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Hard Play Clocks In Season: The Arizona Cardinals

Syndication: Arizona Republic Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Background: Nov 6, 2022; Phoenix, AZ, United States; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith (7) scrambles out of off the pocket against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Rondone-Arizona Republic / USA Today Network

I appreciate HBO for giving everyone interested in or associated with the Arizona Cardinals the opportunity to see what’s going on behind the scenes during this nightmarish season, coming off what was arguably the most troubling and disconcerting off-season ever.

While watching episode 1, my very first impressions of the Cardinals are:

1 —- how star studded this team is.

2 —- therefore, what a colossal waste of talent this has been now nine games into the season.

3 —- like the state of Arizona’s ballot counting, just about every aspect of the way that certain coaches and players approach their jobs feels passive-aggressive, and, in comparison to others’, often too little, too late.

4 —- this is a team that manifests a significant lack of discipline.

5 —- this is team that manifests an alarming lack of sustained focus.

6 —- this is a team that looks divided. Divided locker rooms always work against each other. When your beloved captain has to plead with you to play harder and “study more film” that’s a sure sign of distrust.

7 —- like so many of the fans in Arizona, the Cardinals’ FO and coaches put their star players on pedestals, which could be one of the major reasons why Arizona professional sports teams rarely win championships. Putting players on pedestals is the worst thing any team or fan base can do. It only sets up the players, and everyone else, for disappointment.

Instead of sucking up to players, it is wiser to hold them all to the highest of standards. Holding players to high standards requires tough love. It’s not hate. It’s tough love. And a lot of coaches and fans in Arizona don't understand that. You see —- pedestals are a lonely place. You see —- there is only one way to jump off a pedestal and that is to plummet down from it.

8 —- Kliff Kingsbury put the importance of the Seahawks game in keen perspective —- but he did something that a head coach like Bill Belichick would never do, which is peek beyond the one game at hand.

No team can win three games at once. Last year when the team was 7-0, Budda Baker kept reminding all of thus that the team’s only goal was to “go 1-0 this week.” Now, I understand why Kliff wanted to incentivize the players by planting the seeds of being able to still win the NFC West. But, for the Seahawks’ game, it didn’t work.

9 —- speaking of Budda Baker, who plays like his pants are on fire and spends the whole game trying to keep his teammates hungry and focused, why in the world do a number of his teammates fail to emulate his leadership and passion for the game? Same with JJ Watt, who has clearly inspired Zach Allen. But, why aren’t more players dedicating themselves to the team the way JJ does?

Here the Cardinals have two of the most charismatic leaders in the NFL right under their own noses, and some of the players appear to routinely ignore them.

Some fans today are saying the players appear to be ignoring or tuning out the the coaches. Well what does it say about some of the players ignoring Budda Baker and JJ Watt?

10 —- as I tried to forecast during the prep week for the rematch with the Seahawks, this game was going to come down to whether the Cardinals could finally show the discipline to get the plays in on time, to snap the football cleanly, snap it on time with everyone in unison and to stop throwing 98% of the passes in the -4 to 7 yard range. #AZCrawlBall

On defense, you might recall if you read my article titled “More of This Cardinals” where I wrote:

More of this, please, for sure. (e.g. the bubble rush the Cardinals had on Kirk Cousins on Isaiah Simmons’ strip sack)

But, it is also wanting more of the Cardinals rushers to stay in their lanes the way they do on this play.

The Cardinals head into this week having the 6th best pass rush win rate in the NFL, but only tied for 25th in the league for sacks per game at 1.8.

One of the main reasons for the shortage of sacks has been the Cardinals’ rushers lacking the discipline to stay in their lanes. How often have wee seen the Cardinals give opposing QBs easy-peasy escape routes for scrambles and extended pass plays?

Pass rushes need to be disciplined.

Otherwise, QBs like Geno Smith and Kirk Cousins, who are not especially known for their running prowess, can take a stronger control of the game.

In the three games the Seahawks have lost, Geno Smith has rushed 7 times for 14 yards (2.0).

In the five games that the Seahawks have won, Geno Smith has rushed 28 times for 144 yards (5.1 ave.).


Look at the photo above —- Geno Smith’s scramble through a WIDE open vacated middle on a huge third down in the 4th quarter was a back breaker.

For how many years, months and week now with Vance Joseph as DC have I and others been screaming: no contain —- no chance?

11 —- Vance Joseph was screaming on the sidelines “we talked about the boot (bootleg).” It would be one thing if his defenses at least occasionally paid attention to contain (like made a habit of it) —- but just as 98% of the passing offense over the past 14 games has been an annoying number of -4 to 7 yards passes (which by the way, any QB could throw), 98% of the time in Vance Joseph’s defense there is not tangible evidence of edge players working at all to keep containment because the edges repeatedly crash down to defend the run.

Those crashing edges are a bootleg waiting to happen. Look at Victor Dimukeje here:

Victor Dimukeje bit down on the play instead of keeping contain. I was pointing out a couple of weeks ago how Dimukeje is a liability on the edge for this very reason. The film doesn’t lie. So, not only is this a scheme flaw of VJ’s, it’s yet another example of his misuse of personnel. And an indictment on Steve Keim for ever letting Haason Reddick leave the building.

Now that Michael Bidwill is joining Kliff and Vance for weekly film studies, one has to wonder how Vance could defense his call and his preparation for this essentially game-ending 51 yard bootleg pass play on 1st down in a 24-21 game from Geno Smith to TE Noah Fant?

I would hope that MB would ask VJ why TEs are crushing the Cardinals week after week.

I would hope that MB would ask VJ why he keeps playing soft zones on 3rd and longs. The 3rd and 12 pass to Tyler Lockett sitting uncovered in the seam 14 yards downfield was an absolute gift. This was after the Collins TD and the Cardinals had their brief 14-10 lead.

Yet, again. VJ has given Lockett and the Seahawks the exact same play multiple times —- it’s like deja vu all over again. Obviously, Geno Smith and Tyler Lockett were 100% prepared for it and they could see it coming.

Then, moments later the TD pass from Smith to Lockett that enabled the Seahawks to retake the lead was similar in that no Cardinals’ player was put by VJ in a position to defend a straight shot pass to Lockett. Watch how far off Budda is from Lockett to start the play. This cushion is putting Budda in a distinct disadvantage.

Any defensive coach will tell you that to to defend passes thrown into the end zone, a cover man needs to have leverage to the side and underneath the receiver so he can threaten the passing lane. The last thing you want to do is get caught behind Lockett in off-coverage when he is crossing the end zone.

Yes, Lockett clearly pushed off, but the fact that Budda was covering with cushion behind Lockett from the get-go is a result of poor coaching. You can’t leverage a WR by playing behind him.

MB to VJ: why is it that seemingly every time we get a lead, the other team goes right down the field and scores?

As you know, I have been screaming and begging for 4 years now for the Cardinals to acquire or draft a slot CB who can pester Tyler Lockett, Cooper Kupp and Deebo Samuel. This is why you have heard me lobby for draft prospects like Trevon Moehrig, Elijah Molden, Trent McDuffie and Roger McCready the last two drafts.

I hope MB asked VJ why teams are pounding the football down their throats in 4th quarters. Look at these absolute low-lights: (from a team and a RB who did it to them 3 weeks ago)

During the show, VJ was lamenting on the sidelines how the Seahawks were “pounding the ball”...but he didn’t seem to be able to do a dang thing about it.

You heard me and a many other fans here on ROTB beg Steve Keim to acquire ILB Roquan Smith (CHI) and a NT like Mike Purcell (DEN), but, alas, for the second year in a row Steve Keim does nothing to address the Cardinals’ weaknesses on defense. Nothing.

Speaking of Steve Keim —- did you see him looking white as a ghost during the game? He looked as horrified as most of us were. What a colossal meltdown this game was. Did you also see the bear hug he planted on DeAndre Hopkins upon Hopkins’ return to practice? And how about WR coach Shawn Jefferson fawning all over Hopkins for minutes on end? Talk about kissing arse.

This is what I mean about putting players on pedestals —- even players who screw over themselves and the team by incurring PED violation suspensions. The Cardinals have acted like Hopkins is their hero and savior. They should be acting acting like “we need you to make up for this in a big way.”

Hopkins was man enough to express his regret about costing the team for six weeks. And I thought the scene of Hopkins at the wings bar with Isaiah Simmons showed how badly he was missing football and his teammates.

Unlike Pat P., Hopkins has retuned in very good shape and with the will to dominate.

Then, on the flip side (regarding the offense), I would hope that MB would ask —- why and how does this havoc keep happening on the snap? It isn’t just Billy Price. Rodney Hudson and Max Garcia have made similar mistakes.

One would think MB would ask Kliff why we aren’t we seeing more passing plays like this from Kyler to Ertz in the first 3 quarters of the game?

As was asserted at the top of the article —- this turned out to be, too little too late. This was merely the 5th time in the last 4 games that Kyler actually threw the ball into the end zone. Good to see it. How about making this a habit?

Finally, one would hope that MB would ask Kliff, why haven’t you coached Kyler to tuck the ball? How can this happen(yet again) versus the Seahawks in a key situation?

As we all know, lack of awareness and discipline on the part of the coaches and players loses football games. This fumble on a key 4th down (which Kyler handled great until...) was a crusher right before half time, especially with the chance to take a lead into the locker room. Then we could have been spared the ominous FOX graphic of Kliff’s Cardinals being 6-26-1 when trailing at halftime. Ugh.

The Offense Play of the Game and of the Show:

This epitomizes what I and others have been pleading for Kyler to do way more often —- move the pocket.

One of the reasons the offense went stagnant was Kyler staying in one spot and not taking shots downfield.

The spat that Hopkins and Kyler had on the sideline was good to see from Hopkins (who was open over the top of the defense), because Hopkins was rightly frustrated by Kyler’s dink and dunk monotony.

The Defensive Play of the Day and of the Show:

Last year in Week 18, Zach Allen made a similar play on the ball for a pick six. Tremendous play recognition by Zaven. Now this is an edge play that was well coached.

The question I have about this is why VJ is moving Zaven around when he is clearly the most physical, downhill MIKE ILB on the team?

Don’t get me wrong, if we had a stronger MIKE other than Zaven, I would love to see Vance play Isaiah and Zaven on the edges. Having athletes of their caliber on the edges could help change a glaring weakness into a strength. Perhaps, newly acquired ILB Kamu Grenier-Hill can be the MIKE when Zaven’s on the edge?

Did you notice LB coach Billy Davis cueing up Budda Baker highlights to challenge the linebackers to run downhill to the ball and finish the tackles the way Budda does? Why then for the past three years have we watched VJ and Davis use Jordan Hicks as a stationary safety at MIKE LB? Why are they now playing Ben Niemann in Hicks’ role and before that, Nick Vigil? I wondered if Davis was just playing to the cameras.

I have so many thoughts about Kliff that I will either explain them on the next Red Rain or write them up at some point next week.

What I a most curious to know is whether the current woes we are seeing on offense would look the same with Colt McCoy at QB.

With Kyler nursing the hamstring he pulled on the scramble fumble, perhaps Colt will get some action this week. Colt hasn’t played in a year so he might be rusty. But, would the offense look more like a Kliff Kingsbury offense? Would there be a noticeable difference?

What’s been nagging at me is how easy and convenient it is to make Kliff the scapegoat.

Interestingly, this week when Kliff was asked whether he would be giving up the play calling, Kliff surprised everyone by saying, “No. I like where we are heading.”

Does Kliff have some aces up his sleeve this week?

Man, I hope so.

I am with Budda, the losing is hurting my heart.