"I had to take over"
Kyler’s quote after his scorched earth treatment of the Raiders in the 4th quarter and OT last Sunday has been rolling around in my head all week. Was this just an innocuous phrase tossed out by an exhausted athlete after a thrilling victory? Was it an indictment of his coaching staff? An indictment of some of his teammates? Possibly most important, why can’t (or won’t) he do this more often?
Readers of this site already know about Kingsbury’s forced Player’s Only meeting at halftime against Vegas. It was a gamble that his team obviously responded to, but why did it take such a move six quarters into the season to get Kyler and the rest of the Cardinals playing with force? For the first ninety minutes of game time this year, and for the first time during the Kliff/Kyler era, the Cardinals looked like the worst team in football. Whatever happened at halftime of last Sunday’s game, whether it was because of the coaching staff or in spite of it, it unlocked a truly exciting football team that we hadn’t really seen in nearly a full calendar year.
My personal theory doesn’t involve a conspiracy by Kyler or the players against the coaching staff. I believe it was a much more benign, and naive, reason that the Cardinals have looked flat for three-fourths of the season thus far.
Last year’s finish to the season has often been used as proof of the Kingsbury-late-season-swoon narrative. A particular detail that often gets overlooked in that narrative was the loss of DeAndre Hopkins. I’ll give the naysayers the nod that an offensive guru should be able to scheme his offense to relative success, but the loss of Hopkins deserves at least a mention when discussing last year’s crash landing. On to 2022, Kliff and Kyler are going to have to tread water for the first six games waiting for their premier weapon to return to the sidelines.
Unfortunately, for the first game and half, it appeared the Cardinals thought they were talented enough to tread water record-wise while treading water effort-wise. Losing to the Chiefs is no great sin. They are among the favorites to hoist the Lombardi in State Farm Stadium in February. For Kyler, there’s no need to try and be superman. The Raiders are, supposedly, a good team. They were in the playoffs a year ago and it was their home opener. A more winnable game than the Chiefs, for sure, but not a season ender. Perhaps Kliff, and Kyler himself, wasn’t willing to expose K1 to Trey Lance-level harm in a September football game. Just tread water. Except when you look as putrid as a team as the Cardinals did, perhaps the whole treading-water idea started to leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. It appears they realized that they can’t float their way to a 3-3 record in Hopkins’ absence.
So, Kyler shifted into a gear that very few in this league can. He became offensive coordinator, quarterback, running back, team captain, Superman. The defense did their part, to be sure, and I don’t want to gloss over that, but Kyler was in a league of his own last Sunday. He took a team that looked listless, an offense that looked inept, handicapped without three of it’s top four playmakers when this roster was put together, and escorted them to a victory. Even a hard fought loss would’ve been enough in this fan’s mind. At least they would have shown SOMETHING. Thankfully, they were able to put a mark in the W column, making their task over the next four games much easier.
Kyler had to take over. This team isn’t talented enough to tread water without it. I understand the thought process of saving Kyler for the long season. I really do. But the Cardinals just paid a boatload of cash for him to have games like last Sunday. When this team is without its top playmakers, Kyler has no other choice than to take over. He has to be That Dude. We’ll see how the offense looks when Hopkins returns. I’m hopeful that Kyler won’t have to be 2021-22 Nikola Jokic, dragging his team to competency. I’m hopeful that having Hopkins back will allow for more easy layups than buzzer beaters. We’ll know for sure in five weeks. Until then, it's Kyler's responsibility to take over.