And down the stretch the Cardinals come, with a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Up next, a battle at home against a team that is actually practicing closer to the stadium than the Cards. Anyway, mailbag time. As always, send along a question for a future mailbag by going here.
From Bob Haines via azcardinals.com:
"Darren, another clutch win for the Cardinals. Looking forward, I believe a win against the injury-riddled 49ers would probably get the Cardinals in the playoffs as the Bears have to play the Packers in Green Bay the final week of the season. Just wondering, if the Rams lose to the Seahawks next week and the Cardinals can manage to finally beat the Rams in Week 17, would the Cardinals jump the Rams in the playoff scenario? Thanks for all the great articles you write each week and the mailbag. Have a Merry Christmas."
If the Cardinals beat the Rams, assuming they beat the 49ers too, yes, they would surpass the Rams if the Rams lose to the Seahawks. If the Cards beat the Rams and the teams are tied in the standings, the Cardinals will also surpass the Rams. (As an aside, the Cardinals clinch a playoff spot this week if they beat the Niners and the Bears lose to the Jaguars.)
From Dhruvraj Parmar via azcardinals.com:
"Hey Darren, hello again from New Jersey and thanks for the mailbag. I have seen our younger players step up to the plate time and again. Byron Murphy with some critical pass break-ups and Hail Mary bat down. Not enough people are talking about Isaiah Simmons stop on the two-point attempt. What other young player stands out for you (other then Kyler)?"
I mean, I guess it's the definition of young. I like the flashes I've seen from Leki Fotu. I like Dan Arnold. Is Chase Edmonds still young? I mean, Dennis Gardeck, amirite?
From Luce Brown via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren. We need to have a serious talk about Dennis Gardeck. And it bothers me when I hear discussion around him with the tone of 'Oh, the loveable special teamer got another sack! How fun!' Its not longer a fluke or novelty act. Gardeck is legitimately really freakin good at getting to the QB. Specifically his speed and bend on the edge is elite. Yes, ELITE. He should be considered for starter reps. He's a better pass rusher than Kennard, that's clear. And he might be better than Reddick, if he got the same snap count. In my eyes, I see a Clay Matthews. Who was a full-time Pro Bowl pass rusher. Gardeck should get consideration to be the starting pass rusher opposite of Chan next year. WHY NOT?"
Also, from @edburmila viat Twitter:
"Everybody's talking about Gardeck's big production from limited snaps, but isn't part of the reason he produces that his snaps are limited? He's so undersized (and already playing a ton on special teams) that he'd have to be situational. Or could he evolve into a full-time player?"
I decided to package together these two Gardeck questions. I understand both. Now, is Gardeck another Clay Matthews? I don't think so, with all due respect to Gardeck. He is physically smaller, which is why he wasn't heavily recruited and why he wasn't drafted. Now, has he proven himself worthy to be part of the pass rush rotation? Absolutely. But it's funny that Kennard is mentioned, because Kennard basically is no longer a pass rusher. It's Reddick, Golden, Gardeck and sometimes these days, Simmons. I agree with Ed -- part of his success is that his snaps are limited, in a way that maximizes his talents. If he's out there most plays and it isn't an obvious passing down, then Gardeck is just a smaller defender on the edge and that is dangerous for a defense. Clearly, he is showing some elite tools, but that doesn't mean he is elite. I think Vance Joseph is using him quite well right now.
From @Clemme9K via Twitter:
"So with the emergence of Gardeck on defense, and Reddick finally being in the right place, how would that impact the Cards' plans for OLB during FA? How does it impact Chandler? Would they try to re-sign all three? Play tag with either of them?"
Jones is under contract through 2021, so nothing has to be done with Chandler right now. Gardeck is a restricted free agent, but there is little question he has earned some extra money getting done what he has on defense. Reddick is an interesting question. To tag him would cost you $15 million next season (and against the cap, so that's all but impossible.) Reddick has also earned himself some cash. Gardeck is so important on special teams, you need him around. Markus Golden is also a free agent. I do not envy the decisions Steve Keim will have to make this offseason, in a year where the cap will plummet.
From Fella Kote via azcardinals.com:
"D.J. Humphries is special in a lot of ways. I can't think of a better 'home grown' success story. Because not only is D.J. performing like an all-pro left tackle every week, but it's all the more astounding when you remember where he came from. He was a bust. Not just his rookie year, when he was so immature I thought B.A. was gonna cut him. But he was a lousy LT for probably three years. Then he was average for a couple more years. Suddenly he's one of the best in the whole league. How? What happened? 'I worked hard' is not it. Every bum uses that canned answer. Working hard is worthless if you don't work correctly. Did he meet the right coach? Did something happen in his personal life (not to pry)? Nobody ever changes this much, it's weird."
Nobody ever changes this much? Tons of players/people change this much. I don't think it's odd at all. I'll disagree that he was ever "lousy." He was hurt a lot and that did not help. He was, by his own admission, immature. The coaching style of Arians and Harold Goodwin did not mesh with Humphries in the least. And nothing offensively went well in 2018. But mostly, Humphries has just worked hard on his craft. He is happy. But the Cards weren't giving a giant extension to a tackle who was average, which he was under your timeline when he got his contract in February.
From Malcolm T. Sloan via azcardinals.com:
"Darren, I hope you can explain this to me. When we go into up-tempo, there are many times where we seem to be at the line of scrimmage ready to go, yet the official is standing near the ball and/or by the center with arms outstretched, preventing us from running a play, forcing us to wait. Often, this has happened as the play clock is getting perilously close to zero. The announcers never tell us why the official does this. Can you?"
I can. The rule is, if a team substitutes on offense, the defense must be given a chance to substitute. To make sure it happens, the official stands as you say, preventing the snap. If the play clock is too close to winding down, it is because the offensive coaches didn't make their playcall soon enough, subs came on the field late, and the defense didn't get its chance until later -- because the playclock doesn't stop. Smart coaches like Bill Belichick can use this to their defensive advantage, because if you sub too late on offense, he's going to take his sweet time making defensive subs and force you to take a timeout.
From Hale Wayans via azcardinals.com:
"Heya Darren, another great article postgame. DeAndre Hopkins talking about how he has that Mamba mentality and wants the ball every third down and clutch situation stood out to me, because we don't go to Hopkins as much as we should. And I wonder why. Because we see every week how amazing Hop is. It's really cool to see a reincarnate of young Larry out there. Just throw it near him, and he will catch it. So why don't we throw to him more? And yes yes, I realize Hopkins is setting career receiving stats this year. But all the same, we need to throw to him more. Ten catches every game honestly shouldn't be unreachable."
I understand the argument. It makes sense. And there are times I wonder why Hopkins isn't targeted more, or in different situations. But this doesn't happen in a vacuum. There are going to be times/defenses that make it much harder to get the ball to Hop, and I'm not a fan of forcing things just for the sake of forcing things. I think there is a happy medium there. Look, every receiver wants the ball all the time, and a receiver like D-Hop has an argument -- but it doesn't make sense all the time, and figuring that out is what makes teams winners. Hopkins is second in catches and first in yards. There are a handful of elite pass catchers out there right now -- does that mean all of them are being underutilized?
From Haley Cleo via azcardinals.com:
"Hellooo Darren! I'm concerned. We can can guesstimate that Eno doesn't play because his pass blocking is lackluster. But you don't get better at that if you don't play. It's a catch-22. The guy isn't getting any bigger. He's like Darren Sproles. His game isn't based on those things. He's an offensive weapon. Sincerely, it's not just because he's our ASU sweet baby angel. Eno is a really good player that should be utilized if Drake or Eddy go down. And especially next year when there's a likely rotational back opening. Thanks."
OK, now ... Eddy? I've got to ask Chase about that. And of course you're not asking because he's your "ASU sweet baby angel" so I'm glad we have clarified. Look, as I noted in my Friday Before this past week, this has basically been a redshirt year for Eno. They didn't think they could get him to the practice squad without being scooped up, but he wasn't ready. This team has a good chance at the playoffs without using him, so I don't think they've made a mistake, and he'll have a chance to prove he's ready for 2021 this offseason. Yes, you need to play to improve. But there are other things at stake in games besides individual improvement.
From jpr cards via azcardinals.com:
"To me it seems clear that the Cardinals offense in general and Kyler Murray specifically have looked completely out of sorts since the very moment that Murray sustained the shoulder injury on that Thursday night in Seattle. I mean the timing seems to exactly match up. Do you get any indication from any sources that the injury is hampering Murray far more than he and Kingsbury are letting on?"
No one is 100 percent this time of year. But once he isn't on the injury report anymore, which he is not, that indicates it isn't. (If they are ever caught otherwise, there is hell to pay with the league. Injury report rules are no joke.) Besides, the way he has run the past couple of games, in traffic and getting hit, makes me think there is no way they would risk it if Murray were still hurting.
By Junior Gomez via azcardinals.com:
"Is somebody gonna get in trouble for those 4X gloves that Hop claims caused him to fumble? I hope not. But in the back of my mind I consider the billion dollar enterprise that is the NFL, and scapegoats are constantly being sought. My friend and I were discussing that. To we fans, it's no big deal. But in reality there might be some frightened assistant equipment intern in hiding right now."
To be fair, Hopkins didn't claim the gloves made him fumble. He was asked about chucking them away. Hop isn't the guy who would blame gloves for his own mistake. Because gloves didn't make him do it. And no, no one would be "in trouble." Hop put the gloves on and wore them. If they were that much of a problem, he should've said something pregame as soon as he put them on. I know these guys are pro athletes, but they still need to be responsible for themselves. Reminds me of the road trip to Detroit in 2015 when Carson Palmer forgot to pack his knee brace. They are all big boys here.
From FitzWatch2020 via azcardinals.com:
"Since the dreams of Larry Fitzgerald getting the receptions record have long since been dashed, I shall now pivot over to a new clock watch. Introducing HOPWATCH2020. DeAndre Hopkins needs 248 yards to tie his career season best of 1,572 yards. We of course want to see him break that. So that's 249 yards. Averages to 125 yards each in the next two games vs. the 49ers and Rams. Darren, does he do it?"
I certainly wouldn't rule it out, but the Rams with Jalen Ramsey have a pretty good player to match up with him and makes it tough to get those 100 yards. I'm curious to see how the Niners deal with him after he lit them up in the opener.
From Mike from Phoenix via azcardinals.com:
"Hey Darren, I understand nobody like a Debbie Downer. I called into the postgame show trying to discuss Kyler, and got shamed for not just 'enjoying the win.' Not unlike fan forums, who shout you down for the smallest of criticisms. But I can only be honest. Kyler doesn't look like a long-term franchise QB. He has amazing flashes of talent. I know the stats are big and impressive. But on a snap-by-snap basis, he just isn't consistent. And never has been. We are close to the conclusion of year 2, and he's not taken 'the big step.' He's much better about not taking bad sacks, I absolutely praise him for that. But otherwise, I don't see growth. Despite his quiet, cool demeanor off the field, I see a kid who panics a lot on the field. His reads aren't great. Its weird how he seems to forget about his running ability, or is afraid to (who knows). All I know is we live in a world of comparisons. And 'career start No. 1' Jalen Hurts looked like the calm, poised, accurate veteran QB, compared to Year 2 Kyler. What do you see?"
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But I gotta pause if you are suggesting Jalen Hurts -- who actually has started twice -- is better than Kyler right now. I've got to wonder what exactly is the big step it is that you seek, and exactly who are you comparing him to. Mahomes? Probably not fair, since it looks like Mahomes is on a level by himself. There are no other quarterbacks out there that are what you are talking about. Lamar Jackson has clunkers sometimes. Watson. Big Ben. Even Rodgers, especially in the recent past, before this year.
I 100 percent agree Kyler still makes mistakes. Most QBs do, and he still hasn't finished his second season. I'm not saying he'll be Peyton or Brady. But I look at the guy who played in 2019 and absolutely see a better QB. I'm not sure how you do not. If he wasn't getting better they wouldn't be 8-6 with a chance to make the playoffs.
From Alvin Vasicek via azcardinals.com:
"How stupid is it that the Cardinals next game is being telecast on Amazon Prime rather than a network that most fans have available for free viewing? It is the end of the season and probably the most important game on the schedule and many folks, including me, will not pay to watch it on Amazon. How much sense does that make to literally cancel out many of the Cardinal fans in the interest of Amazon Prime."
Let's clarify some things here. 1) If you live in the local markets of either team, it will be also broadcast over the air. And 2) it takes a little doing, but you can sign up for a free 30-day trial of Amazon Prime, watch the game, and then cancel. So it wouldn't cost you anything but time. Big picture, this is something people need to understand -- times, they are a-changin'. As we go forward, the chances only increase that at some point, a streaming service is going to have a package of NFL games. In fact, it's more a question of when and not if. I don't know your age, but for the younger crowd especially, streaming is the future. The NFL isn't going to ignore that.
From Gary Gammiero via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren. What's new with Chandler Jones? Does he attend the home games and stand on the sidelines to watch? Have you talked to him recently? How is his rehab going if you did?"
I have not had a chance to talk to Chandler recently. He has been around the facility and rehabbing, but unfortunately, after the most recent round of COVID protocols, I was one of the people that no longer can be around players so I have no chance to even pass by him. But I have heard he is in good spirits and rehab is going well. I don't know about attending games.
From Tom Cowley via azcardinals.com:
"What is the outlook for Andy Isabella?"
Good question. When he has had the opportunity of late, it does seem like KeeSean Johnson is doing well, and as long as that is the case -- and perhaps in the nod to move DeAndre Hopkins inside a little more often, so Johnson is outside and there is no place for Isabella --I am guessing Johnson remains the choice over Andy. Clearly, the step forward for Isabella this season has not happened. This will be a big offseason for him, and next year he'll be under the spotlight.
From Charles Oliver via azcardinals.com:
"Darren, I noticed praise was given Brentson Buckner and another guy (Charlie Bullen) as LB coach. Is LB coach Billy Davis still with the team? How many new coaches are there from the 2019 staff?"
Davis is still around. Bullen was Davis' assistant linebackers coach last season and was promoted in the offseason, so Bullen took over for outside linebackers -- where Haason Reddick was -- and Davis is handling inside linebackers. The full coaching roster is here.
From Chad Johnson via azcardinals.com:
"Can you explain the factors that determine the salary cap number each year? Rumor is the cap will go down, but how can that happen when teams have committed to long-term contracts that have to be paid out (old deals potentially putting teams over the cap)? How does this impact the 2021 rookie deals? Do teams allocate a certain amount of funds for rookie deals and could they choose to use that money to sign vets instead of rookies?"
I'll be writing about this more extensively in the offseason but here is the Cliff's Notes version. (Or in this case, Kliff's?) The cap is based upon a percentage of the total revenue the NFL brings in each season. Obviously, with few or no fans in the stands, that revenue stands to drop quite a bit. The NFL and NFLPA agreed to spread whatever shortcomings there might be over three seasons, but it will go down. There is a floor of a $175 million cap for 2021 even if the numbers would've made it lower. But the current cap is around $198 million and most years, it went up about $10M. Teams would make their contracts based on that knowledge.
And how does this impact long-term contracts. Potentially very ugly. Players still have to be paid under current deals. Several teams -- not the Cardinals -- will have to cut or restructure a lot of players. There will be some surprising free agents out there after they are released. Now, last I saw, the Cards, even with a $175M cap, have about $20M in cap room for 2021 according to overthecap.com. However, that is because of all the players they have with expiring contracts, and they, like most teams, will have to work hard to put together the kind of roster they want in 2021.
From Jasper Wiese via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren, thanks again for your mailbag! I noticed that many players wear tinted or colored helmet visors during practice and warmups before the games. But on the other hand those visors are rarely used during games (and if then mostly clear visors are used). Do you have any idea why that happens? Are some visors not permitted for game use? Thanks a lot and "Go Cards" from Germany!"
You are correct. Tinted visors are generally not allowed for game use (some waivers can be gained by players if they have a valid reason.) So they wear the "cool" ones in practice or warmups, and change for games.
From Robert Malicki via azcardinals.com:
"Would you, Darren, address the issue of the Wild Card playoff game if it matches up the same two teams who played one another in the season finale? There are pros and cons to the same opponent in consecutive weeks. After all , the NHL has a nice tradition of 'instant replay' that works out very well. But, the NFL schedule in recent years has been drawn toward having two and even three divisional opponents to finish out the season. Now, with a third wild card team, you have the real possibility of facing the challenge of playing a division rival in consecutive weeks, like the Cardinals visiting the Rams in the playoffs. Next year there may be 17 games. Maybe that final game could be designated the yet to be decided upon, 'Who is that mystery extra opponent?' "
There will never be a "mystery opponent" because too much goes into planning for a game, especially with fans. The league likes to finish in the division because they always hope for some win-and-you're-in scenarios (especially one so they can flex it into "Sunday Night Football.") It's not like it hasn't happened before to the Cardinals -- in 2009, the Cards played the Packers in the preseason, again in the season finale at then-University of Phoenix Stadium, and then again at UoP in one of the greatest playoff games ever.
From David Beiber via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren. My wife and I are loyal Cardinals fans. She believes Kyler should always wear his 'yellow cleats.' He did very well in the game he had them on, and my wife says he looks 'even cuter' in them. (I know you hate uniform questions, but I thought this one is classic.)"
I'm not sure why you put yellow cleats in quotes, because that's what they are. And I'm hoping your wife was cool with you putting this out for the world. My wife I'm not so sure would've liked such a spotlight. I'll let Kyler know about his cute feet factor.