In the moments after the Cardinals’ blowout loss to the Broncos Thursday night, Steve Wilks said it was “premature” to talk about any changes yet because the situation had to be evaluated.
Friday, after the coach had his chance to digest the situation, change had arrived.
The Cardinals fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy – a possibility that had been speculated about for a couple of weeks – and promoted quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich to the job.
“As a head coach it’s my responsibility to make these tough decisions and do everything I can to make sure we have the right personnel, most importantly, the right coaches in the right positions,” Wilks said. “Seven weeks into the season, based on where we were on the offensive side of the ball, I felt the need to make a change.”
Wilks wouldn’t say the offense had become predictable, but “we weren’t productive enough,” he added. “And that may be an understatement.”
The Cardinals are averaging only 13.1 points a game – 31st in the league – and are last in the league in total yards a game, third-down conversion percentage, time of possession and rushing yards. They are 31st in passing yards. They have yet to have more than 269 yards of offense in a game.
Wilks said Leftwich is the right guy at the moment to help guide the development of rookie quarterback Josh Rosen. The coach wasn’t quite as concrete when asked if Leftwich had an interim title attached to his promotion, in large part because of the struggles the entire team has had in a 1-6 start.
“Right now, it’s hard to say that anybody is going to be permanent,” Wilks acknowledged.
The priorities, Wilks said, are to get Rosen in better positions to succeed – including tweaking pass protections for more maximum blockers and using him on play-action and bootlegs – and most importantly, getting running back David Johnson back into a starring role both in the running and passing games.
That’s why the hiring of Leftwich could help – Leftwich was a coaching intern in the 2016 season in which Johnson exploded with more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage rushing and receiving.
“With Byron being here before and being a part of that and understanding the success (Johnson) has had in the past, hopefully we can tap into that,” Wilks said.
Leftwich, the 2003 first-round pick of Jacksonville who played nine seasons in the NFL, was brought in by former coach Bruce Arians for that internship in 2016 and was promoted to quarterbacks coach in 2017. Arians also let Leftwich call plays in a couple of 2017 preseason games, so he does have some experience in that area.
“I’m a pretty confident guy, but I had never done it, and I had never practiced it,” Leftwich said in February. “That’s the tough part. Knowing B.A., B.A. ain’t going to give you two weeks in practice to prepare. He gave me a 10-play period to call them. The first time I ever called plays was in the game. I wish I would have done a few things here and there better, but that’s the exciting part of growing in this business. That helped my growth.”
When Wilks was hired, he kept Leftwich on staff as quarterbacks coach.
The playbook and scheme aren’t changing, Wilks said. How it is deployed will be. As quarterbacks coach, Leftwich already had some input on what to use.
“I told Byron this, Josh is a smart and intelligent guy,” Wilks said. “He can handle a lot. I think it’s clarity. That’s what we need. And we didn’t have that.”
Last season, McCoy was let go by the Broncos in mid-season, after a 3-1 start for Denver sunk during a six-game losing streak. The Broncos ended up McCoy’s foil for a second straight season by holding the Cardinals to 223 yards Thursday night in the 45-10 loss.
Rosen is also coming off his worst game, with five turnovers.
“I definitely lean on the other quarterbacks in the room, and Byron has helped me a ton,” Rosen said prior to his first start last month.
Wilks said for now, there will be no further changes to the coaching staff, and the Cardinals will operate with one less offensive coach. The Cardinals have a mini-bye this weekend, will host the 49ers a week from Sunday, and then have their regular bye week after that.
Wilks said he has “constant communication” with the offense, as he did with McCoy, but that it is Leftwich’s side of the ball to run.
“I try to stay where my expertise is, which is defense, but I want to know what is going on in all three phases,” Wilks said. “I tell them some of the things I see when I watch tape. I don’t tell them what to call.”
ROSEN TOE SHOULD BE “FINE”
Rosen has a sprained toe on his left foot, Wilks said, and he is in a walking boot. But Wilks added Rosen “should be fine” to make his start against the 49ers at State Farm Stadium a week from Sunday. Guards Mike Iupati (back) and Justin Pugh (hand) – the latter of whom was active Thursday but didn’t play – are day-to-day.