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Kliff Kingsbury Could Follow Bruce Arians’ Successful Path With Cardinals

Coach Kliff Kingsbury on the sideline against the 49ers.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury on the sideline against the 49ers.

TAMPA, Fla. – The coaching styles of Bruce Arians and Kliff Kingsbury mesh about as well as oil and water.

“B.A. is a lot more gruff, old-school, mother-(expletive)-you type coaching,” defensive tackle Corey Peters said. “Kliff is a lot more laidback, positive, younger style, more energy.”

Their time in Arizona has also been vastly different.

Arians – now the coach of the Cardinals’ Week 10 foe, Tampa Bay – is the winningest coach in franchise history with a 49-30-1 mark over five years, while Kingsbury is only nine games into his tenure.

Despite the variances in experience and temperament, there are reasons to believe Kingsbury is on his way to mirroring Arians’ success with the Cardinals.

Arians proved his mettle early by taking a Cardinals team that went 5-11 in 2012 and turning it into a 10-win team in his debut campaign. Kingsbury has the Cardinals at 3-5-1 one year after a 3-13 season, and the offense has made massive strides in a short time.

The Xs and Os are key for both, as Arians relied on his aggressive style to transform both sides of the ball in Arizona, while Kingsbury has found success with his Air Raid principles. But Peters sees something more critical.

“The most important thing with coaches is to be authentic, and with those two guys, Bruce Arians and Kliff, they really have that,” Peters said. “Guys in this locker room can see through any bull (expletive). It’s not going to play over well if you’re trying to be something that you’re not.”

Kingsbury and Arians will match wits on Sunday, and there could be a bevy of points from the offensive architects. The Buccaneers are allowing 31.5 points per game and the Cardinals are giving up 27.9.

Tampa Bay is only allowing 3.4 yards per carry – second in the NFL – but the Bucs’ pass defense has been an issue, and Kingsbury hopes rookie quarterback Kyler Murray and the offense can continue its impressive recent stretch following an inconsistent first month.

“We all kind of adjusted how we were approaching it, what we needed to do, and how we could maximize who we were,” Kingsbury said. “The biggest thing that I’ve seen (Murray) make strides in is ball security, eliminating negative plays and just overall how he carries himself in the building, the preparation and the leadership qualities. It’s a work in progress and will be, but he has stepped up in all those areas.”

The Cardinals have the fewest giveaways in the NFL with four, all on interceptions by Murray in the first four games. He has not turned the ball over since September and is five passes away from setting a rookie record with 177 consecutive attempts without an interception.

Murray said his ball security has not come at the expense of taking chances.

“Whatever I see, I trust my eyes, trust my reads, trust the guys running routes and kind of just let it go,” Murray said. “I can’t play scared.”

The Buccaneers are on the other end of the spectrum with 18 turnovers, including 12 interceptions by quarterback Jameis Winston. When Tampa Bay holds onto the ball, it has been explosive, as it is averaging 28.4 points per game and hung 55 on the Rams.

Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are among the best wide receiver duos in the NFL, and Arians will test a Cardinals pass defense that has given up 24 touchdowns and picked off only two passes.

The Cardinals were poor defending third down last week against the 49ers, allowing a conversion rate of 65 percent, including three on San Francisco’s game-clinching final drive.

“I was shocked and disappointed,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. “We won first down versus a team that didn’t lose first down. We forced 17 third downs, and I think half of them were five-plus. And we didn’t win.”

It’s been a mild surprise that the Cardinals’ offense has easily outpaced its defense, and while the coverage issues are a concern, the growth of Kingsbury and Murray is promising.

While wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald didn’t want to analyze the abilities of Arians and Kingsbury -- “I’m not any expert at coaching acumen. I would probably suck as a coach myself.” -- he has been impressed by the game-plan variations Kingsbury brings each week.

As a road underdog, Kingsbury may need to out-scheme Arians and former Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to help his team pull the upset. If it happens, it would be the latest sign that the Cardinals chose smartly in tabbing Kingsbury as their coach.

“He’s constantly working on improving what we’re already doing, making what we’re doing more effective,” Fitzgerald said. “I love the fact that when you come in on a Wednesday morning, you’ve got to have your nose in the book, because there are going to be some things that you haven’t seen before. I love the mental challenge of being able to digest what he has up his sleeve every week.”

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