Hard Knocks, above all things, is a reality television program.
Sure you can say sports documentary, “behind the scenes” or authentic emotions and mic’d up content but at the end of the day it’s a narrative.
So while Hard Knocks shows J.J. Watt talking to Rondale Moore encouraging him after he dropped a pass and telling him how often he got knocked down...
You almost forgot that it wasn’t from this week’s practice but from weeks earlier.
Still, it fits into the show’s OVERALL narrative that it builds, and not only did Rondale Moore go off for nearly 100 yards including a long catch on 4th and 3 from Colt McCoy, but J.J. Watt had his best game of the season.
The Colt McCoy-led Cardinals came off of a disappointing and heartbreaking first episode to bounce back with a triumphant divisional win over the Los Angeles Rams.
What were the biggest thing we learned?
#1. Colt McCoy’s a game manager in his role as QB, but a good one
I almost put “Colt McCoy is a future coach” as this first point, and it still might count.
A lot was made about McCoy’s presence, especially in the pocket, and quick release, and we saw that focus truly play out in the week leading up to the game.
McCoy’s segments made him almost seem like another coach in his approach—fastidious, getting the ball out quick, eliminating mistakes, etc.
It goes without saying the pre-snap penalties were numerous against the Seahawks and the Cardinals heeded McCoy’s words and tightened down, even with a rookie starting for them.
And while much has been made of McCoy standing in the pocket, getting the ball out quick to his first reads...it’s not like we haven’t seen that from the Cardinals or Kyler Murray this year.
McCoy’s two deep shots connected but we also saw most of his plays go within 2 yards of the line of scrimmage. The difference? The Cardinals got a lead, didn’t shoot themselves in the foot and both QB and players executed.
It’s where I do think that Arizona still wins the game if Murray is playing, but it’s definitely worth noting some of the throws over the middle and lack of hesitation was solid.
Murray wasn’t absent though, going over his injury and also emerging at a table next to rookie OL Leceitus Smith when Smith was talking about his issues in camp picking up the screen play and executing it, essentially echoing what Kelvin Beachum told him:
“It’s just football, don’t overthink it, block the guy and get downfield to lay them out.”
Murray isn’t an offensive lineman but nothing he said was different than the advice from Beachum. It showed more of an “intense” side. One that was pushing and not necessarily the “you go kid!” attitude that Colt McCoy was told in terms of giving confidence to the player.
And while Murray and Hollywood Brown ran downfield to celebrate Rondale Moore’s catch, McCoy was definitely the player who stood out the most with the practice and execution paying off. And ultimately it shows that a football game is about the same thing it’s always been: execution, blocking, tackling, throwing and catching.
Colt has proven to be a veteran game manager you can win with, but it also seemed pretty clear that it’s not like Kyler’s thought of less by the team. When I worked for the Arizona Rattlers indoor football team, the coaches and players were confident in our backup to go out and win games, even for a title run, if the starter went out. But it was also clear who was the starter and who was the backup.
It’s just nice knowing that Arizona has one (and frankly...also interesting to see how bad the Rams are and how discouraged Sean McVay was against Colt McCoy)
#2. The veteran leadership and coaches helped carry the O-Line to a win
The biggest gut punch in the episode might have been when OL Coach Sean Kugler looked at Kelvin Beachum talking about his possible appendicitis and immediately pushed him out of the room for his health’s sake.
Kugler was low-key hilarious at time in the episode, coming off as the gruff yet compassionate coach, who also seemed to help carry some of the weight of having 4 new guys on the line.
It showed how the players came alongside a new rookie who admitted multiple times he didn’t think he would play this year (but never said he wasn’t ready) and delivered a great performance against the best DL in the national football league.
#3. The value of the heart and soul of the Cards is in guys like Hopkins, Kelvin, J.J. and Budda.
Budda Baker suddenly walking out and practicing with the team, along with the double glances and energy, definitely gave the team a lift.
It was similar to the energy that the coaches discussed on Hard Knocks last week when DeAndre Hopkins returned from his suspension. People were amazed that he was able to move and practice much less play.
It’s that same emotional lift that went the opposite way when J.J. Watt was gone from the team last year. Watt’s story of his heart’s irregular rhythm and his experience as a new father was at the emotional center of the piece, as was the Jefferson family.
Seeing the family’s “best case” of the Cardinals winning but Van catching a late TD and their after game conversations (him leaving the super bowl to go to the hospital was glossed over due to the news but when it happened it was sensational) and it reminded me of the way football brings us all together.