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Brilliant Coaching By Committee, And Browns Aftermath

When the Cardinals coaching staff was put together, suggestions came from beyond Kliff Kingsbury, since Kingsbury had yet to coach in the NFL. GM Steve Keim had some ideas of candidates, and the two managed to put together a solid group.

Two years later, the Cardinals are 6-0, and it is not a coincidence that the coaching staff has been almost unchanged. That matters anyway, but Sunday, in Cleveland with no head coach (and no quarterbacks coach) it meant a ton.

Without Kingsbury, assistant wide receivers coach Spencer Whipple called the plays, discussing things with run game coordinator Sean Kugler. Mike Berkovici donned the green baseball cap Cam Turner has made famous. Assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph split Kingsbury's head coaching chores.

And 37 points and 352 yards later, the offense sure looked OK whipping the Browns, 37-14 – especially against a defense that was fifth-ranked in the NFL coming into the game. And the other two phases of the game were excellent too.

The game plan was the game plan – that's what Christian Kirk said – and Kingsbury was part of everything all week. He was a big part of the win with his planning. But to get the execution across the board the way the Cardinals did – that's how teams win titles. Figuring it out like that.

No, I'm not saying the Lombardi Trophy was won Sunday. But the Cardinals every week seem to be showing more and more why they are contenders.

-- While Sunday's win means a ton, the Covid issues don't just disappear. Those out can return as soon as they get two consecutive negative tests – assuming they are asymptomatic – but if not, they have to be out 10 days. That means there is still a chance Kingsbury and others could miss a second game.

"I think everyone is nervous about the COVID issues," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "Obviously, if you have one positive, there can be two or three more. I'm surprised there weren't more. Right now it's a moving target."

-- Kyler Murray was checking out of plays early and often – the first run by Chase Edmonds that popped for 40 yards was a check – and Murray admitted with a grin that Kingsbury's absence probably "let me have a little more leeway."

"I guess they did give me a little more freedom for whatever I did see to go with it," Murray said. "That is what they were saying the whole time. Whatever you see, go with it. I stick with that same rule. If it makes sense, you have a plan, but you have to go with it. I think we did a great job."

-- The Cardinals are 4-0 on the road, and have won each game by no fewer than 12. The Cardinals, in their franchise history, had never won four straight road games by double digits.

-- J.J. Watt had another good game, coming up with his first sack as a Cardinal on a play where Baker Mayfield landed with his left arm in a position it wasn't supposed to be in. Watt frantically motioned for the Browns sideline, but Mayfield ended up staying in the game – although his left arm was in a sling after the game and he said it "felt like s*."

-- Watt lined up early at outside linebacker and actually dropped into coverage on the game's first play.

-- The Cardinals stopped the Browns three more times (in four tries) on fourth down. Do not try Vance Joseph on fourth downs, now.

-- DeAndre Hopkins' numbers were not great – three catches for 55 yards. But he caught two touchdowns, including one ridiculous 13-yard twist-and-fight score when three Browns were around him at the 10. He also drew two defensive pass interference penalties to boost a touchdown drive. You can't measure his worth just by numbers. Not this season.

-- The Hail Mary can't happen. I know Joseph said he needs to coach it better, but there were guys in no man's land and it just can't be that easy. That said, it was really the defense's lone nit to pick. The Browns, best rushing team in the league, only had 73 yards as a team. Kareem Hunt only had 66 yards – thanks to the Cards' building the early lead – before going out with what looked like a not-very-nice injury.

-- If Byron Murphy had just been able to hang on to that interception right before the Hail Mary …

-- Joseph said he wasn't sure how Corey Peters is getting home. Since he tested positive, he can't fly on the charter. I'm guessing Michael Bidwill has a way to make it work.

-- Injury-wise, there were non-Covid issues. Defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence left the game with a calf injury, something that bears watching if Zach Allen and Peters can't come back this week. Tight end Darrell Daniels left with a hamstring, but Zach Ertz is on deck. And linebacker Kylie Fitts also left the game.

-- Grinder James Conner, 71 yards on 16 carries and the perfect bulldozer to close that game. On the last 93-yard drive to kill off the Browns, Conner had six carries.

-- A.J. Green had the quietest 5-79-1 game, but again, the Cards have so many weapons. It's a problem

-- Of course it's a problem. Everything is a problem for Cards' opponents right now. They are 6-0, with the Watt-Hop Texans reunion in a week. Zero chance the Cardinals overlook Houston because of that.

Time to fly home. With my mask on.

Cardinals coaches (from left) Sean Kugler, Mike Bercovici, Spencer Whipple and Jeff Rodgers.
Cardinals coaches (from left) Sean Kugler, Mike Bercovici, Spencer Whipple and Jeff Rodgers.