Kliff and Kyler are the new faces of the Cardinals… but it’s still the same old franchise. | Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The last two weeks are the most I’ve been disappointed I’ve been with this team in a while. Here’s where I’m at with this team right now. WARNING: Semi-rant incoming.
I’ll admit it: I got suckered in by this team after the first two weeks. Despite preaching all offseason that we probably wouldn’t be a playoff team, those first two games had me—like a lot of Cardinals fans—believing. After the dramatic road win over the 49ers then taking care of business at home against Washington, I was all aboard the “5-0 start” train and had visions of wild card weekend dancing in my head.
Yep, I bought the hype. I should have known I was being suckered.
In the past two weeks, we gave away a game at home against the Lions and got steamrolled on the road by a rebuilding Panthers team sans Christian McCaffrey to silence any buzz generated by that 2-0 start. Those are not games playoff teams lose.
Next up is another trip to the East Coast to face the 0-4 Jets, the laughingstock of the league. We’re somehow favored by a touchdown in that one. Does anyone feel THAT confident in this team after watching the last two games? The offense is sputtering, the defense is a sieve, and the players look passive and undisciplined in all phases of the game. Yet we’re supposed to beat a team by 7 on the road in a 10:00 a.m. body clock game?
I don’t think so. We’ll find a way to make this game embarrassingly close. If not lose it outright.
THAT’S where I’m at with this team right now. Why? I’m happy to break it down for you.
Where I’m At With The Offense: Frustrated
Let’s start with what people were most excited about going into the season—Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, Kenyan Drake, and the offense. DeAndre Hopkins has been as advertised—‘nuff said there. Kyler has looked absolutely electric at times, especially running the football (he’s still on pace for 1,000 yards rushing), but he’s also averaging only 6.4 YPA and is on pace for 20 INTs. He’s just not good enough as a passer right now. It’s not all his fault, but some of the offense’s struggles are absolutely on him.
But a big part of it is on the lack of playmakers around him. Hopkins leads the team with 39 receptions on 46 targets with 397 yards—he’s been a beast. But Larry Fitzgerald is second on the team with just 14 receptions on 18 targets, which he’s turned into 88 touchdown-less yards. He needs to be dropped down the depth chart at this point. Andy Isabella has been a pleasant surprise with 117 yards and 2 TDs, but he’s only been targeted 10 times. Hopefully he sees more playing time moving forward—he’s earned it. Christian Kirk is looking like a bust at this point; anything we can get out of him is a bonus.
Finally, the running game aside from Kyler has been incredibly disappointing. Drake is averaging 64 YPG on 3.8 YPC with only a single 1-yard TD run. He’s just not getting it done. The 26th-ranked O-line hasn’t helped (and that’s not getting any better this year), but the force of nature from the second half of last season is gone. Chase Edmonds hasn’t looked much better running the ball, but at least he’s a receiving threat. I agree with Walter that he needs to be a bigger part of the offense.
Overall, this has been a very mediocre offense (#18 in YPG, #21 in PPG)—unacceptable in a season when the league is setting all kinds of scoring records. I’m frustrated that we can’t do better than that despite Kyler’s pedigree and Kliff’s reputation.
Where I’m At With The Defense: Exasperated
First, it’s worth pointing out that this unit is massively improved from last season, statistically speaking. After 4 games, we’re sitting at #15 in YPG and #9 in PPG, and we’re top-10 in sacks (despite Chandler Jones going MIA). But this has come against the #16 (SF), #20 (CAR), #21 (DET), and #31 (WAS) offenses by DVOA—not exactly a murderer’s row. Remaining on the schedule are two games each against the #4 and #5 offenses (SEA and LAR), as well as #6 (DAL), #11 (BUF) and #15 (NE), plus another matchup against SF. Any takers on whether our YPG and PPG rankings will be top-20 at the end of the season?
And other than the first half against Washington, you’d think you were watching last season’s defense most of the time. The 4th quarter especially has been trouble. Against the Niners, we gave up the go-ahead TD on a 6-play, 78-yard drive. Then there were the two sub-3:00, 75+ yard drives TD against Washington. And then the game-killing 10-play, 70-yard drive against the Lions. Not to mention the 15-play, 73-yard FG drive last week that took up almost half the quarter and prevented any kind of comeback attempt. And turnovers have been almost nonexistent—just 3 on the year. If the offense has been frustrating, the defensive lapses have been heartbreaking.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for this, but it starts with the players on the field. Other than Budda Baker (who’s hurt), we don’t have a single starter playing at an above-average level. Most of the defensive leaders (Jones, Corey Peters, Jordan Hicks, De’Vondre Campbell) are mired in slow starts—not playing poorly, but not up to expectations. The obvious exception is Patrick Peterson, who has simply been one of the worst CBs in the league in the first month of the season (90/112 CBs per PFF). He’s doing his best to sabotage his Canton resume. The rest of the secondary has been riddled with injuries, the young guys aren’t stepping up (or being given the opportunity to), and big plays are few and far between. Maybe this unit recovers and has a good game against
Sam Darnold Joe Flacco, but that would just be a temporary panacea before Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson come calling.
This unit has some decent surface stats right now, but the worst is yet to come unless something drastically changes. This is just an exasperating unit.
Where I’m At With The Coaching Staff: Waiting
I guess you could say I’m still a believer in Kliff Kingsbury, but I’m starting to wonder if that’s mostly because he’s likeable and good with the media. He still struggles with in-game adjustments (watching the offense against a bad Panthers defense on Sunday was an exercise in futility), and we’ve been among the most-penalized teams in the league since he arrived in the desert. (And note we were among the least-penalized teams under Steve Wilks.) But the improvement in the red zone offense has been astounding—we’re 11/14 (79%) in red zone TD percentage after scoring a TD on just 24/53 trips (45%) last season. If he can improve like that in other areas, we’ll have a good one on our hands.
I have some minor questions about most of the rest of the staff. I wonder if an actual offensive coordinator would help. We have Tom Clements as the passing game coordinator, but the passing game hasn’t really clicked yet with him at the helm. I keep looking at some of the truly dynamic passing attacks in the league (Kansas City, Dallas, Seattle) and keep wondering why we don’t consistently throw downfield like them. We need vertical, not horizontal, in the 2020 offensive landscape. And Jeff Rodgers has been a capable special teams coordinator, but our units have consistently ranked below average per DVOA after a strong showing in 2018.
Those are minor questions. I have—and have had, for a long time—major questions about DC Vance Joseph. I didn’t think he was a strong candidate when he was hired, was disgusted by how the unit played in his first season on the job, and was surprised—and disappointed—when he was brought back this season. And don’t even get me started on the Isaiah Simmons situation, which is quickly becoming a debacle. Quite simply, he’s holding this team back and the longer he remains defensive coordinator, the worse off this team will be. When the wheels completely fall off this defense later in the season—and it’s coming—the team might be forced to make a change. Firing Joseph won’t cure everything that ails this team (see below), but it certainly would help.
Outside of Joseph, I’m not too worried about our coaching staff. But, like Kyler, Kingsbury needs to show more improvement, and the defense clearly needs a new voice. I’m just waiting to see if/when those things happen.
Where I’m At With The Front Office: Resigned
Of course, the architect of this frustrating offense, maddening defense, and mismatched coaching staff is GM Steve Keim. This team’s inconsistencies make perfect sense given who put it together—and how they put it together. This roster is a precarious construction of recent draft picks, free agent signings, trade acquisitions, and a few holdovers from old regimes. And the ratio of draft picks to everything else is out of whack.
Just look at Keim’s draft history—how many no-doubt, set-and-forget, every-week starters do you see on this team? It’s just Kyler and Budda, right? All right, you can throw in D.J. Humphries, too, but he’s more league-average than anything. And, sure, there are a few guys starting for other teams in there as well—but isn’t that part of the problem? Before Budda re-upped, Humphries was the only Keim draft pick to sign a true second contract with the team.
Free agency has been a decided mixed bag. Keim first rose to prominence for his “Keim Time” signings late in the offseason—and he may have done it again this year with Angelo Blackson. But the big-ticket signings lately—Sam Bradford, Terrell Suggs, Darius Philon, Robert Alford—have been more miss than hit. Even Jordan Hicks looks like a liability in sub packages. Early returns on this year’s class have been mostly positive, but it might not look that way in a year or two.
About the only thing Keim has done consistently well is trades—the deals for Chandler Jones, Kenyan Drake, and DeAndre Hopkins were all unequivocal home runs. But his records in the draft and free agency are beyond spotty, and the result is a roster that lacks cohesion, unlike the true top-tier contenders like the Cardinals—and all teams in the league—aspire to.
But you know what? I’m done calling for Keim to be fired. I’m also done lauding him when he makes good moves. I’m resigned to the fact that this is Keim’s ship to steer until he either reaches the shore of the promised land or completely wrecks it at sea. Michael Bidwill has had multiple chances to fire him and has declined to do so. At this point we just have to hope Kliff and Kyler are good enough to compensate for our GM’s inconsistent decision-making.
Where I’m At With This Team: Angry… Yet Hopeful
You’re damn right I’m PO’d at this team right now. This year has obviously been awful all around, but I thought for one brief moment that we might have a legitimate football team here in the desert. Watching a Cardinals playoff run might have made up for a lot of the awfulness of 2020. Not all of it, to be sure, but a lot of it.
But I really think that Kyler is The Guy to turn this team into one of those true contenders. Maybe not this season, but eventually. And, hell, maybe the boys will right the ship this week against the Jets and pull off a couple shockers against the Cowboys (although would that really be a shocker at this point?) and Seahawks to sucker me back in again. I’ve been a fan of this team since I was a kid in the Jake Plummer years. They always find a way to pull me back in.
I guess I’m just a sucker for this team. For better or for worse.