardinals would start the season 7-0, would win their first 7 road games all by 10 points or more (including all three NFC West rivals) and by Week 16 would clinch their first playoff berth since 2015, what would you have said?

If a genie came flying out of lamp and told you that the Cardinals could win 7 straight road games and you could have your pick of them either losing the first road game to the Titans or win the the 7th straight road game versus the Lions, which win would you pick?

Prior to Week 1 of this season, as some fans have seemingly or perhaps conveniently forgotten, virtually every prominent national pundit and NFL pre-season publication predicted the Cardinals would finish 4th in the NFC West.

Despite those national prognostications, many Cardinals’ fans spent their every day of the off-season insisting that if the Cardinals didn’t qualify for the playoffs this year, then Kliff Kingsbury should be fired. Some Cardinals’ fans were urging Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim to trade QB Kyler Murray to the Texans for QB Deshaun Watson.

And now on the eve of Kliff Kingsbury, Kyler Murray and the Cardinals punching their first ticket to the NFL playoffs having inherited the worst team in the NFL in 2018, for a number of Cardinals’ fans that still isn’t good enough. If you have been following Twitter this week, then you have probably seen the number of tweets that have said: “Kliff is playing for his job this weekend.”

One Cardinals’ fan even went to extent of predicting (claiming he heard from a source close to the situation) that if the Cardinals lose to the Colts this week, Kliff will be fired on the spot and Vance Joseph will be named interim head coach.

It’s a tremendous irony that all it took was one bad loss —- the first road loss and only Eastern time zone loss of the season —- for Kingsbury’s detractors to rush back onto the social media scene to clamor for his removal.

Jeremy Clluff of azcentral.com, for the second week in a row posted Kliff and Kyler bashing articles that contain a cherry-picked potpourri of rants and scathing damnations from local media, national pundits and Cardinals’ fans.

In fact, if you ever want to see one of your own tweets appear on azcentral.com, the odds are very much in your favor if your tweet is adamantly negative abut Kliff’s or Kyler’s future with the Cardinals.

But, let’s go back to the very beginning.

Why did the Cardinals hire Kliff Kingsbury?

First and foremost, the Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury to develop a young QB of the future.

Kliff wanted that young QB to be Kyler Murray and glory be —- Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim approved of that message.

Today, we awoke to find that Kyler Murray, after being named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019, was just honored with his second consecutive Pro Bowl invitation, joining Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady as the three NFC QBs.

Secondly, Kliff Kingsbury was hired to run an exciting, high voltage offense that would take the Cardinals out of the epic offensive doldrums of 2018.

NFL Yards Per Game Rankings

  • 2019 —- 21st at 347.7
  • 2020 —- 6th at 384.6
  • 2021 —- 8th at 376.4 (with Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins missing 3 games)

NFL Points Per Game

  • 2019 —- 16th at 22.6
  • 2020 —- 14th at 25.6
  • 2021 —- 8th at 27.0

Thirdly, Kliff Kingsbury was hired to try to turn the once dysfunctional culture of the team into a concerted, winning one.

NFL Records: Arizona Cardinals

  • 2019: 5-10-1
  • 2020: 8-8
  • 2021: 10-4 (tied for 2nd best record in the NFC)
  • Total thus far: 23-22-1.

Kliff Kingsbury’s 46 Games:

  • Games Lost by 10 or Less: 16
  • Games Lost by More than Ten: 6
  • Games Tied: 1
  • Games Won by 10 or Less: 9
  • Games Won by More than 10: 14

Kingsbury’s Competitive Game Ratio:

  • 40 of Kliff Kingsbury’s 46 games have been highly competitive.
  • That’s the highest competitive game percentage of any head coach in the history of the Arizona Cardinals.

NFC West Records: Arizona Cardinals

  • 2019: 1-5
  • 2020: 2-4
  • 2021: 4-1

Kliff Kingsbury Work Ethic and Modus Operandi:

Kliff has not only earned the respect and admiration of his players, he has earned the appreciation of his coaching staff of veteran NFL assistant coaches. That is typically not easy for a college coach to do (see Urban Meyer, for example). Kliff has done this by:

  • Being the first person in the building every day at 4:30 AM.
  • Treating all of his coaches with respect and valuing their input.
  • Listening to his coaches and players in order to establish a strong cooperation and esprit de corps.
  • Watching tons of game tapes.
  • Drawing up tons of new plays.
  • Staying on top of NFL analytics and technologies.
  • Adapting to his personnel.
  • Being flexible.
  • Combining Air Raid principles with customary NFL offensive principles.
  • Having his coaches’ and players’ backs when facing the media.
  • Persevering through all kinds of negativity and skepticism from the local and national media.
  • Being masterfully straight to the point as a communicator.
  • Taking full ownership for all of the team’s shortcomings.
  • Running practices that the players fully appreciate, especially lauding Kliff’s penchant for going “goods on goods” (1st team offense vs 1st team defense).
  • Having his team be consistently prepared for games and consistently competitive. In only 6 of Kliff’s 46 games has the team been out of a game by the middle of the 4th quarter —- that’s the highest percentage of competitive games for any Arizona Cardinals’ head coach.
  • Kliff is the first one to tell you and his players that his play-calling and clock management could be better —- but that is the great challenge for every offensive coordinator.
  • As a high school coach who called plays and tried to manage the clock, particularly as a head coach, I can attest to how challenging it is to call the right play and/or time out at the right time. You can practice the plays over and over, and you can call a great play, but if one player misses his block, the play can be blown up and can make you look like a fool. On the flip side, the right play at the right time can make you look like a genius. My all-time favorite was in the very first game my team won at Rivers, which broke the school’s 20 game losing streak. Behind by a point, 14-13 with under two minutes left, on a key 3rd and 10, I guessed that St. George’s was going to send an all-out blitz on my QB. I called a middle screen (those are rare, I know), but if your QB can lob the ball over the rushers and the RB can catch the ball, he then has the whole offensive line in front of him. Sure enough, St. George’s brought the full-house blitz and my QB was falling backward when he lobbed the ball and when it landed in the hands of my RB, he bobbled the ball, but somehow managed to catch it. When he turned the offensive line ran a 5 man wedge and my RB actually outran the blockers, but made a great inside out move on the FS and galloped for a 76 yard game-winning TD. The celebration after the game was epic. It’s what you dream of as a coach.
  • As for clock management, it is not as simple as it looks. It requires taking the right gambles at the right time. Those gambles can often backfire, particularly when the players are not in perfect sync with the coaches. I can tell you this, I am still haunted by timeouts I did and didn’t take. One time in my third year at Rivers, In a 21-21 game late in the 4th quarter versus Lawrence Academy, where my team was double digit underdogs, we had Lawrence’s offense in a key 4th down and 3 near midfield and I was clinging to one remaining timeout. When I saw Lawrence’s formation, it looked to me like my defense wasn’t lined up correctly. I wanted so badly to keep that one timeout left to kick a possible game winning field goal. So despite what I saw, I gambled on my defense making the stop. Lawrence ran the quick trap play that I was fearing most and their RB bolted untouched for a 52 yard game-winning TD. My players were crying in the locker room after the game and I felt like I had let them down, big-time. I vowed never to hold on to a timeout again in that type of situation. But, so much of these decisions come down to instincts...and quite frankly a little bit of pure old luck.

Vance Joseph on being paired with Kliff Kingsbury:

“Just talking to Kliff about his vision for the team, his way of doing things. It was refreshing to hear a guy say, ‘Hey, it’s gonna take take time. I got your back, you have mine. Let’s make it work.’ We knew it was gonna be hard times and the first two years we had some hard times. That first year was really hard.”

“Our inside joke that would always be between us was, ‘Once it’s fixed, it’s gonna be the greatest job they’ve ever seen.’ When times got hard that first or second year, that would be our little wink. Just calm down, man, eventually it’s gonna be good. Right now, it’s getting better and better and hopefully it stays that way.”

D.J. Humphries on Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals’ Coaching Staff:

“We came light years from having the number one pick and having 3 wins to being 8-8. That happened with Kliff as our head coach. Those fans that have those opinions, I don’t want to get enamored talking to those guys at all, because if you’re not with us, you are against us.”

To Put The Importance of Kliff and Kyler Very Simply

Sometimes it takes the sentiments of an outsider to put things in proper and keen perspective...

After taping this week’s Red Rain Podcast, my producer, Kyle Ledbetter, and I stayed on the phone afterwards to our my weekly football discussion, during which Kyle said:

“I am hearing all kinds of negativity from Cardinals’ fans these days —- don’t they realize that they finally have a dynamic young franchise QB and a head coach who runs the perfect offense for him —- you know the kind of offense that Kyler has run his whole life? Man, Kyler and Kliff are a combination that can make the Cardinals relevant season after season for many years to come. I mean —- how often have the Cardinals had this bright a future?”

Thank you, L’il Rock!

Wishing you and your families and the Birdgang Warm Holidays, a Happy Hanukkah and a Merry Christmas.

In the immortal words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, everyone.”

In excelsis deo,

Mitch