Following the Cardinals season-ending disappointment, many fans, including myself, are feeling disillusioned and skeptical about the direction of their football team under the current GM, head coach and coaching staff.
While it’s often cathartic and therapeutic for fans to express their frustration and dismay, if there’s one thing we long-beleaguered Cardinals know a little something about, it’s how to think our way through the maze like a mouse following the scent of peanut butter.
Yesterday, Jim Shapiro, courtesy of BetOnLIne, offered Cardinals fans this reality check with regard to their odds of winning the NFC West in 2021:
Los Angeles Rams 8/5
San Francisco 49ers 11/5
Seattle Seahawks 11/4
Arizona Cardinals 7/1
To extend the metaphor, there is a freshly made peanut butter and jelly sandwich at the end of this NFC West labyrinth and as of today, the Cardinals are the last of four mice to be dropped into the maze.
After considerable thought and having listened closely to my fellow Cardinals fans, here are 7 adjustments/suggestios that the Cardinals might want to consider, if they aren’t doing so already:
- Re-define and re-prioritize the team’s practice habits.
When a team leads the NFL in penalties and when, during the second half of the year, it becomes apparent that the Cardinals coaches and players were not preparing themselves properly in their weekly game plans, especially in catering the plans to how to attack the opponents where they are weakest, what all of these shortcomings speak to are questionable practice habits,
- advance scouting for games, especially for NFC West opponents before the season and then during the season. Coordinators should be watching tapes and developing game plans now, which they can modify when necessary.
- more specific game-planning for the opponents and stronger updating game plans for the rematches with their NFC West opponents —- updated game plans like Pete Carroll, Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay devised while sweeping the Cardinals in the second contests.
- stronger attention to situational strategies, down and distance calls, the two-minute drill, the two-minute defense, red zone offense, red zone defense, special teams in every aspect of special teams play including having punt and kickoff returners who are eager and aggressive, rather than timid and shy, including pooch kickoffs and on-side kicks.
- eliminating double standards for player participation in practice. Every player should be expected to participate in every practice. Why? Because it is their job and they owe it to the coaches, the team and the fans. In the event of injuries, the injured players should still be on the practice field engaged in the week’s prep and supporting their teammates.They can do their rehabs before or after practice.
- getting DeAndre Hopkin (and every other veteran) to go all-in on practice by encouraging him to emerge as a team leader. Double standards set teams backward in preparation and team morale.
- do not sign veteran players who expect days off from practice.
- sign a baller like J.J. Watt who preaches the importance of practice.
- the team’s pace on the whole is too slow —- make pace a focal point of all the practices.
2. Improve the team’s strength and conditioning program.
This past season was an anomaly because of the pandemic. In watching the drills during training camp, it looked very clear that some of the players came to camp under-prepared and out of shape. Football is a game of feet, leverage and wind. Those three areas need to be emphasized more regularly and efficiently.
3. Shuffle the deck with the regard to the focus of the front office by playing to the strengths of the GM, the director of player personnel and the director of pro scouting.
- Have Steve Keim (GM) handle trades and waiver wire acquisitions which are his forte.
- Have Quentin Harris (director of player personnel) handle the draft in coordination with the coaches and the team scouts. A fresh approach to this year’s draft is of paramount importance. A few years back the Cardinals had an excellent talent evaluator on their executive team in Jason Licht. There is nothing wrong with having the GM put his trust in his DOPP or anyone in the front office who is a highly talented talent evaluator.
- For one thing, the Cardinals could do a better job of drafting from the Power Five college programs. Comparison of Power 5 Draft Picks of Steve Keim’s and Jason Licht’s: with regard to the current 56 man rosters:
Zach Allen, Budda Baker, Eno Benjamin, Mason Cole, Leki Fotu, Lamont Gaillard, D.J. Humphries, Christian Kirk, Byron Murphy, Isaiah Simmons, Deonte Thomason, Jalen Thompson (14 players, 7 starters in 2020).
Tristan Wirfs, Antoine Winfield Jr. Jordan Whitehead, Devin White, Vita Bea, Anthony Nelson, Ronald Jones, Tyler Johnson, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Mike Edwards, Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Kendall Beckwith, O.J. Howard, Jack Cichy. Khalil Davis (18 players, 12 starters in 2020).
* Notice in particular how Jason Licht built the Bucs’ offensive skill positions (WR, RB, TE) and his entire secondary (CBs and Ss) through the draft. Impressive, isn’t it?
- Have Adrian Wilson (director of pro personnel) handle the free agent acquisitions in coordination with the coaches As a former All Pro, Adrian Wilson has a keen sense for knowing what kind of players bring an edge, work ethic, leadership and competitive fire to the roster. Again, let’s compare Keim’s UFA acquisitions to Licht’s:
Maxx Williams, Justin Pugh, Max Garcia, J.R. Sweezy, D.J. Foster, Brett Hundley, Chris Streveler, Kelvin Beachum, Trevon Coley, Jordan Phillips, Corey Peters, Devon Kennard, De’Vondre Campbell, Jordan Hicks, Robert Alford, Dre Kirkpatrick, Chris Banjo, Andy Lee, Zane Gonzalez
Tom Brady, Leonard Fournette, Ryan Jensen, Shaq Bennett, Joe Haeg, Bradley Pinion, Antonio Brown, Ross Cockrell, Blaine Gabbert, Drew Stanton, LeSean McCoy, Kevin Minter, Deone Bucannon, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, A.Q. Shipley, Ryan Succop, Nkdomukung Suh, Josh Wells
Now, to be fair to Steve Keim, his trades have been superb: OLB Chandler Jones, RB Kenyan Drake, WR DeAndre Hopkin and Markus Golden.
Jason Licht has hit on a couple of very good trades as well: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, TE Rob Gronkowski.
Plus, where Steve Keim has shined is in his waiver wire pickups: Dan Arnold, Angelo Blackson, Pharaoh Cooper, Justin Murray, Charles Washington.
Steve Keim is a team guy, thus for him to take a more diversified approach to this off-season by delegating and giving more responsibility to Quentin Harris and Adrian Wilson. the gesture could go a long way in galvanizing the leadership of the team from the top —- and thereby, potentially help Steve Keim’s longevity as GM.
4. In terms of player personnel this off-season make it a priority to add strength up front and speed at the skills positions on both sides of the ball.
By NFL standards the Cardinals need to become more physical and play faster.
- Pare the current roster of its under-performing veterans.
- Avoid signing veteran free agents who have injury/PED/violation histories or those who are past their primes or who have been declining in recent years. Adding a few veterans to fill holes during training camp when they can be added at the veteran minimum is the best route to take.
- Make good, strong commitments to the team’ emerging young talents like Haason Reddick, Dennis Gardeck, Dan Arnold, Ezekiel Turner, Tanner Vallejo, Charles Washington and Chase Edmonds.
- Create a buzz by adding two or three impressive free agents and by making a splash at the 2021 NFL Draft.
- If a player is standing out in practice, play him in the games.
- If a younger player is playing better than the veteran starter, play the younger player.
- Play the top rookies and stop treating them with kid gloves.
5. Trust in the young talent and leadership on the team.
The Cardinals have a number of young players who aspire to practice hard and make the sacrifices it takes to win ballgames. The more that these young players assume the ownership of the team, the better the Cardinals chances are for winning, short-term and long-term. Build this team around them. Give those players a voice.
6. Project a more confident, poised, sportsmanlike and passionate image to the league and to the NFL officials.
This starts with being a much, much more disciplined football team. Kliff Kingsbury, like many young head coaches finding their way, needs to develop a stronger rapport with the officials, particularly because his rival coaches in the NFC West already have such a strong rapport with the officials. There are times when the Cardinals’ players act like privileged cry babies. This has to stop. The Cardinals lost their cool in two key NFC West rival games that the team lost in Seattle and Los Angeles. Again, this has to stop.
It’s time for Kingsbury to take a big step forward as a leader, by holding the players more accountable, working them into tip-top shape and by providing the energy on the sidelines that has been inconsistent.
7. Provide the team and the fans with the fresh, exciting look of new, upgraded uniforms.
Please, under no circumstances, Michael Bidwill, should you change the Cardinals’ helmets. The milk white helmets with the red, black and yellow Cardinals’ logo is the common link from those of us who have followed the Cardinals for generations and through the St. Louis years.
However, it would be great to see the Cardinals sport a new, shiny 21st century look in their red home and white away uniforms.
The Cardinals should do away with the black alternative uniforms. You don’t see the Rams, Chiefs, Patriots or Seahawks going black, do you? Because they stay true to who they are. We are Cardinals. We are not crows or vultures. Heck, if the new red and white uniforms do Cardinals justice, then the team shouldn’t need an alternative uniform. If anything. the Cardinals can just go retro for a game, back to these old fan favorites:
The days of Larry Wilson were days when Cardinals were not afraid to be cardinals. They wore the red and white with a special pride and purpose.
Man, if the Cardinals organization ever took on the persona and grit of Larry Wilson —- watch out NFL!
You know, with all of the mistakes the Cardinals made last season, particularly with leading the league in penalties and not getting strong enough performances from many of their key veterans, if they learn from these mistakes and correct them, imagine how good they could be this season and beyond.