The Arizona Cardinals looked overwhelmed from the start of this game.
They tried to run the ball with Kyler Murray and James Conner and right from the get-go it was evident that the Rams defensive line came to play.
As did their offensive line.
The Cardinals didn’t.
It was a start that saw the Cardinals have negative yardage in the first quarter and not cross the 50 yard line until the 3rd quarter.
Meanwhile, Cooper Kupp was kept silenced but it didn’t really matter with a quick touchdown on the goal-line to Odell Beckham Jr.
Soon, it became apparent that the offense wasn’t just on a bad day, but it looked broken.
Specifically, Kyler Murray looked like rather than the lights being bright thriving that he was shrinking rather than shining brightly. Matthew Stafford on the other side, however, kept the ball clean and rode a great running effort to the opposite of the Cardinals’ late season and playoff meltdown.
Even worse, Budda Baker was carted off in an ambulance.
And now the season is kaput and it didn’t just go gently into that good night.
It went out with a whimper.
The crux of the focus was on J.J. Watt coming back from injury and while he made some push, the real issue was that it felt like the Cardinals’ edge on defense that went away with him didn’t come back.
It’s been an epic collapse. And sadly, we have seen this before in Arizona;
Kingsbury said they will look in off season on how avoid second half collapses. But it’s the third consecutive one.— Kent Somers (@kentsomers) January 18, 2022
It’s really led to a lot of questions.
For my personal take?
I think that Kliff put EVERYTHING on getting to the playoffs and the team took their wheel off the gas and when cracks popped up in the fabric of the team, like water bursting through a dam, the 2021 Cardinals were ripped apart.
It exposed Kliff and the Cardinals stumbling and struggling to adjust down the stretch and they went from being the team that beat you down to being a team that had no answers when they were the ones bullied instead.
So it’s going to mean conversations.
I’ve guessed that the only one forthcoming would be their inside linebackers coach given the lack of development.
What questions are there about the future?
Here are the big 3 things I think that stand out about the end of 2021 and looking ahead to the 2022 season:
1. Kliff’s finishes need to change or he might be out after next year
The Cardinals lost 6 of the last 7 but moreover put EVERYTHING onto this game. Forget contract extension, a sour taste like this is going to mean he’s going to have to win games down the stretch because the NFL=Not For Long for a reason.
Kliff even said that he studied and tried to find ways to not collapse in the second half and it still happened.
When you don’t have answers (or you do but the answer isn’t a good one) then it’s not a good place to be.
Some fans might be ready to burn and turn, and they might be right but it’s got to be taken into account what’s changed and moved forward w/ the team under him as far as getting to the playoffs, winning games but if the stumble is who he is, then can you extend it? Not likely.
Others recognize that there’s been growth and improvement and that Keim and Kliff are likely tied together at this point.
2. The divide between the GM/Front Office and Defensive Coaching Staff.
Two years of taking a guy many had as a Safety and a OLB and moving them to ILB and still no answers.
Either the scheme/coaching staff can’t figure it out or GM Steve Keim & his team’s evaluations are poor.
And 2022 might be a worse year for AZ than 2021, especially for Steve.
-Need to figure out Edge, ILB, Corner and DL additions
-WR questions galore at WR2 and 3 plus if Moore is more than a gadget
-Re-signing Ertz/Conner likely but at what price?
Keim has to have draft picks pan out early for once...and figure out the guys coming and going.
It’s a nightmare looking to actually improve this roster without finding cheap FA’s who can hit like Conner, Alford and stay healthy. Not to mention what they do with Christian Kirk.
If he has another bad draft or the coaching staff isn’t playing his guys, something has to give.
And we will see if the conclusion is on Keim or on Joseph & the development.
3. A lot of bridges were burned with this fanbase with all the losing at home & this playoff game. Can Kliff/Keim re-earn that trust? Will Kyler trust them?
Because everyone sees talent in Kyler but while Allen/Mahomes & Burrow have thrived he still has struggled in the desert.
Will Kyler be able to grow and develop? Will the playoffs be too much for this team again? All of these are questions that might need to be answered before they know whether to give him a big payday or not.
The Cardinals have been a poverty franchise.
That has to change. And it starts with K1 being able to perform better than tonight when the lights are on.
Is the combination of Kliff/Kyler and Keim (with Vance Joseph) going to be able to do it?
Through 3 years, we’ve seen slow progress, great heights and also epic failures.
So we really have no idea.
By the end of next season, I have an inkling that we will know. One way or the other.