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What we have learned through 3 weeks of Hard Knocks: In Season with the Arizona Cardinals

Through the first 3 episodes of Hard Knocks, many fans have been delighted but others have been left frustrated for one specific reason

NFL: International Series-San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals’ inaugural foray into the world of streaming sports documentary coverage was a resounding success for All or Nothing, which followed the Cardinals’ journey to the NFC Championship game and all the ups and down of the season including the inevitable injuries and blowout by the Carolina Panthers.

It won a sports emmy...and was also the last time until 2021 that the Cardinals made the playoffs or had a winning season.

So what have we learned through the first 3 weeks of Hard Knocks with the Cardinals thus far? Here are 5 takeaways from the first 3 weeks:

#1. Lot of people are questioning if agreeing to the show was a huge mistake

When you look at the Cardinals in 2021, while the finish was sloppy and slow, you can see the reasons as for why the Cards might be looking into having their upcoming season documented:

  • Hopkins and Watt returning
  • Adding a speedster in Hollywood Brown who was friends with Kyler
  • Bringing back most of the offensive veterans like Rodney Hudson, Justin Pugh, James Conner and Zach Ertz

What has actually been the case?

Injuries, regression from Kyler Murray and the offense as a whole, and a weak defense that was finally, properly exposed against the 49ers in week 3.

#2. The narrative of people seeing Kliff Kingsbury for the first time in a more unfiltered tone has grown more (or less) respect:

And the reply...

It’s been fascinating to see how the normally chill, mild Kingsbury is definitely in charge of the team, however, there’s also been comments that point out where it seems as though players aren’t seemingly dialed in to him and some questions about respect in that regard.

In fact, it seems as though Arizona’s culture has had issues and one interesting thing to see has been the lack of Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim after the first two episodes, as they have essentially BEEN the Cardinals for the last decade, with Keim having another decade in close relationship with Michael Bidwill also.

Yet the coaching stands out as Vance Joseph’s “we talked about the boot!” shows that either coaches aren’t getting through to the players, or they are continuing to run guys out there that are short of accountability besides just outright releasing guys.

It’s got me thinking that many of the narratives about Kingsbury might be true...but already a lot of them have showed to be a Kliff behind closed doors vs. in front of them as two different people.

#3. Fans have really not liked the lack of transparency surrounding Eno Benjamin’s release or are blaming ownership, PR and more for not leaning into more drama:

Yeah, the top two stories of Week 3 for the Cardinals were...Eno Benjamin and Sean Kugler. One wasn’t mentioned at all (despite a producer on the PHNX podcast hinting at it) and the other was barely mentioned or featured after being a surprise star a week earlier.

At this point, it remains to be seen as to if it’s “Hard Knocks” or if the ability for teams to overrule negative coverage makes it

#4. Love or hate them, the players and the work they put in & lives they live are humanized and given depth

Budda Baker has blossomed into a new face of the NFL with his storyline, work ethic & praise from the coaching staff. Him playing through an ankle injury to get an interception has arguably been the best storyline on Hard Knocks.

Other storylines were known coming into the season: J.J. Watt’s heart, Antonio Hamilton’s burns, but seeing a young rookie going into his first game starting against Aaron Donald was a nice look-in at being a rookie and how life comes at you fast.

It allows you to buy into the highs, such as the win against the Rams w/ Colt McCoy’s preparation, and feel awful at the lows seeing Antonio Hamilton let up at the end of the game on a George Kittle touchdown after a deep look into his freak cooking accident.

There’s a lot of hate given towards players who are doing all they can, and more compassion and empathy should be given to pro athletes.

#5. Ultimately, this season of Hard Knocks will hinge on Arizona’s ability to turn the season around with a strong finish...or will be remembered for a house cleaning

It might be overdue, but despite the extensions, there’s plenty of reason to move on from GM Steve Keim after this season.

The Cardinals have been exposed as falling behind talent-wise without depth or true stars in the NFC West with difficulties not just in the draft but also struggles in bringing other players in.

I still hold that (and we’ve seen since) that either the Cardinals were being cheap with their contracts or simply were bad at a full evaluation.

As for everyone else? Well, some people are saying it’s time for a clean house.

It’s not worth hiding at this point...Sean Payton started trending in Arizona the week after AZ lost 38-10 to the Niners. And others have written about how the team’s pure lack of talent. It’s all a big big mess.

But we’ve seen this story reverse itself before.

After a 2-6 start, the 2011 Arizona Cardinals finished 6-2 only to then have fall to 5-12 on the season the following year, but that finish bought Ken Whisenhunt AT LEAST one more year.

On the other hand...we’ve also seen Kliff Kingsbury teams collapse down the stretch as well, and Arizona faces a DIFFICULT remaining schedule defensively.

If there isn’t progress with the offense from Hollywood Brown, DeAndre Hopkins back on the field at the same time, it’s going to be hard to argue that Kingsbury should return for ANY reasons besides his contract. Which, of course, is a sunk cost.

A bunch of scandals, a team in disarray and losing games all in the public eye might lead toward the chance of firing Kliff, Vance Joseph and even maybe Steve Keim to bring in a different look for the franchise.

And you KNOW that the people will be DEMANDING that if Kliff Kingsbury gets fired that it would either be shown or covered on Hard Knocks similar to the release of other players in the past.

It might not be right—it’s probably best to have someone fired in privacy or away from cameras as far as human decency is concerned, but it would remove credibility from “Hard Knocks” if they know that a change or set of changes is coming and to politely step aside for the franchise.

Otherwise, it might as well not even list the final score of the game and just cover each team like they are winners. Authenticity is key.

And so far?

It’s feel authentic...but limited. Almost like sponge-washing the product before putting it out. Here’s hoping that the insight provided gives perspective to the team that’s more similar to episodes 1 and 2 than to #3.