What can you say about the 2022 Arizona Cardinals?
It’s almost impossible to describe or sum up.
Well, maybe not fully impossible:
Your 4-9 Arizona Cardinals:— Johnny Venerable (@JohnnyVenerable) December 16, 2022
-K1 scrubs social
-RB Coach fired for domestic battery
-Hard Knocks drama
-OL Coach fired for groping woman
-K1 tears ACL
-GM leave of absence
-OL coach files arbitration
This doesn’t even include things like Hollywood Brown’s situation with his speeding ticket, Rondale Moore’s injuries or the Colt McCoy concussion, bevy of offensive line injuries or Rodney Hudson’s situation so...yeah.
Since the playoff blowout, or even further from the J.J. Watt injury that saw DeAndre Hopkins and Kyler Murray go down after A.J. Green’s failure to turn around, the Cardinals have been broken.
And it’s been a sign, perhaps, of how the entire model the Cardinals built was an unsustainable mirage from the start.
Let’s go over some context...
Since the Cardinals entered their new stadium in Glendale in 2006 and the team hired Ken Whisenhunt, we’ve seen several “eras” of Cardinals football starting with Ken Whisenhunt as the head coach and Rod Graves as the GM
2007-2009: Warner Era
2010-2012: Post-Warner & End of Whiz/Graves
2013-2017: Keim, Arians & Palmer era
2018: Post Palmer/Steve Wilks & Mike McCoy era
2019-2022: Current Era of Kliff Kingsbury & Kyler Murray
Previously, there were trends and “eras” that revolved around the Arizona Cardinals and their veteran quarterback status.
The time of success with a QB was followed by a failure to adequately replace said quarterback upon retirement, and if both failed, we saw the head coach and QB usually changed out.
The only time the general manager changed was after a season in which the Cardinals it became clear that they had to fix their current quarterback situation, one where they traded for Kevin Kolb and ended up cutting him outright only to land Carson Palmer.
In fact, most of the time Arizona resuscitated an older QB’s career almost due to luck or forced circumstances.
Then in 2018 and 2019 they drafted two young quarterbacks and we saw the Kyler Murray era essentially begin.
In 2019, Arizona had the 32nd ranked passing defense and the offense improved from being one of the worst offenses to being average, and Murray won rookie of the year with Kingsbury changing from his air raid roots to adopting more principles of pro offenses including tight ends blocking and a power run game.
2020, the team’s general manager traded for DeAndre Hopkins started 6-2 and the passing offense improved, but the rushing offense behind Kyler Murray’s 800+ rushing yards had Arizona at one point as the #1 producing offense in the NFL.
However, after a Kyler Murray injury Arizona’s offense fell off as the team’s defense lost Chandler Jones (though Haason Reddick stepped up) and the rushing offense fell off with the team losing close games on the heels of a miraculous “Hail Murray” win and Murray’s injury against the Rams sunk the Cardinals’ playoff hopes.
In the end, they improved...but collapsed.
2021 saw the 10-2 start in which the improved offense led the league and also was tops in turnover margin among the NFL elites and improved yet again only to collapse, yet again.
In the end, the Arizona Cardinals team that started out 6-2 and 10-2 only to go 3-11 in the second half of the year.
The was a variety of reasons for Arizona’s collapse but a big part of it came down to the simple idea that the Cardinals were altogether not good enough in the second half of the season.
How did they respond at the end of the day heading into the 2021 draft?
They ran it back.
Same offensive line.
Extensions for HC/GM and Quarterback
And perhaps that’s what this era of Cardinals’ football will be best known for, in a way. Staying the course, but also committing to the idea of being “just one piece away.”
Each offseason had an unprecedented move: drafting Kyler Murray, trading for Hopkins, Signing J.J. Watt and trading for Rodney Hudson, and Zach Ertz.
The Cardinals entering 2022 had obvious needs at center, offensive guard and in replacing Chandler Jones.
Unfortunately, they also needed a wide receiver and weren’t able to get one and this is JUST to flesh out the team.
It’s like building a car.
Imagine if you will a team as the car and how it functions. The engine makes the car run and items such as the starter, carburator, alternator, motor, wheels and even the other pieces around for the sake of safety to protect the passengers and other pieces of the vehicle.
Team sports are like a machine, after all.
Previously I wrote on this at Revenge of the Birds on warning signs for the Steve Wilks & Mike McCoy era of football and how pairing a run-first defensive mind with a veteran OC that had never seen success in the run game could be an issue.
It was like how the car of the 2018 Cardinals was called a “retool, not a rebuild” with expectations of competing quickly, and instead it was plain to see that the Cardinals were trying to start a car without an engine.
Without having a quarterback or any of the struts, gas or power to support them.
The Cardinals’ issues were vast on the offensive line, with 5 of the 5 starters going on IR for the season and a 7th round pick eventually starting.
Fast-forward to 2022?
4 of the 5 Cardinals’ starters are on Injured Reserve, but Josh Jones, a 3rd round pick, has stepped in admirably for D.J. Humphries.
Arizona’s weapons in DeAndre Hopkins and Hollywood Brown both produced, with the two of them being on pace to nearly hit 1,000 yards before Kyler Murray’s injury, but the team’s offense still struggled.
As to why, well...
Charting Kyler Murray's deep accuracy: the Cardinals offense is an insult to the word 'trainwreck.' pic.twitter.com/RAzLiZo4m1— Johnny Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) December 13, 2022
Pass Interference on a 2-yard play pic.twitter.com/p34MFBvqw9— Johnny Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) December 13, 2022
Quote from @BrickwallBlitz’s article on charting Murray’s deep throws...
“Now this is just sad. The throw itself is really good, but at 34 air yards this is Murray’s longest completion in the air? It really speaks volumes about how unpleasant the Cardinals offense has been where the longest pass can’t even make it to 40 yards, and it’s thrown by a quarterback that packs a rocket arm.”
And I think that’s one thing that we forgot about is that for the Cardinals, Kyler Murray’s arm strength and deep accuracy took a dip this year and the offense couldn’t stretch the field despite having Brown, Ertz and Moore, in part where bad luck was a thing.
Murray hurt his elbow in preseason and none of his weapons were ever healthy at the same time but at the end of the day, there was a response that the Kansas City Chiefs had to ultimately losing the Super Bowl to the Buccaneers’ pass rush and to the Bengals in the playoffs after Cincinnati managed to limit both Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce while outscoring the poor Chiefs defense.
The Chiefs went on after 2020 to rework and draft multiple starters on their O-Line and then traded away Tyreek Hill after the 2021 playoff loss.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, seemed to isolate their issues as being with not enough weapons at receiver and didn’t make a move to upgrade at center in the offseason despite the rookie contract...partially because the team had stayed committed to their talent and had kept Steve Keim in place who had a penchant to simply go for it each year and kick the can down the road.
Cards GM Steve Keim on this year’s Cards Flight Plan training camp episode (which was fantastically done by the way): “I think you have to go for it every year.” pic.twitter.com/0nHfXrcYXO— Blake Allen Murphy (@blakemurphy7) September 30, 2019
So in the end what’s the main reason that the Cardinals’ struggle has come to a head in 2023?
Because we’ve seen how there’s probably several “phases” that NFL teams go through:
And while I could point to the offensive line as being the biggest “issue” with Arizona’s offense this year after they lost two of their better players on the defensive line/pass rush...the pass rush hasn’t been bad.
Part of it was the Cardinals and Steve Keim drafting two-third rounders to rush the passer...and really the Cardinals’
Well...they’re going to have at least 4 new starters on the offensive line next year and I think that it’s easy to second guess but in the end I think that it’s feeling apparent that this era of Cardinals football with Kliff Kingsbury and Steve Keim is probably over.
It felt that way after a bottom 5 statistical start for the offense and the defense through the first 3 weeks, and when the Cardinals were down at the half to Matt Rhule, it really didn’t seem like the current era was going to continue...
And it was like that because the way this Cardinals team had been built. Multiple retiring veterans, many one-year or expiring deals and an expectation of making the playoffs.
In short, the Cardinals’ issue has been that they’ve found themselves in an area believing that they are good enough to compete, but they then don’t rework the team or find the need to improve.
The Cardinals keep pushing to compete and rework pieces, but they’ve been in need of a serious ability to regress and/or retool in order to build a better team.
Most NFL teams stink, get the quarterback and build up a team...and the Cardinals tried the same thing.
But they only reworked or retooled by keeping Steve Keim at the heart of the Cardinals’ organization and they needed to actually rebuild.
As for Kliff Kingsbury, the offense he ran got picked apart by defenses the past two years and didn’t have enough talent to overcome when injuries hit.
And part of that, I think is that the Cardinals’ identity has not been set in place. The 49ers, for example, knew their stage and were ready to compete.
And the Cardinals, honestly, needed to retool. Instead, they reworked a few things and in the end...the car broke down.
Too much work was needed and the team’s unwillingness to potentially regress, or even the commitment to an identity for Arizona once their own was taken away would probably have been something needed.
We saw how fragile Arizona’s depth was in a team that was built from the outside in as far as installing the doors and adding the seats before ensuring the frame was solid. Teams built from the inside out with a run game is an identity. The Chiefs themselves had built a team around two elite receiver weapons, only to watch their identity be taken away in the playoffs.
Arizona, on the other hand, has been unable to overcome it, and saw personal problems: the firing of multiple coaches, Steve Keim’s absence and health issues, the difficulty in protecting or running the ball...it all came to a head.
This is where the Cardinals hit the “regress” period, something all teams in the NFL face at some point. What matters is how you’re able to overcome it or learn to live with it—otherwise you’ll be out of a job soon. It’s a young man’s game and players age quickly.
For the Cardinals’ offensive line? Too quickly...and yet unsurprisingly, their inability to adapt to a defensively dominant NFL probably has put Kliff Kingsbury in the same place that Steve Wilks was.
An offensive coach with a bad offense. A defensive coach with a bad defense.
That’s almost a death sentence, especially in a year where your quarterback regressed.
And I think that this will be the end of another era of Cardinals football, one way or the other. Maybe Kliff Kingsbury is around for next year but the team hasn’t won a game since beating the pitiful Rams’ backup quarterback with Colt McCoy, and has blown multiple leads on the defensive side of the game.
And that was also Wilks’ issue. As a defensive coach, he wasn’t able to do much to fix the other side of the ball. Kingsbury could fire Vance Joseph, but wouldn’t that simply be believing that you’re in a rework yet again?
No, the Cardinals might be in rebuilding mode but at least so far, there’s enough optimism that their quarterback might need an overhaul around the rest of the engine to finally see if it’ll work well when you start the car.
The thing that never changed from the current era of Cardinals’ football, the culture, remained with Keim’s presence.
I think that there’s no way to know if the engine of the Cardinals offense is working with just how much in the shop needs to be fixed...perhaps the overall culture gets a change with a new coach.
Either a veteran one, or one who brings a brand new culture.
Cause the one under Steve Wilks in 2018...clearly wasn’t one that led to long-term success or even short-term success. He wasn’t able to hire his own offensive coach or even draft a quarterback to take over a run-first attack or given time to establish his culture and defense.
His ability to see some success in turning around the Carolina Panthers shows how, in a way, the established culture and people under Wilks show just how a coach may be important, but so is everything else.
And there’s one trend that’s been consistent all throughout the previous eras of Cardinals football has been Michael Bidwill as the Team President. I’d expect that to continue for some time, but ultimately there’s more than a frame or an engine needing to be replaced.
The organization needs a shift in culture. I think a new head coach and general manager, something that Arizona DID do back in 2013 (and it resulted in the winningest period in Cardinals’ history) should be on the docket.
But in the meantime, I’ll mourn this period. There were highlights with trades, some exciting draft gems and great wins. I like Kliff (don’t love him like some or despise him like others) and feel bad that this era’s had to end this way.
But after Sunday it’ll pretty much all be over.
And a new era will begin.