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You've Got Mail: 49ers Week, Part One

Topics include Kyler's best gameplan, Jordan Phillips return, and Kirk work

Mailbag Budda baby rock

A dominating win in Los Angeles has the Cardinals 4-0 heading into a second straight NFC West game against the 49ers, at home, against a rookie quarterback. With that, it's mailbag time. Go here to send in a question for a future mailbag.

From Elle Watson:

"They said that if we beat LA that we could get some more flexed primetime games. Is there a limit? If we go 6-0 and just get red hot, could we conceivably get a bunch of primetimes or do they just mean like one more primetime game than we're currently scheduled? I think we deserve more. And might I add it's ridiculous that we weren't the game of the week vs the rams. It's 2 undefeated teams for crying out loud. Nobody outside of Boston cares about Tom going back to play a 1-2 team."

Not sure who "they" are, but nevertheless, there is a chance the Cardinals could get another primetime game or two if they keep playing like this. There is a limit, but don't fret -- the Cards won't be threatening that total. It all depends on who is set up in the Sunday night slot -- which is the only primetime game that can be changed -- and who the Cards are facing. As for the Patriots-Bucs, that game couldn't have been flexed even if someone wanted to, and besides, the idea that Brady's return to New England wasn't going to be the main TV game that week is naïve.

From Nathan Mooney:

"Hey Darren. There are two schools of thought when it comes to defending rookie QBs. 1) They are rookies, so give them exotic looks and eat them alive. Or 2) They are the unknowns so it's the defense which is at a disadvantage. Mac Jones took it to the Bucs Sunday night. And I remember rookie Cam Newton setting records against us in his first game. Trey Lance appears to be next up this week. The guy is a runner. It's funny we are finally going to have deal with the headache Kyler gives others. So what is your position on defending rookie QBs? Do you think they prioritize spying vs Lance? Do you think be virtue of practicing vs Kyler that our D is in better shape?"

For me, it's a case-by-case basis. I have never seen much of Lance so I couldn't begin to guess how they might defend him. I know this -- given his inexperience, I expect them to use a lot of simple throws built off of play-action and pre-snap and on-snap movement to make the reads on throws as easy as possible for him. I think you could think about using a spy or a mush rush at times. But the way the Cards defense is playing, I like their situation against someone as inexperienced as Lance.

From Joe from Ottawa:

"Hi Darren. In the post game press conference Kyler mentioned that the game plan was the best he'd seen since turning pro. And I was happy that a couple reporters noticed that comment too. He of course declined to elaborate. But what do you think he meant by that? What is a "game plan?" Is it the list of plays that have on the playsheet for that week? It's a confusing concept because the game dictates the game plan. I'm sure the Rams game plan was to run more, but you can't when you're down 20."

A game plan is exactly that -- the plan for the game. It includes the plays you're going to use (not necessarily the order they are called) and also the mindset you're taking that week (for instance, we want to lean on inside runs early and hopefully wear down Aaron Donald by the fourth quarter.) You've also heard the cliché "we had to throw the game plan out the window." That probably happened to the Rams. The game plan was good, but again, one reason it was good was because it was executed well.

From JR Webb:

"Where are you during home games? You always tweet out that picture from the box which appears to be where Wolfley and Pasch broadcast from. But do you just hang out in there the whole game or does non production get kicked out?"

I gotta say, JR, I'm a little offended that you wouldn't think I have the status of a Pasch and Wolf. Not that they aren't marvelously talented. My picture is always (basically) my view from the press box, where I am through the game save for the last couple of minutes when I am down on the field. I'm curious to think where else you'd think I would be?

From Ben Cortney:

"What injury did Jordan Phillips get that he's still not ready after the IR stint? Kliff's comments certainly imply he's not close yet either. Did he get a surgery and we don't know about it?"

Because the injury happened before the season and he's never been on the injury report, Kingsbury has declined to specify the injury. So I don't know. I feel confident in saying he didn't get surgery, but I suppose I cannot say that with 100 percent certitude.

From Ari Apple:

"Being a 'member of the team' as it were, do you get to utilize any of the amenities at HQ? Better believe I'd go grab me a shake every chance I got if I could."

So if you had free reign your first move would be ... to get a daily shake? As for your question, I do have some access, but not nearly as much as the football staff. Daily shakes are not available to me.

From Jason W:

"Hello. I have a question about what happened on the field-goal attempt in Jacksonville. The player that is standing in the end zone waiting for the ball in case it falls short notices that it has a chance to go through, can they jump and try to block it while it is coming down? Is it looked at like the players on the line trying to jump up and block it. I know it sounds improbable but some of those guys have great verticals and if the ball is just barely getting over they might have a shot at it. Always enjoy reading the mailbag. Have a good day."

It is in fact illegal to to knock the ball away like that, if someone is able. Depending on how the play is interpreted by the officials, it would be a re-kick with a yardage penalty (I am not sure if it is 10 or 15 yards), or the officials do have the right to award three points.

From Lloyd Bradbury:

"Hey D, I really think Jalen Thompson had his coming-out game vs the Rams. I'll admit I was one of the people who didn't understand the hype. He was hurt all the time. And when he did play, I just didn't see anything special. Sunday, special finally showed up. He was so good. Excellent tackler. Laid the lumber on a couple WRs. Pretty good in pass D too. If he can sustain that, much like Kyler 'take the next step' our secondary is in incredible shape for years to come between Budda, Jalen, Marco, Murphy and who knows maybe even Tay Gowan develops into a starter too."

I agree that Jalen Thompson had a big game, his best of the year. I hesitate in calling anything a coming-out party because that needs to be proven over time. But I agree that the Cardinals could be in good shape in the secondary if all these guys develop.*

(* -- it is too early to know if Thompson and Wilson will get to that level, even if current returns impress.)

From Juan de la Peña:

"Hi Darren, what a win, almost as needed as enjoyable against these Rams. It's really nice to see a tight end being involved in the pass game this year. Do you think it's scheme/game planning or more about Maxx playing really good football that its making Kliff obligated to put the ball in his hands? Also, do you think Keim will be looking to upgrade once again the D-line? It looks like the opposing RBs are having huge holes. I think this is the only unit that can use another body, the rest of the team just looks spectacular and K1 is playing like a man in control. As always, thanks for this opportunity, GO CARDS!"

With the defensive line, they have another body. Jordan Phillips is going to come off IR at some point, and that's the guy you hope you can plug in. As for Maxx, personally I have always thought Williams could be effective when needed if he could just stay healthy. Between him staying on the field and Kyler evolving into a QB who is comfortable and confident enough to spread the ball around, I think that's why Williams has been a factor.

From Ezio White:

"What are your thoughts on Kyler blowing up at his teammates? Notably we saw him rip into Josh Jones for a false start. It's a slippery slope. I understand a QB should be a leader and it's good for him to keep guys in line. Brady is a notorious hot head and will rip his OL routinely. However, when Kyler does it, it comes across a smidge bit petulant. He's still growing and maturing."

I'm curious why you think it's OK for Brady and not Kyler. I see you said he's still maturing, but frankly, usually as you mature you're supposed to do less of that, no? Look, I don't think he does it all the time, and for a team that still struggles at times with the pre-snap penalties, maybe more tough love is what they need. If Kyler plays like he is playing, guys will listen.

From Kmore Black:

"Hi Darren, any thoughts on Kirk's one-catch day? A couple weeks ago I asked if there was anyway we could afford to keep him, but now it seems he's sinking back into obscurity a little bit. Is he hurt? Thanks."

I've gotta give you the award for overreaction question of the week, Kmore. He wasn't hurt -- he actually played a larger percentage of snaps Sunday than he played all year. And, man, tough crowd when he has one game without a lot of catches and you are concerned he could be "sinking back into obscurity." Just last week Kyler noted that for each receiver, some weeks they might eat, and others they won't. The Rams' game just happened to be a Kirk "won't" game.

From Aleksi Koskinen:

"Great team win on the road against a great Rams team! Great to see the team being so solid all around, as ball is distributed to the different offensive weapons without giving the opposition a chance to focus on just some hot player. Defensively I think the players are getting anxious to get the sacks, as it seemed without knowing exact assignments. Nevertheless there was pressure and whole defensive unit was great. I have a question too. What really counts as an injury needing to be reported with at least a questionable status to be mentioned? Was just thinking about this when seeing Markus Golden going through his groin area with a massage gun in the bench late in the game. It's a physical game and all players surely have some minor stuff going on, unless you play in a tuxedo like some formerly great cornerback."

Realistically, no one is going to be into October after a month's worth of games and training camp and feel great. It reminds me of Chase Edmonds after the Rams game, and he came into the interview room with a giant ice bad on his right shoulder. He was asked about it and he chuckled and said it was fine, that it was nothing, and in his world, it isn't. You have to list injuries that could end up being an issue -- because if you don't and for some reason it causes a player to sit out, you get dinged by the league. If a guy is going through practice fully, there is most of the time no reason to note anything.

From Kirsten Stewart:

"Will vaccine proof be needed to enter stadium on game days?"

No, vaccine proof is not required. But you never know if things could change. I will use this moment to say please get vaccinated if you have not already. The more people that are vaccinated, the safer the world is. (And go ahead and get angry in the comments with me if you so choose. But please get vaccinated.)

From Cy Fredrick:

"Thanks for the mailbag! GO Cards! Feels good to beat the Rams finally. I'll be at the game next week with my son, I would like to see them go 5-0 in person. Do you give much thought to the way players answer your (and other media members) questions in the press conferences? Obviously the range is wide. For every Belichick there probably is a D.J. Humphries or Bruce Arians. What are your thoughts on K1's press conferences? Where does he fit for you in players you enjoy interviewing?"

Every person/player is different. Of course I give thought to what they say. Guys that say more, or say more interesting things, are the ones you like because it makes your stories better. Not everyone is like that, and that's cool. As far as Kyler, he's a guy that when he wants to be good, he's pretty good. I think you need to ask him a quality question to generate a quality answer. I get that too.

From Brandon Butterfield:

"Hey Darren, through the first four games the team has obviously looked fantastic, and in most areas has improved week over week. That said, one of the areas that doesn't seem to have improved is the pass rush. Week 1 were outlandish stats even for a great pass rush, but is it fair to say the rush has been lackluster outside of the first game? Also, is the team still in touch with Malcom Butler or is he out of mind at this point?"

I know there weren't any sacks against the Rams, but I do think they ramped it up as the game went on and the Rams are one of the best to get the ball out. Stafford wasn't sacked against the Bucs either. I don't know if I would say lackluster, although I would guess they'd like more consistency. As for Butler, I don't expect him to return.

From Jeff Smith:

"Hello Darren, the Cardinals have proved themselves capable with this weeks win; my question is what's up with Chandler Jones. Didn't hear his name called during the game and he didn't even make the stat sheet. Is he injured or limited in action? JJ's getting a workout and needs help on the pass rush."

Sometimes you're not going to play well. I noticed Chandler wasn't on the stat sheet, but he's been good the other three games, even without any sacks after the first week. He isn't injured. They also made sure not to overwork him Sunday, keeping him to 75 percent of the snaps. That'll help later in the season.

From Gerry McQuire:

"As we were watching the Cardinals beat down the Rams in the fourth quarter with a drive full of runs, the camera panned to Sean Kugler with a play sheet talking into his headset. Was he calling those run plays? Does he communicate to players through the headset or just coaches?"

He's not talking to Kyler. He's talking to the other coaches, and I am guessing in the run game he gives his opinions to Kliff on what he thinks on a drive.

From Drew Holiday:

"Darren, please take us through how the player-at-podium arrangement works, because I've no idea. Kliff and Kyler are always going to be obvious, but I was very surprised to see Rodney Hudson up there. How does that happen? Do you guys ask all the players? And it's just whoever says yes? Or are certain players selected and they must go? The ole 'I'm just here so I don't get fined' deal?"

In non-Covid times, the locker room is open and you can get whoever you want. The team's media relations department has a handful of players and Kliff who comes to the podium, and you don't get those guys. In these current times, the locker room closed, the MR staff picks the people at the podium. We can ask, but that doesn't mean they will get the player. Given the current circumstances, players can decline to come in.

From Brad Cain:

"Hi Darren, so I'm seeing everyone putting these three games together as one of our toughest stretches, The Rams were a big deal, but we always seem to play the Niners very competitively, and I don't see the Browns as a big threat, good team, yeah I guess so far, but not a threat. So we could possibly be 6-0, not 4-2 as I've been starting to hear. Your thoughts on this would be great. Thanks for your time and insight as always."

Beating the Rams was the big hurdle. But making the leap to two more wins over two solid teams is not what the Cardinals are assuming, and neither should you. Are they good enough to win both? Of course. But there is a reason they are all talking about one game at a time.

From Tom Cowley:

"Hi Darren, do you see Quinton Dunbar replacing any of our current cornerbacks or will it be a rotational scheme based on their play or the opponent of the day? Injury is always a factor at that position also. Do you see Banjo sticking this time up? Thanks."

Chris Banjo was officially signed to the active roster, so that's that on him -- which is not a surprise. They like his worth in the locker room and on special teams. As for Dunbar, we'll see. If Antonio Hamilton and Byron Murphy remain banged up, they may need Dunbar as soon as this week. But he'll have a chance to show in practice whether they want him up all the time.

From Chan Gritz:

"I'm surprised Steve Keim was willing to venture into discussing the 2019 draft. As good as Byron Murphy is turning out to be, his proclamations that Murph was in the top 10 on the big board only sets him up for someone to be reminded that DK Metcalf was available when we took Andy Isabella. I understand all of this is hindsight 20/20, but how does that happen?"

How does a team not take DK Metcalf? Because he was the 64th pick in that draft, so every team did it at least once. You mean how does a team take a receiver that didn't turn out as good as DK Metcalf? I'm assuming you'll be asking the same thing of the Ravens, Patriots, 49ers, Chiefs, Eagles and Colts. Heck, you can even ask how the Seahawks drafted two players before finally saying, yeah, we want Metcalf. Look, we all know Metcalf turned out better than Isabella. This idea that the Cardinals were the only ones who didn't see Metcalf coming is disingenuous. As for Keim talking 2019 draft, he was actually asked about Murphy. No one was talking or thinking about Isabella -- except you, I suppose.

From jpr cards:

"As I understand it the Cardinals do not have a QB sneak (as in straight ahead) in the playbook. Is that the case? And is it solely because they don't want to further expose Kyler Murray to injury or is it just not something that they feel he would be able to convert often enough to justify using it?"

Two reasons, really. One, Murray is 5-10 and doesn't have the heft to push the pile and yes, he can get hurt. Two, and more importantly, Murray has no desire to run QB sneaks. His one yard can come on a play-action fake and scampering around the end.

From Wayne Ostman:

"Based on the incredible development and improvement of our offensive line the last few years, there is no single more important staff member on the Cardinals than Sean Kugler. If some day soon we go 0-16 and fire everyone, just keep Kugs. That man needs to be our OL until the end of time."

Well, I don't see this team going 0-16 with Kyler Murray at quarterback. Teams don't go 0-16 with quarterbacks like that.

From BDUB Wooten:

"Darren, here's what concerns me about Christian Kirk having such a good year. He's doing it in a contract year, so why wasn't he doing it before? I don't think it's because they moved him to the slot. Guys play hard when they know a new contract and huge dollars are on the line, it kind of upsets me. Then if we give him huge money does he go back to mediocre next year? Not exactly the same but Jordan Phillips certainly hasn't earned his money from the new contract. I hope the Cards discuss this with Kirk should they re-sign him. Thanks for the mailbag!"

Having spent a lot of time around Christian since he arrived, 1) he knows he hasn't played consistent football up until this year and 2) he absolutely is not the guy who is working harder/playing better because it is a contract year. I do think playing the slot full time has made a big difference, so we disagree there. Sometimes guys need to learn how to play on this level too. I don't know what happens with his contract, but I do not believe he would get fat and happy with a new deal.

From Mike Parker:

"I've loved Rondale Moore since the first time I saw him play for Purdue. I was ecstatic when he was drafted by the Cards. In my opinion, Moore is the steal of the draft quite honestly. Why was he not targeted more during the Jacksonville game? He is such a weapon! Moore needs to get touches!"

One football, seven main guys to get touches: Hop, Edmonds, Green, Kirk, Conner, Moore, Maxx Williams. I'm not a math guy nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but in the immortal words of Kyler (again, since I mentioned this earlier in the mailbag) some days guys are gonna eat and some days they won't. The team is 4-0. They are doing something right.

From Michael Schmorr:

"Why do we get no respect? We were at the Cards-Jags game and there were PLENTY of fellow Cardinal fans there but when I watched the broadcast the next day I didn't see one single Cardinal fan shown celebrating or the broadcast team talking about our presence and travels to see them play. I've watched every Cards broadcast for decades and can say that is NOT the case when we are the home team, the visitor fans always get screen time. Also what about the scenario involving a long field goal ricocheting off the returner's helmet and through the uprights? Similar to the famous home run off Jose Canseco's head play? Is it good or not?"

I do not believe that field goal would be good, but I suppose I do not know for sure. As for screen time, I understand your frustration but in the end it just doesn't bother me, just like power rankings or anything else. Decisions around the league aren't necessarily made by merit, especially TV decisions. There is a reason the Cowboys always have a lot of primetime games even when they aren't any good. It's not worth the energy to me.

From Domingo Castillo:

"Hey Darren, as a fan, your mailbag has been a great idea and you seem to research thoroughly the questions and answers you feed back, (have always hated when somebody answers a question that wasn't asked, instead). Ever since I saw Andy Isabella, (at a standstill), catch a pass and could have easily gotten the 1st down by diving forward, but he came back about 3 yards trying to make extra yardage and failed to get the 1st down, I have noticed that all of Cardinal receivers usually do the same, from a standstill, (retreat 3 yards), and usually gain little else. Has the receivers coach trained them to do that? I also noticed that Kyler threw the same interception at Kirk in two consecutive games, (Vikings and Jags). Both underthrown, where receiver cannot deflect the interception. Did anybody else acknowledge that? Did Murray acknowledge that?"

I mean, the interception against the Vikings was talked about a lot, because that was the play Kyler was hit in the head and he said he thought it would've been a touchdown if he hadn't been hit. The Jaguars one was a mistake, and he acknowledged it. You move on. As far as coming back for the ball, that's something every receiver should be taught to do. Whether they are getting enough depth on their routes before that is a different topic.

From Robert Malicki:

"While lacking any first-hand evidence of how J.J. Watt is coming along, what can you tell us? I believe he is performing as advertised. It appeared it was him who charged up the middle pressuring Lawrence to backpedal (in Jacksonville) and hurry a backfoot throw that Byron Murphy caught and returned for a TD. Is Watt providing Vance Joseph with what he needs to elevate our defense into a top-notch unit?"

I think Watt has been solid for the Cardinals thus far, and Pro Football Focus said he had his best game of the season against the Rams. He did forced the Jacksonville pick-6 and he nearly had a sack in L.A. against Stafford. I'm sure he'd like to get some sacks out of the way, but again, I think at 4-0 the defense is playing solid and I think Watt is one of the productive reasons.

From Peter Kacmar:

"During games I spotted a guy wearing an unusual green baseball cap at the cards sidelines yelling at the players. Aside from the sad fact that I cant find this model in the official eshop I wonder who that guy is and if maybe he is wearing that different colour cap so that the players can easily and quickly see him at the sidelines and watch the signals he gives them. Thank you for your time and effort."

Yes, that is exactly why Cam Turner -- the team's quarterbacks coach -- is wearing the hat, so Kyler can easily find him. You are not the first to ask about buying one but at this point, we do not have them available.

From Mike White:

"Greetings D-URB. I noticed during the Rams-Bucs game the VERY LOUD MUSIC played over the in-house PA system. What I did not like was how often it was being played with the opposing offense at the line. Are there not rules as to when the music can and can't be played? Seems a bit unfair when you're at the line. I can't say that I've ever seen, or should I say, heard that before. Go Cards!"

You are allowed to play audio up until there are 20 seconds left on the play clock, and then it has to be turned off. The PA announcer has to stop his "hype" voice at 20 seconds as well, although he can state done/distance in a "monotone manner" up to 15 seconds left.

From Jerry Brown:

"Hi Darren. So, what is the Zaven Collins story so far? He's playing 1/3 to 1/4 of the defensive snaps? What situations is he on the field for, and how well has he played? Is he living up to expectations?"

Well, against the Rams he only played four defensive snaps. It feels like his situation is morphing into an Isaiah Simmons 2020 situation, where it might be a while before he earns a lot of playing time depending on injuries and how the team is performing. The reality is Jordan Hicks, as a veteran, inspires more trust from the coaches and that isn't unusual. Before the Rams game however, he was in the about 30 percent of the time, playing along side Hicks and Simmons in a 3 LB look.

From Mackay Breivik:

"Darren, listened to a few of the several available podcasts for the first time this past week, and I want to let the Cards' fans know if they're not listening they're missing out! Credit to you and the guys who put it together. I and many others appreciate it greatly. The DU bag is also awesome, even if you don't like that nickname. The Cardinals have made progress. They are some pieces away though...I think. I think they need to upgrade the front seven on defense. The only way at this point is to trade. Can you suddenly teach gap integrity? Any trade rumors circulating? Do the Texans have anyone they want to sell for pennies on the dollar?"

Again, I think if they do anything up front, it will be bringing back Jordan Phillips from IR -- I'm just not sure when that will be. As for the Texans, who on that team would you want?

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