The Arizona Cardinals had had a bit of a wild ride as far as the Steve Keim era is concerned.
From being an elite defensive unit winning 10, 11, 13 games only to fall to 7, 8 and then bottoming out at a 3-13 season, Keim kept his job and Bruce Arians retired.
The Kliff Kingsbury experience got off to a rocky start (being the last team to win a game after a 0-4 start in his first year) only to turn it around with a 3-game winning streak and finally finding a sense of identity.
Then have come two more years of the same narrative: an end-of-season collapse after a 6-2 and 10-2 start.
The Cardinals, I think wisely, decided to reward the coach and GM who were at the head of the turnaround but many looked at the extensions and felt them unjustified from the eye test and season-ending losing streaks. In fact, Arizona hasn’t won a home game in nearly a calendar year.
Now for my money, I have always felt the extensions were justified I just felt that the length of time was potentially the point of overcompensating (paying a coach and GM like one does a team who goes to a super bowl in number of years seems...to lead to disappointment if they don’t get there).
So where does that leave us?
Entering into the season, even dating back to the offseason, there was a “nightmare” scenario for the Cardinals.
It would be a 0-3 start without DeAndre Hopkins, with an offense that hadn’t changed a tonn going up against Matt Rhule and the Panthers—a team Kliff had never beaten.
And to me this was the nexus, or the turning point, that might have been the most important game of the season.
Because while Arizona DIDN’T start the season 0-3...they sure cut it pretty close, eh?
This season is ultimately about discovering once and for all if it’s a talent factor or if coaching plays a key role in the Cardinals’ development, if not both.
And that means that with how Arizona’s offense has essentially performed like a bottom 5 level offense for most of the season...the additions of Moore and Hopkins are THE key to the team’s success. The offense was supposed to carry the defense this season and, well, so far it’s been pretty bad all around, even with the defense holding the Rams to 20 points and Arizona unable to get in the endzone.
Evidence showed last year that Arizona’s endzone success came in part with the two Pro Bowlers and went away when their health did.
It’ll be something to look out for...because there isn’t much else.
I’m of the camp that if Arizona starts out 2-4, or even if they lose this game to the Panthers, they can still be alright.
But that’s like taking a carton of 50 eggs and putting them into a small wicker basket. You THINK it can hold them. But are you sure?
No, you’re not. And we’ve seen this situation before.
Previously, Kliff Kingsbury saw the Cardinals enter a multi-game losing streak to finish the 2021 season outside of a win in Dallas (that might have seen momentum go the other way if not for a forced fumble on Dak Prescott) after the offense stalled for 2.5 quarters late in the game. They held guys out of practice, activated JJ Watt from IR and had both James Conner and Chase Edmonds available and...
It wasn’t worth the wait.
All the eggs went into one basket and Arizona was blown out in a pathetic performance. Woof.
This year, things are on a similar trajectory...to a point. After all, we’re only 3 games into the season. Things are different and more optimistic as well:
- The young linebackers should, theoretically, improve over time.
- JJ Watt is playing weekly without a season-ending injury that he barely made it back from and didn’t even get to practice in the week leading up to the Rams
- You have Rondale Moore as a weapon to add to what Greg Dortch is doing as well as a deeper stable of running backs, along with a deeper OL
- Antoine Wesley could come off of IR after this week to fill in for A.J. Green (and possibly start over him)
- Antonio Hamilton and Trayvon Mullen are likely to be added as well
And of course the aforementioned DeAndre Hopkins.
So it’s not gone and done yet.
But the Cards? They could have been an average team, or even an average team that lost close in 2 of their 3 past games.
Instead let’s hope that we don’t see one incredible omelet be the result of Arizona essentially taking their offensive woes and placing them all on the shoulders of a 30 year old receiver who’s going to be expected to help lift their offense into an “elite” category as a team.