Batman has always been considered to be one of the most iconic and idiosyncratic figures of literature and pop culture of our time.
A recent film about the reclusive billionaire whose dark past has him assume a shadowy mask to fight criminals and enact vengeance on Gotham City debuted in 2022 to both stellar praise in its depiction.
Now let me pause there a moment before I go any further...
...Otherwise you might simply click away wondering how an SB Nation site about the Arizona Cardinals football team has in common with a superhero movie.
So maybe it’s best to explain a bit of the plot without, per se, giving everything away.
Slight spoiler warning if you have NOT seen the movie, but nothing major below the mark:
In The Batman (2022) or, the PatMan (for star Robert Pattinson), the masked vigilante himself ends up by the end of the film finding that his own work has inspired other criminals to use violence and vengeance to take out their aggressions on those who have harmed or oppressed them.
In short, a cruel, violent Batman wasn’t solving violence, but was contributing to it or even was the direct cause of it. Violence begets violence, as they say. The director, Matt Reeves, wanted to tell a new story with it and, this is from the wikipedia page:
Reeves considered The Batman a story about Batman learning that he must not exact vengeance, but inspire hope.
In the credits and at the end of the film, Nirvana’s “Something In The Way” plays as Batman/Bruce Wayne realizes that he needs to change in order to change Gotham, even if that means removing himself from the city itself. Change starts with...yourself.
That’s the takeaway from the movie and for a blockbuster superhero popcorn flick, it’s not anything groundbreaking but it still manages to be effective in its message.
Alright minor “spoilers” if you can call them that end here!
To me the thing I wish to compare is this when looking at the Arizona Cardinals...the idea of causation and correlation and identity.
There’s no doubt, as we can say this now, that the Arizona Cardinals have been one of the worst teams in the NFL this season, and with 2 games on the horizon vs. NFC West foes, it doesn’t look like it’s going to get a lot better.
And a big portion of that is simply due to players on the team, coaches, the front office, etc. all having one thing in common:
They’re not able to get out of their own way.
In situational football, Arizona has made critical, mind-numbing errors at some of the points where they’ve needed to play their best.
- missed snaps over Kyler Murray’s head
- failing to haul in a goal-line interception despite the chance
- not getting in plays quick enough & burning timeouts
- jumping offsides for a false start, giving up a first down or moving the offense back
Man, you could talk about nothing but self-inflicted errors not just in today’s game but ultimately on the season. Including dropped passes, ill-advised throws, etc.
But one that sticks out the most has to be consistent inconsistency.
The Cardinals are driving down to tie up the game before the half with a field goal, go for it on 4th down and what happens next?
Just like the last Seahawks game, Murray one-handedly holds onto the ball making a big play.
And it wasn’t just one side of the ball:
The Cardinals’ defense takes an interception of Geno Smith to the house for the lead and how does their defense respond after that?
Both Seattle TDs come on the plays after Cardinals should have had INTs. 17-14 Seattle now.— Kent Somers (@kentsomers) November 6, 2022
A touchdown given up on the next drive. Both after interceptions that would have swung the game were dropped.
Even late in the game, a DeAndre Hopkins touchdown was called back due to interference from Robby Anderson (who had a crucial drop as well) and he wasn’t even near the play!
Just getting in their own way.
As to the cause? Well, one of those seems abundantly clear.
- The Cardinals currently are top 10 in points per game, but offensively ranks at the bottom of the league in terms of yards per attempt and rushing.
- It’s a dink and dunk horizontal offense that has struggled to find connections outside of when Kyler Murray runs.
- And defensively, they’ve managed a +3 turnover differential, but are the 32nd out of 32 teams in total points given up on the season.
- They are averaging giving up 26 points a game...and only scoring 22. Crazy enough, they actually only scored 21 points this sunday, essentially the same old song and dance that has been the bulk of the 2022 season.
- Because in spite of a fast start...the team stumbled sluggishly to the end. They just put the end in front this time.
So, what’s the blame and what’s to be done? Most will point and say that Kliff Kingsbury is at fault. There were downfield plays immediately followed up by horizontal tackles for loss, no running game behind Murray and an offensive line that CLEARLY has struggled with constant shotgun snaps; go under center a BIT more?
Maybe some will look at Vance Joseph’s defense being unable to overachieve and will point at the yards given up and how the defense couldn’t seem to get off the field except for a turnover.
But I think there’s a place as to where it started, and, obviously where it will end.
Remember that Batman tag at the beginning?
Yeah, Michael Bidwill is kinda Batman...but I’ll get to that.
Well, the 2022 Cardinals are, essentially, the product of the Michael Bidwill - Steve Keim braintrust to this point, amidst a heap of flaws and rough decisions from ownership themselves.
The Cardinals’ track record was a positive one after Kyler & Kliff took over from Steve Wilks...but one issue remained.
The hiring of Wilks and the previous OC Mike McCoy had absolutely nothing to do with Steve Wilks himself. Ownership and Keim made those decisions following Bruce Arians taking leave of a team that (frankly) overachieved to finish 8-8 and 7-9 in his last two seasons.
The decisions were terrible, signing bad offensive linemen, Sam Bradford and trading up for a quarterback who didn’t last a year.
And yet, ownership took responsibility for one thing only: the coaching hires.
AKA in the postseason statements: “We got the wrong guy”.
Keim and Michael Bidwill stayed in their spots as GM and Team President, and hired Kliff Kingsbury and moved on to Kyler Murray.
And for a while...it worked.
Cardinals went from 3 to 5 to 8 to 11 wins. But in a “win now” league in which teams turn around quickly, a few problems arose.
Kingsbury’s late slides to end the season ended up sinking the Cardinals for 3 years straight.
To this day, Arizona in a “must win” game has exactly 1 win. They have zero clinching wins, gaining access to the playoffs in 2021 through the Rams defeating an opponent.
The one win that they had as far as a “gotta have it” victory was last year versus the Dallas Cowboys to stay in contention for the lead in the division. Since then, Arizona DID get a win to avoid a 0-2 start against the Raiders this season, but really the faith that was placed in Kingsbury seems to have gotten them so far, but no further.
And it isn’t that much of a surprise to fans who’ve questioned the move since it was made.
“Something iiiiinnn the waaaaay”
But the issue here is...that the Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury. They brought him in, either to fix Josh Rosen only to move to Murray or maybe to find an Air Raid coach for Kyler in the first place, at a time when seldom wanted or would even take the job.
Vance Joseph was a Keim connection, bringing him in to be the “defensive” coach as Kingsbury had only worked with the offense, and for a while, it worked...but that was just on the surface. The hot starts, cold finishes. The offense hovering around league average every year while the defense kept adding more and more players...
It all culminated with the biggest decision of all: extending both Kliff Kingsbury and Steve Keim to a 5 year extension following an embarrassing postseason loss. As well as extending the quarterback who played poorly enough in that loss that many questioned if he could ever be a franchise quarterback.
In short, the ownership decided to trust the GM and head coach and quarterback when they had every right to say “Show me another year”. Or even to, say, limit the number of years.
“Something in the waaaaaay....”
Perhaps that was part of the lack of trust that went into that study clause that both GM and Head Coach quickly distanced themselves from and hung onto ownership...a trust given to some but not all.
And in this case, it’s hard to know what the fix ACTUALLY could be.
Many Cardinals fans seem to think it’s as simple as a new coaching staff.
Well...the last time Arizona looked for coaches...they ended up with only Steve Wilks taking the job.
The last team to hire.
Cause no one really wanted the job.
MULTIPLE coaches turned down the opportunity to interview for the vacant position. Heck, both Mike McCarthy and even Eric Bieniemy turned down opportunities.
And a lot of that might come from Michael himself.
Some of it is situational. Arizona has a young QB signed long-term, skill players on offense and tackles to boot along with talent on the defense & athleticism.
It’s a far cry from where it was in 2018. Yet the GM who was in charge of hiring, well, hasn’t changed and that was an issue.
And Bidwill is part of the problem, to be fair, as well.
He’s a unique owner in how he’s got his hands all over the team. From player personnel to interviews and more, unlike a Robert Kraft he’s been more of a Jerry Jones.
And yet, without the success Jones has had, it’s impossible to argue that some share of credit doesn’t go to Michael Bidwill.
But it was a large part his very decisions and inability to fire the likes of Steve Keim in 2018 that has put Arizona in this spot.
And now with the extensions, the “fix” of hiring a top head coach means more than just a sunk cost, especially if he decides to let Keim pick a 4th coach.
Can you imagine the fan reaction if Michael Bidwill goes out to the media like he did in 2018 with Steve Keim and says “Yo we got it wrong again with the head coach and the DC, but this time we are getting it right and I trust that me and this GM will get it right”.
Wouldn’t that be something?
And yet, many think that it’s exactly what Bidwill might do, and fire the head coach who helped him get to Kyler Murray but keep the same GM who got him into position to hire Kingsbury and draft Murray. Imagine keeping the GM who when given power, chose Mike McCoy and Josh Rosen.
Or the GM who was an interior offensive lineman and hasn’t drafted one successfully in his entire tenure.
“Somethiiiiing in the waaaay”
When the Jacksonville Jaguars wanted to make Byron Leftwich their head coach, the Jaguars’ owner balked at firing Trent Baalke and probably wouldn’t even have wanted to fire Urban Meyer with less than a year served until his hand was forced by scandal.
All that money to NFL players? Not guaranteed. Just part of it.
Coaches and GM’s salaries all are, albeit much less money overall.
Michael has let Steve Keim handle much of the contract negotiating, scouting and general direction of the team, all while playing a part of it.
In fact, Michael’s say in the team might be a big part of the reason he didn’t want to move onto Steve Keim and hire a coach who might want their own say in things, or would pull, say a Leftwich or do what Adam Gase did and force the owner’s hand in firing a GM.
Michael Bidwill, right now, is Batman.
Yeah, I know.
The form is different but to me the takeaway is the same. Change is needed but the first change comes from within yourself, and that’s a step Michael might have to take along with Batman.
Maybe in more ways than one as a billionaire that has been at the center for many of the hopes and dreams of those who look to sports as their modern-day superhero stories. Of gladiators on a battlefield with heroes and villains alike partaking in the closest thing to a bloodsport of combat.
And maybe the “Batman” idea applies more to Kyler Murray and questions about his own ability to adapt or change, but I think Michael Bidwill’s means more.
Because he may have to make a very difficult decision.
Oh yeah, that’s a big money and “I was wrong, you get to have a say in personnel, coach” kind of decision.
Right now the Cardinals have been built essentially by him, completely.
- Steve Keim has been in the organization for 20+ years, and is undoubtedly close with the owner.
- The scouting department itself has hardly changed since the Rod Graves era, with former Cardinals like Larry Wilson and Adrian Wilson moving to the front office. Most teams will overhaul the scouts with the coaches, but Arizona has instead held pat through the Whisenhunt-Arians-Wilks and now Kingsbury eras.
- That stagnation that caught up with the Cardinals after the spark of 2015 has once again caught up to the team in 2022.
If Michael Bidwill wants to turn it back into a flame, it goes deeper than simply moving on from his head coach, or even firing a GM he’s close with.
It might mean letting go of some of his say altogether if he’s going to find a solution.
Because when people have passed on your organization rather than coach your team in the NFL, that’s a sign that people probably don’t want to work with you on your standards or your timetable.
Some of the most successful teams in the NFL turned their franchises over to great coaches, many even having power over their general managers to a degree, and saw success quickly flourish. The Chiefs, Rams, even Giants are all success stories of downtrodden franchises who cleaned house and let a new fresh look dictate the direction.
But that might mean something hard for Michael Bidwill to do, maybe the hardest:
Can he give up his control over the franchise to either a general manager or a head coach and step back a bit from having his hands on the team?
That’s a tough pill to swallow.
That’s a tough cookie, indeed.
That’s a slice of humble pie that doesn’t go down easy.
Imagine going up to a CEO who asks you what the issue is and being told “you are the problem!”
Or being told that the root cause of an issue isn’t your circumstances, but you yourself.
And yet, Bidwill’s tenure as owner has been one in which a lot of blame has been pinned onto the coaching staff and not on him or his GM. The idea of “we don’t miss on the player we miss on the person” is like me saying “I evaluated them correctly, they just didn’t work hard enough or didn’t fit how I thought they would.”
That’s removing yourself from the blame versus finding the solution, accepting your fault in it.
It’s been tough to even admit that the Cardinals have played like a bottom 5 team despite that 10-2 start in 2021 entering this year, both statistically and in the eye test because...they’ve been in contention within a bad NFC and had some “moral victories” this year.
But now at 3-6, and sitting pretty in the top 10 of the NFL draft they’re the 3rd worst team in the NFC after the Panthers and the Detroit Lions (who won today) and might have a win over the one team in the NFC that was bad enough that their head coach is already long gone.
And maybe that’s putting too much on Michael and not the coaching staff’s issues, too.
Taking a mobile QB with a big arm (although maybe not as big given his wrist injury is probably still affecting the deep ball) and making it a horizontal attack prone to tackles for loss is probably gonna get you dismissed no matter what your deal was for.
Or how a defense didn’t spend money and has been...pretty bad in the clutch. Or how a general manager essentially decided that 2021’s issue was injuries and ran it back, only to see the defense be forced to carry a bad offense with a front-seven that couldn’t stop the Seahawks when it mattered most.
Can I start to point to the draft whiffs from 2013 to now, Mr. Keim?
That’s all obvious to most fans because flaws are usually easy to spot. It’s harder to fix them, though.
If the Cardinals don’t pull a miracle out (and maybe even if they manage to win some games down the stretch) it feels like delaying the inevitable for the coaching staff.
And probably the general manager, too, who was the architect of most of the organization.
Replacing them would mean firing everyone AND paying a new head coach (if it’s a vet well that’s even more money) and a GM, too.
And yet, it might be the path forward for Michael Bidwill.
Cause right now, he might have to step aside in order for the team to move forward and find a coach & general manager who take up the team and shape it into a better, more NFL-worthy organization than he is able to.
The Suns’ owner, Robert Sarver, managed to do this with hiring a new GM and a veteran head coach, and made a Finals appearance only to see his own selfishness and ineptitude and ego run amok all but “forcing” him out of ownership.
Michael Bidwill is currently in the place of Batman—a billionaire whose decisions are only contributing to the Cardinals as they are today.
He has a choice to make soon, just like The Batman did.
And here’s hoping he realizes that sometimes the best way to contribute to an issue is by changing yourself and casting hope for the future.
In a way that is risky and cautious, but might be for the best in actually letting people outside of the Cardinals’ organization in for a breath of fresh air for a change and spending the money to do so.
But right now, it’s probably the right thing to do, even if it’s hard.
Even if it’s in stepping aside.
Doing such a move would bring hope to a city that’s been honestly struggling to have some of it this season.
I’ll leave you with a selection of awesome music from the aforementioned Batman film and hope that it will bring a bit of tension and excitement rather than a brooding, moody Kurt Cobain clip. Cause hope is something that Cards fans have run out of in 2022.
But...there’s always 2023, right?