By now you have likely seen the story that Kliff Kingsbury is the odds-on favorite to be the next NFL head coach fired, ahead of the likes of Nathaniel Hackett and Ron Rivera.
Quite frankly, I think that’s a sucker’s bet. There’s basically no chance he gets fired before the end of the season. The team is 2-3 and is playing competitive — albeit often ugly and infuriating — football. Maybe he’d get canned if we lost like 7 games in a row, but even then it would probably be because Kyler got hurt and he’d probably be given a pass.
Then there’s the whole “he just signed a 5-year extension” thing.
So, yeah, he’s not getting fired this season. Do scenarios exist where he gets fired at the end of the season? Yeah, I can definitely see that, especially if we finish much below .500. But, again, he did sign that 5-year extension in the offseason…
So I don’t think there’s much to that story. But Kliff is definitely not having his best year. The offense seems stagnant, and questions about his gameday acumen are once again swirling after the Eagles loss. I don’t think anyone is really a fan of that extension outside of Kliff and his agent.
At this point, I think it’s worth asking whether he’s even the best coach on his own team. Are we sure Kliff Kingsbury is a better coach than his oft-maligned defensive coordinator, Vance Joseph?
Let’s take a look at some numbers. Here’s where the Cardinals offense and defense rank in some standard box score stats.
Cardinals Offense/Defense Rankings
I’m seeing a mediocre offense and a slightly-below-average defense. That makes sense for a 2-3 team. But when you look at the talent Kliff Kingsbury has to work with on offense versus the talent Vance Joseph has to work with on defense, things don’t look so good for Kliff.
The offense has a two-time Pro Bowler at QB (Kyler), a two-time Pro Bowler at RB (Conner), a Pro Bowl–caliber WR (Hollywood), an aging three-time Pro Bowler at TE (Ertz), and an O-line that was ranked #13 in PFF’s last rankings after Week 4. Yes, the offense is missing DeAndre Hopkins, but I think everyone following the Cardinals would agree that this offense is vastly underperforming given this talent. Kliff has to get the lion’s share of the blame for that as the architect and playcaller.
Vance does have some pieces on defense. J.J. Watt isn’t the same DPOY-caliber player that he was in his prime, but he’s still a force. As is ascending talent Zach Allen at DE. Markus Golden is a solid pass rusher. And 3/4ths of the secondary are good players: Budda Baker is a four-time Pro Bowler, and Jalen Thompson and Byron Murphy should get consideration for their first Pro Bowl this year.
But the pass rush is still dead-last in the league in sacks, and DT, ILB, and CB2 are basically black holes. Many thought this defense could be among the worst in the league this season (myself included). Yet they’re more or less holding down the fort.
Also, consider the defense’s numbers in the past four games after the Week 1 massacre at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs (who does that to basically every team not named the Colts). If we give the defense a pass for that game (again, it was Week 1 against the best QB in the league), here’s what those numbers look like:
Cardinals Defense Since Week 1
Yep, the Cardinals defense these past four weeks has been basically a top-10 unit. That does include one game against Baker Mayfield, but the other three QBs are some of the best in the league: Derek Carr, Matthew Stafford, Jalen Hurts. And Vance Joseph’s unit has held up admirably against them. I’ve been a very vocal critic of Joseph in the past, but let’s give credit where credit’s due. The man has been coaching his tail off for a while now. This defense is playing way above its talent level. The same cannot be said for the offense.
So, I ask again: Are we sure Kliff is the best coach on this team? Remember, this is a coach who is now below .500 in his fourth season in charge.
Let me ask it another way: Let’s say the team has a mediocre season (think 8-9, 9-8) and Kliff comes back, but Vance gets a head job with another team. How would you feel about that? Would you think the Cardinals got the better end of the deal? I’m not so sure I would.
Just something to keep in mind if the offense continues to flounder at a league-average level while the defense keeps us in games.