Background: Jan 2, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) scrambles in the pocket in the third quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman
After such a promising 10-2 start to the 2021 season, with the onset of winter, the Cardinals have gotten cold. They have lost 4 of their last 5 games and now face the formidable task of trying to win their first playoff game since 2015 versus a Sean McVay coached team that has imposed their will on the Cardinals in dominant fashion (9-1), save for the Cardinals’ impressive 37-20 upset win in LA back in October.
Back when the Cardinals sprinted through the brilliant the weeks of autumn, a number of their most prolific stars started to fall like leaves:
- TE Maxx Williams —- the team’s best blocking TE who was having his best season as a pro.
- DE J.J, Watt —- the team’s most dominant interior defender and alpha leader who helped the defense hold teams to an average below 20 points throughout the team’s 7-0 start.
- WR DeAndre Hopkins —- the All-Star focal point of their passing game, particularly in the red zone where he scored 8 TDs in 10 games.
- C Rodney Hudson —- the team’s “security blanket” and most valuable player on the offensive line, who missed 5 games because of injury and COVID protocols.
- QB Kyler Murray —- missed 3 games before the bye week due to a high ankle injury.
- RB Chase Edmonds —- the team’s lightning rod at RB, who is fighting off ankle and rib injuries.
- RB James Connor —- the thunder to Chase’s lightning, who leads the team in TDs with 18 (15 rushing, 3 receiving) which is 3rd in the NFL, now fighting off heel and rib injuries.
- WR Rondale Moore —- the ultra-quick team leader in RAC and punt return yards and who has been out for the last couple of games due to an ankle injury.
- CB Robert Alford —- the team’s best cover CB (68.5 coverage grade per PFF). lost for the past few games due to a pec injury.
- CB Marco Wilson —- the team’s starting CB opposite Alford for 14 games has been out with a shoulder injury.
- Not to mention the number of other players who were lost for a short time due to injury or COVID protocols, such as G Justin Pugh, DE Chandler Jones, DT Rashard Lawrence, DT Jordan Phillips, P/holder Andy Lee
Yet, Cardinals critics insist that these losses of key personnel are mere excuses —- because every team has had to deal with injuries and COVID.. Critics believe that the team should have been able to keep winning games at a high rate, like they were doing earlier in the season.
OK, so the Cardinals, finished one game out of first place to the Rams, this week’s opponent in the Wild Card round —- yet the Rams never lost their starting QB in Matt Stafford, they never lost their All-World DT Aaron Donald, they never lost their best WR, All-Pro Cooper Kupp, and as for their best offensive lineman, tight end and cornerback, due to COVID protocols Andrew Whitworth and Tyler Higbee lost 2 games and All-Pro CB Jalen Ramsey missed one.
The Cardinals had their chance to take advantage of Ramsey and Higbee being out of the Rams’ lineup back in December, but Matthew Stafford threw for 3 TDs. And even though the Cardinals outgained the Rams in total yards, 447 to 356, the Cardinals could only muster 2 TDs, to the Rams’ 3 and lost the game 30-23.
But, the most telling reason why the Cardinals lost that game was the sheer dominance that All-World DT Aaron Donald imposed on the Cardinals’ offense —- starting from his power clean lift on RG Max Garcia to sack Kyler Murray on the very first play to the game sealing sack.
Where once the Cardinals were scoring in the 30s and their opponents were scoring in the teens or low twenties, the script has been reversed on the Cardinals for four of the last five games.
The question is —- has the missing of key players both on offense and defense caught up to the Cardinals? Or —- should the Cardinals’ shortcomings on both sides of the ball be attributed to the coaches’ inability to make key adjustments (both schematically and in terms of their use of the available personnel) and the team’s quarterback, Kyler Murray? Or —- all of the above?
I would like to respond to those questions by asking these questions:
- Where would the Rams look like without Aaron Donald?
- How would the Rams have done without Matthew Stafford for three games?
- Where would the Rams be without Cooper Kupp?
Despite the fact that the Rams have not lost their QB, best interior defensive player and most outstanding wide receiver, the Cardinals earned the best record in the division at 4-2, the only division in the NFL to boast 3 teams with double digit wins and 3 playoff berths.
I believe the 4-2 division record is a significant accomplishment and sign of improvement for the Cardinals —- not achievements to be mitigated or undervalued for any reason. Go back and look at how many times the Cardinals had the best record in the division. The search may be an eye-opener.
The Cardinals historic 8-1 record on the road, with road wins over the Titans (#1 seed in AFC), the Cowboys (#3 seed in NFC), the Rams (#4 seed in NFC) and the 49ers (#6 seed in NFC) is an unparalleled accomplishment.
No one —- no cynic, no critic, no naysayer —- can ever take that historic accomplishment away from the 2021 Arizona Cardinals.
I, for one, will never forget the unprecedented joy that these road wins brought to me.
Any time a team in the NFL wins 7 games in a row, let alone 7 straight road games in a row, as the Cardinals did, that says something very special about the team’s coaches and players —- and how they prepare. That is, unless you are the Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross, who, despite his team winning 7 in a row, 8 of their last 9 and sweeping their arch-rival Patriots, felt that it was imperative to fire head coach Brian Flores.
My question to all of you is —- if the Cardinals lose to the Rams in the Wild Card round, should the Cardinals’ season be considered a failure?
Kyle Odegard, former beat writer for the Cardinals and editor of compare.bet had this to say:
The Cardinals went all-in this year with Kyler Murray still on his rookie contract.— Kyle Odegard (@Kyle_Odegard) January 11, 2022
If the result is a first-round playoff exit, any talk of progress will ring hollow.https://t.co/qQVCTEMqZU
To be honest, I am really struggling with this line of thinking. I think the world of Kyle Odegard, so this post is very alarming to me.
I keep asking myself what are the most realistic expectations?
Let’s go back to the beginning of the season.
How many of you predicted a 7-0 start and a 10-2 record at the bye week?
How many of you looked at the early part of the schedule and hoped the Cardinals could come out of it at 3-3?
How many of you were insisting before the season began that if Kliff Kingsbury didn’t take the Cardinals to the playoffs this year, despite the Cardinals being universally picked by Vegas and all the major NFL pundits as the 4th place team in the NFC West, that he should be fired as the team’s head coach?
For those of you who were in the “fire Kliff if he doesn’t make the playoffs” camp, how many of you now believe that if the Cardinals lose to the Rams then Kliff should be fired because of the late season woes? For many it was about Kliff making the playoffs, but now that is no longer good enough?
How many of you think that the Cardinals, still minus a few of their best players, are more talented than the healthier Rams, and therefore should win that game?
Please speak up about this. Make the case that the Cardinals are the better team.
Kyle Odegard makes the case that because the Cardinals were “all-in” this year while paying Kyler Murray only $10.8M on the 3rd year of his rookie contract, then losing in the first round playoffs “makes any talk of progress ring hollow.”
Sure, no one has to remind long-suffering Cardinals’ fans about heartbreak and disappointment.
But, as Emily Dickinson wrote, “Success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed.”
I mean —- our Cardinals are IN the playoffs!
Do you know how many times that has happened over the 34 years the Cardinals have been in Arizona?
This is the SIXTH time in 34 years!
Since the day that I became a Cardinals fan on November 24, 1963 it is only the NINTH time the Cardinals have made the playoffs over that span of the 58 years!
FYI —- the Cardinals made the playoffs only 3 seasons while in St. Louis and never advances to round two.
The Cardinals MAKING the PLAYOFFS —-should have all the bells in Arizona ringing in full, resonant peals!
By contrast, living five minutes from Gillette Stadium, I have watched the Patriots go to the playoffs for over two straight decades, going 20 times over the last 22 years.
Furthermore, with regard to the Cardinals being “all-in” this season...
Which team has been more “all-in” this season, the Cardinals or the Rams?
The Cardinals may have signed J.J. Watt and traded a 2021 3rd rounder for Rodney Hudson, but the Rams traded away their 2022 and 2023 1st round picks to acquire Matthew Stafford.
At the Trading Deadline:
- Traded a 6th round pick and CB Tay Gowan to the Eagles for TE Zach Ertz.
- Traded their 2nd and 3rd round picks to the Broncos for OLB Von Miller
- Signed WR Odell Beckham Jr. to a deal of up to $4.25M for 8 regular season games, plus playoffs,
At the trading deadline, I and many of us where hoping that the Cardinals would find a way to trade for CB Stephon Gilmore and a good DT to address the team’s run stopping deficiencies that were more significantly magnified with J.J. Watt on the IR.
The Cardinals have held on to all three of their Day 1 and Day 2 picks in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The Rams have traded all of theirs away.
Hopefully, throughout the week and on Monday night the Cardinals can get a huge boost with the potential return of J.J. Watt.
Currently the Cardinals are 4 point underdogs versus the Rams.
Current Super Bowl Odds:
- Green Bay Packers +375
- Kansas City Chiefs +500
- Buffalo Bills +750
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers +800
- Tennessee Titans+800
- Los Angeles Rams +1000
- Dallas Cowboys +1100
- Cincinnati Bengals +1800
- New England Patriots +2000
- San Francisco 49ers +2200
- Arizona Cardinals +2500
- Las Vegas Raiders +4000
- Pittsburgh Steelers +6500
- Philadelphia Eagles +6500
Opening Super Bowl Odds: (Beginning of Season)
- Los Angeles Rams: +1200 (-200)
- San Francisco 49ers: +1600 (-600)
- Arizona Cardinals +4000 (+1500)
If those numbers don’t indicate a successful sign of progress for the Cardinals in terms of pre-season expectations, what does?
2021 NFL WIN TOTALS - OVER WINNERS
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers 12 - Over (13-4)
- Los Angeles Rams 10.5 - Over (12-5)
- Green Bay Packers 10 - Over (13-4)
- New England Patriots 9.5 - Over (10-7)
- Tennessee Titans 9 - Over (12-5)
- Dallas Cowboys 9 - Over (12-5)
- Pittsburgh Steelers 8.5 - Over (9-7-1)
- Arizona Cardinals 8.5 - Over (11-6)
- Las Vegas Raiders 7 - Over (10-7)
- Cincinnati Bengals 6.5 - Over (10-7)
- Philadelphia Eagles 6.5 - Over (9-8)
Kliff Kingsbury inherited the worst team and worst offense in the NFL in 2018. Heading into his 3rd season, the oddsmakers didn’t think the Cardinals were quite ready to crack the playoffs this year, let alone win 11 games and earn the #5 seed in the NFC.
This week’s game is the first playoff game for Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray, as well as for Vance Joseph as a defensive coordinator. If they go into LA and knock off the Rams, it would be over a head coach and a team that is completely “all-in” and that has been in the playoffs in 4 of Sean McVay’s 5 years —- and oh —-McVay’s 45 game record for wins when leading at half-time was just broken last Sunday by the surging 49ers.
Those are the odds the Cardinals are facing in LA —- and the odds for those of you are eager to deem the Cardinals’ 2021 season a failure, should they not win what is for the vast majority of the coaches and players their first-ever playoff game.
This week’s game is also the FIRST EVER Monday Night Football playoff game. And whether you want to acknowledge it or not, the Cardinal who is most responsible for punching the Cardinals’ ticket to this prime time extravaganza is the guy pictured above, QB Kyler Murray.
For those who continue to insist that Kyler Murray lacks what it takes to be a superb NFL QB:
In year three, this is the company 's Kyler Murray is keeping. At 24, he's the youngest QB on this Top 10. https://t.co/HzQ2PSOfcw— Walter B J Mitchell (@WBJMItch) January 10, 2022
In his third season, Kyler Murray finished with the 3rd highest passing grade (88.1) and was the 2nd most accurate passer on throws over 20 yards. He also made significant strides in the intermediate area of the field where he had the 4th highest accurate pass%.. Bright future— Smart Football (@SmartfootbalI) January 11, 2022
The Cardinals, like Kyler, are getting better each year.
On Monday night, Kyler Murray can’t do it alone —- it’s going to take a conclave of 53 redbirds.
The Cardinals team, once again, must try to beat the odds.