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10 Ways to Ruin a Great Season by the Arizona Cardinals

NFL: NFC Wild Card Playoffs-Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Just like my brothers and sisters in the Red Sea, I am deeply grieving the bitter end of the Cardinals’ once promising season. They say the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance —-

I believe that I am beyond the denial stage bexause I now feel deeply mired in the anger phase. So, if I appear pissed off throughout this article, it’s because I am. Like J.J. Watt, I thought this was a “special team”, but after what unfolded over the Cardinals last 6 games, like J.J. Watt, I now concur with his assessment that this season, in the way that it ended, was a “massive failure.”

The old House of Cards come tumbling down again, just when hopes are highest.

10 Ways To Ruin a Great Season:

  1. Put playoff tickets on sale before the team even qualifies for the playoffs. How do you spell J - I - N - X?
  2. The head coach, who at the time was being considered a candidate for NFL Coach of the Year, refuses to put a rumor to bed that he is being heavily courted by the Oklahoma Sooner to be their new head coach. “I don’t get into those things,” he said. (Note: the one man more than any other to potentially sabotage the Cardinals future success may very well likely be Eric Burkhardt, the agent for both Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray). Clearly, much of the media buzz about Kingsbury to Oklahoma rumor was generated by Burkhardt —- at a pretty terrible time for the Arizona Cardinals.
  3. At the trading deadline, your GM, once again, fails to address major weaknesses on the defensive line, at cornerback and at wide receiver. Yes, the Zach Ertz trade was superb, but the Rams, the team that was gunning for you added Von Miller and Odell Beckham, Jr. to their already star-studded roster.
  4. Anyone who says the Cardinals were “all-in” this season is mistaken. The Rams were all-in, not the Cardinals, which is the major reason why the Rams are the division winners in the NFC West despite being 2 games back of the Cardinals (plus the Cardinals had the tie breaker) with 5 weeks left and the reason why the Rams are headed to Tampa Bay this weekend, and not the Cardinals.
  5. Thus, without significant reinforcements added to a team that was still reeling over the loss of J.J. Watt and the deteriorating health of DeAndre Hopkins, the synopsis of what we saw down the stretch was the Cardinals’ opponents running the ball with consistent success and having the benefit of being able to throw to a host of wide open receivers —- while on the other side of the ball, the opponents were stopping the run and dogging the Cardinals’ receivers to create the tightest of windows for Kyler Murray. This is why the Cardinals’ points per game dropped into the low 20s and why the opponents’ points per game rose into the 30s.
  6. The defensive coordinator and linebackers coach actually believe that Joe Walker (Eagles 7th round pick in 2016) and Tanner Vallejo (Browns 6th round pick in 2017) gave the team a better chance to win than Isaiah Simmons (Cardinals 1st round pick in 2020) and Zaven Collins (Cardinals’ 1st round pick in 2021).
  7. The defensive coordinator believed that it was wise on a few key third down situations to drop his best edge pass rushers into pass coverage. Which has never ever worked. Teams knew when it was coming and threw over the top of Jones’s or Golden’s statues in the flat to wide open gray areas in some of the softest zones in the history of the NFL.
  8. The offensive game plans become so stale and predictable that opponents and your arch-rivals are abele to sit on the routes of each Cardinals’ WR’s limited route tree. They are so relieved to know that the Cardinals’ star QB, Kyler Murray, passes 95% of the time from his “spot” off the shotgun snap. Despite Murray having the most gifted feet on planet earth, there are no sprint outs, bootlegs or waggles to worry about —- and even better, now that they are getting the post-injury version of Kyler, under pressure, he will simply take a dive from his “spot” or run backward to where they are apt tosack him for a double digit loss.
  9. The head coach, on the eve of his and QB’s first ever NFL playoff game, predicts that his QB, who has been struggling in recent weeks, will have the “best game of his career” versus a Rams’ defense that got 14 QB pressures and 3 sacks from just Aaron Donald the last time, not to mention 8 pressures in that game from Von Miller —- and yet with a chance all week to script plays, the best the head coach can come up with is a 2 yard dive (not with the team’s power RB) right at Greg Gaines and Aaron Donald where the extra TE they lined up over that B gap, goes and pulls to his left blocking nothing but air instead of power blocking straight ahead on Donald. Then, on second down and 8, it’s a TE screen, not to the team’s best TE, but to the team’s slowest TE who is unable to unhook the piano and Budweiser keg in order to get more than a tentative 2 yard gain downfield. On third and 6, they run the same go route up the right sideline to A.J. Green that they have been running for weeks with marginal success and while Green is able to catch the pass, he is unable to keep his feet in bounds. This was just the first of five 3-and-outs and 2 interceptions in the first half against Sean McVay who has dominated the Cardinals through 5 years and three head coaches (10-1) and who has a 45-1 record when leading at halftime.
  10. Kyler has a history of struggling in the first half of “first time” games. The first time he made the BCS Semi-Finals he struggled quite understandably versus Alabama. The first half of his first NFL game versus the Lions, he looked like he did in his only pre-season action this year. And Kyler struggled in first half of his first playoff game versus a Rams team he should know very well by now. He said during the week that “I am not feeling any nerves. As a competitor, these are the games you want to be in.” Perhaps Kyler was trying to talk himself into keeping calm, but you WANT nerves in this situation —- because it is turning nerves into adrenaline that makes the best of the best succeed. Perhaps Kyler was trying so hard to keep calm that he lost his instincts to be a competitor? This was supposed to be a game where Kyler was going to be “turned loose.” Yet, all he seemed willing to do was pass or take dives from his spot —- as if he is trying to control and NFL football game from his gaming console with a joystick.

Added Commentary:

  • What we have learned about Kyler in his first three seasons is that pre-injury he plays like a cheetah and post-injury, he plays more like a gnu. He morphs from being the hunter to the hunted. Same with the team.
  • Gambo made a great point that this embarrassing loss could be a blessing if it created a “chip on Kyler’s heart.”
  • Jay Feely tweeted this sage advice to Kyler, thanks to Peter:
  • I thought this was an excellent response by Joanna Cards Fan to Feely’s advice:
  • The significant issue that may be holding Kyler back is his stubbornness. Kyler loves to do things his own way. I believe that this is the reason why we do not see him running an array of sprint outs, bootlegs and waggles —- because he believes it’s easy to win from his “spot.”
  • The major problem with that stubbornness is that Kyler, by nature, is not a pocket passer because his is loath to step up into the pocket —- likely for fear of getting hammered by a defensive tackle and likely for fear of losing his downfield vision because of his lack of height. If this is the case, and it certainly appears to be, then putting Kyler on the move is imperative —- as if it wasn’t imperative already. If his unwilling to do this, then he is ignoring the very thing that worries DCs the most —- the insane pressure that he puts on the defense when he gets access to the flats where not only does he gain the advantage of superior field vision, he always has the option to sprint the ball upfield with his legs. If we go back and look at Kyler’s most sensational plays, almost all of them are big passing plays the creates with his mobility. (Note: if you saw the Colts’ Hard Knocks episode where they were preparing for the Cardinals —- did you see the commotion they were making as to how to try to contain Kyler? This is the typical prep for Kyler hysteria, I believe, for the Cardinals’ opponents around the league).
  • One of the other major reasons why, imo, the Cardinals’ offense becomes stale is that on both sides of the ball, Kliff Kingsbury and Vance Joseph seem content to play each game they way “we do it.” Not only does that become predictable and redundant after a while (and easy-peasy for opponents to game plan against), the significant shift that NFL coordinators need to make once there are numerous weeks of game tape on teams is attacking teams where they are weakest on defense and taking away what the opponents do best on offense (which is why Bill Belichick is the GOAT).
  • How many games this year, particularly down the stretch, were the opponents missing key players and yet there seemed to be no specific plan to take advantage of it? For example, the past few weeks that Cardinals had major mismatches working in their favor versus some very depleted secondaries —- yet seemigly all the Cardinals did was do “what we do.”
  • As a most recent example, with both the Rams’ starting safeties out of the game, how in the world was Zach Ertz ignored repeatedly during 5 3-and-outs? Whereas, how many times over the Rams two wins over the Cardinals did Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford take advantage of the mismatches they had with Odell Beckham, Jr.? This is what winning teams do —- they take what the defense is giving them by exploiting whatever mismatches they have. Heck, if you have been a Cardinals fan as long as I have, Kurt Warner made household names out of WRs Stevie Breaston and Jerheme Urban.
  • In a recent interview with the New York Times (“Inside the Mind of Kyler Murray”)

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/23/sports/football/kyler-murray.html

Kyler said this: “I think I was blessed with the cognitive skills to just go out there and just see it before it happens,” Murray said. “I’m not one of those guys that’s going to sit there and kill myself watching film. I don’t sit there for 24 hours and break down this team and that team and watch every game because, in my head, I see so much.”

If there ever was the epitome of “we just do what we do” —- this is it.

This line of thinking accounts for why Kyler thinks he can win strictly from his “spot.”

Kyler got spoiled at Oklahoma while playing behind a legitimate NFL caliber offensive line, while throwing to a trio of NFL star-type receivers and a cadre of talented TEs and RBs.

At Oklahoma, he really didn’t have to study much game film.

This may account for why some pundits reported that Kyler didn’t handle his “chalk talks” very well with NFL teams at the Combine.

In the NFL, it is IMPERATIVE to study tons of game tape, especially for quarterbacks. Teams often win by the slightest of edges —- and finding that one critical chink in a team’s armor can make all of the difference between winning and losing.

This is exactly why the Cardinals’ offense does not evolve and grow stronger and more productive as the season rolls along.

I’ll tell you one guy who was studying tape —- Colt McCoy. It showed up, big-time against the 49ers and Seahawks on the road —- to sweep the NFC West rivals on the road for the season. McCoy knew what mismatches he could take advantage of and he understood how to take what the defenses were giving him. He made it look smooth and easy.

In contrast, it often seems that Kyler makes the game so much harder than it has to be —- even, at times, getting a simple snap off.

The difference is preparation.

When I interviewed former Cardinals’ QB3, Kyle Sloter a couple of years ago, after he was poached off the Cardinals’ practice squad by the Lions, Kyle said that what he learned about pass protection calls on pre-snaps from Matthew Stafford was stunning. He said that early each week Stafford would pore through game tapes with his OL and they would map out the protections for the week and cater them specifically to that week’s opponents. Did you notice in the last two games versus the Rams how comfortable Matthew Stafford was with his protections?

Comfort and competitive edge through preparation.

Five times over the last six agonizing weeks of this season, Kliff Kingsbury said post-game about the other team, “Hats off to them. I thought they had a great plan and they executed it.”

The most troubling parts of the Cardinals’ 34-11 meltdown versus the Rams were:

  • J.J. Watt, feeling in his heart that “this team is special” enough to bust his butt through an intense and painful rehabilitation to come back in time for the playoffs in order to put his all on the line for his Cardinals —- only to watch his team play so thoroughly unprepared and uninspired. As you know, J.J. tied his wagon to Kyler Murray, feeling confident that Murray can win a Super Bowl, but if he reads this NYT article, one would imagine that he would be very pissed off. While J.J. was out there laying it all on the line —- too many of his teammates were not. Clearly, no one can blame J.J for feeling that the Cardinals’ performance was a “massive failure.”
  • And most of all, how about J.J.’s balling brother Budda Baker, who left his all, per usual, on the field, this time, in light of a wicked helmet-to-helmet tackle induced by the RB when he quickly lowered his head into Budda’s on contact. Imagine what it was like for Budda to be taken off the field on a stretcher and transported by ambulance to the local hospital —- and on the ride away from the stadium know that the game was never in doubt and that for a second year in a row that, as he put it last year, “some guys weren’t doing their jobs.”
  • Mark Twain once called golf “a great walk ruined.”
  • Well then, unfortunately, the 2021 Cardinals were a great season ruined.

This is what the anger stage has wrought in this fan—- now please help me and everyone to transition into the next stage of grief, the “bargaining” stage, if you feel the urge. I will be writing up a detailed off-season “fix it” plan tomorrow morning. Let’s get it started —- what are your “fix it” suggestions?

As Gambo said —- the lessons potentially learned from the Cardinals late season swoon may turn out to be a blessing. After all —- “Hope is a good thing, Red. Maybe the best of things. for no good thing ever dies.” (Andy Dufresne)