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

AZC_CardinalsMailbag

The Cardinals get their rematch with the 49ers this week, just two weeks removed from the initial 28-25 San Francisco win in Arizona. In the meantime, you can always send in questions for the mailbag by going here. On to the questions:

From Tredarious Black via azcardinals.com:

"Hi D, with Zane Gonzalez having an all-pro-type year, you should do a video on him. It's pretty crazy how he went from a star at ASU to a bust in the pros with Cleveland. to now an all-pro long-term kicker for us. Do you think it lasts? Because I remember when Chandler Catanzaro looked like the long-term dude as well. So it makes me nervous with Zane. I just don't know at what point we fall in love and sign him long-term."

Lot of emotions there, Tredarious. You need to hang in there. I tend to look at these things a little less emotionally. Gonzalez is having an excellent year. I would think he would be a potential candidate for a contract extension. You'd love to think he could be this team's Justin Tucker or Adam Vinatieri (the younger version.) And he might just be. But this league is and always will be year-to-year, and you don't know for sure about the long-term viability of any player until he shows he's been the guy for the long term. Obviously, Gonzalez is an easy guy to root for, and it's been a nice start.

From Colin Brady via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren, a massive fan of the Cards here from over in the UK. Thank you very much for the mailbag. Always a great read. My question is not Cards specific but it's regarding the pass-interference rules and coaches now being able to challenge these decisions. It's not working for me. What are your thoughts? Could it be scrapped for next year do you think? For me it should be as it's too subjective and the league just hasn't got this right."

Clearly, the pass-interference review is now forefront for the Cardinals after this weekend. It was instituted originally as a one-year-and-see rule anyway. I do think there is a good chance it could be scrapped. In the least I'd think there would have to be much more concrete guidelines so people could at least know how to apply it -- and when they can challenge to have it matter.

From Joe Bugel via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren. Why did coach Kingsbury call a pass with four minutes left around the Bucs 20 with a four-point lead? Don't you run three times, thereby running the clock down to two minutes or less and then try the field goal for a 7-point lead? Wouldn't that force Tampa Bay to drive for a touchdown in a two-minute drill just to try to tie the game (unless they get it and go for 2)? Am I wrong or isn't that just common sense? Thank you."

Kingsbury said he wishes he would've called a safer pass. But no, I'm not just running the ball into the line three times and kicking a field goal -- not when there was a prime chance, against a bad pass defense (and the No. 1 run defense), to score a touchdown and basically seal a win. The Bucs went 75 yards for a TD with less than two minutes left in the first half. I don't think the Cards are in a position to rely on a defensive stop to win.

From Robert Rosenwald via azcardinals.com:

"Two questions, Darren, both about Larry Fitzgerald. Assuming he closes out the year uninjured and with something like 800 yards and 90 receptions, how would you calculate the odds of him returning next year? Do you think he might then pursue Jerry Rice's all-time receptions record?"

I'm not sure stats on their own mean much when it comes to Fitz's future plans. A 90-800 line wouldn't be bad, but where is this offense by the end of the year? Is Fitz happy with his usage? Does he still want to go through the grind? As for Rice, I don't think he'll ever play with the thought he wants to catch Rice. It'll coincide with however long he goes. The Cardinals can't have an older receiver around just to break a record. It has to come in the context of a successful offense.

from 11 4ever via azcardinals.com:

"Hey Darren, please humor me! I know the answer is no, but can we at least discuss it for a sec? Inside linebacker is killing us. It has become a rotating door (Reddick outsnapped Walker Sunday). Of all the names getting shuffled around and not playing great, we've yet to hear about Ezekiel Turner. Yes, a special-teamer. But he is also listed as a LB and a guy who can run fast and lay the lumber. Why would we not consider it. The current lineup isn't working."

There always seems to be this odd assumption that if a team doesn't do something in a game they haven't already explored it. Don't forget these coaches have had all offseason and all training camp to evaluate a player -- in this case, Turner -- at his non-special teams position. They also have probably watched his (limited) reps in practice. There is probably a reason they haven't turned to Turner.

From Robert Malicki via azcardinals.com:

"My question concerns Kyler's pattern of throws. He seems to only throw horizontally and never ahead? If true defensive line pressure is directed in his face, it is negating forward throws and flushes him out of the pocket."

A big part of the oft-horizontal throws has little to do with Murray. That's Kingsbury's offense. And I would also argue that any quarterback, faced with "true" pressure up the middle is going to be flushed out of the pocket. That's the game. But in terms of down the field, we saw more of that against the Bucs and the bombs to Christian Kirk. If the Cardinals end up finding a true downfield receiver in the near-future -- think of a Fitz in his prime -- you might see more of that.

From Tom Cowley via azcardinals.com:

"What is the status of OT Brett Toth, the ex-Eagle. Is he a team member? Will he see action?"

Toth is currently on the reserve-non-injury list with an illness. His season on the active roster is over, but the Cards still have his rights and he remains in the building. He was always a project that was more about the future rather than 2019.

I don't know if I'd call him disinterested. Since he has not yet talked following the Bucs' game we will have to see his interpretation, but I'm thinking Johnson is probably very frustrated that this is how his season is playing out, including getting benched for the fourth quarter Sunday. I also have no doubt he remains banged up at least on some level. This has become a crucial point in Johnson's career, and where he goes. Bringing in Kenyan Drake absolutely has created urgency.

From Ken Farmer via azcardinals.com:

"What does the WVB stand for on the jerseys?"

It stands for William Vogel Bidwill, the late owner of the Cardinals who passed away last month.

From Ramzdah via azcardinals.com:

"Our defense is a big problem as I'm sure the majority of comments you receive have echoed. Third down-and-long is the biggest issue. Doing some quick math, if the DL is busy rushing the QB and the CBs are busy sticking to WRs as are the safeties, probably, that leaves the primary culprits as our ILBs. My question for you is what is the main issue? Is it athleticism? Is it scheme? Is it talent? Is it know-how? Our ILBs are the weakness on this team and its important to identify the why in order to fix the problem."

Let me start by saying I do think the Cardinals need help at inside linebacker. Haason Reddick is not playing as they had hoped. I think Jordan Hicks has been solid, but it would help if Reddick was playing better or they could upgrade. But I do have to question your "math." You casually dismiss the defense other than inside linebackers as all doing their jobs. I'd argue -- strongly -- that the Cardinals' issues on defense, third down and otherwise, has been definitely a group effort. There have been plenty of times where that busy-ness rushing the passer has not resulted in enough pressure. There have been plenty of times the cornerbacks and safeties are most certainly not sticking to the receivers. To hang all the problems at one spot is simply wrong.

From Nicolas Reif via azcardinals.com:

"The Cardinals traded for Kenyan Drake. Will he still become a free agent at the end of the season?"

As of now, Drake is still scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March. The Cardinals, of course, have the ability to sign him to an extension before he reaches that point.

From Rod Jacobson via azcardinals.com:

"Is Zack Allen close to returning? I'm surprised they haven't put him on IR if what he's dealing with is that bad. Our DL has played well, but Zack is definitely a core piece who we need getting reps his rookie year. Thanks."

I asked that question Monday and Kingsbury acknowledged they have considered putting Allen on IR with his neck issue. But he also agreed with your sentiment, that Allen could use reps. They are hoping he can return following the bye, which would give him five games to play.

From Dennis Cutler via azcardinals.com:

"The game Sunday with the Bucs was the worst officiated game I have ever seen. The officials did not call several holding and pass interference calls on the Bucs but called a penalty on the Cardinals that resulted in the Bucs getting the ball on the 1-yard line that won the game for them! Also in the final seconds of the game the cardinals receiver was mugged and the officials did not call any penalty nor was this play even reviewed in the booth. This was a game given to the HOME TEAM by the officials. Is there any review by NFL Headquarters?"

That will be the representative complaining about Sunday's officiating. I hit on those issues here, here and here. But long story short, the league did look at the PI calls and made their accompanying decisions. As for the not calling of other plays, I'll admit, I didn't notice anything odd. I didn't think the officiating was one-sided.

From Andrew Miller via azcardinals.com:

"Darren, in the aftermath of the loss to Tampa Bay, I am wondering what 'metrics' might have precipitated Coach Kingsbury calling a time out with the Bucs on the Cards one-yard line, the clock already stopped (correct?) and less than two minutes to go? Seemed likely with three more chances, the odds were decidedly in favor of a score (which did happen). That time out could have saved as much as 40 seconds when the Cardinals got the ball for the last possession. Just scratching my head. Almost as bad as Arians burning a final timeout on a silly challenge. Was this reasonable clock management? What am I missing?"

What you are missing is that Cardinals defensive end Rodney Gunter got hurt after that play. Even with the clock stopped, any injury in the final two minutes costs that team a timeout. Kingsbury didn't call it. The Cards were forced to take it.

I'd nitpick that the team is devoid of talent, unless you are discounting Murray, for instance, or Chandler Jones (who came in a trade Keim engineered.) I'm not going to argue the roster doesn't need significant upgrades. It does. I'm not going to argue that Keim's first-round picks have been good. They have not. And I know the drafts have not stood up long-term, but that doesn't mean the picks of guys like John Brown or Tyrann Mathieu, for instance, weren't good. Those guys produced. Those good teams in 2013, 2014, 2015, those were Keim's rosters. Carson Palmer was a Cardinal because Keim traded for him (Bruce Arians wanted to start Drew Stanton in 2013 before Keim went to get Palmer.) Look, I understand the fans' frustrations at the GM. I get if he has lost your trust. I expect we are going to find out if he can regain it.

From Drew Gooding via azcardinals.com:

"Full disclosure - despite my question, I'm not mad at all. Fans need to relax. This has been a great, inspiring season that we should be excited for the future. So, I want to ask, we released DJ Swearinger due to performance. It was also a 'message sent'-type of moment. Do we need another? Our defense giving up unbelievable third-and-longs repeatedly, as well as another week of futility vs tight ends. Is it time we cut someone? Or fire a coach? Again, my tone is not angry at all. It's a genuine question. Thanks."

I guess my reaction to that suggestion, with six games left, is, what would be your upside, and who are you talking about? Firing an assistant coach in-season, in my experience, usually is about something much deeper than simply on-field performance (such as a personality rift or something like that.) Cut a player? Maybe. But who? And to what end? The Swearinger move was basically because of performance, with the added factor that Swearinger likely wouldn't have been a guy who would've handled a benching all that well. I don't know about the message. Maybe it's because, once Peterson was suspended and Alford got hurt and Philon got cut, I simply didn't have a lot of optimism how this season would play out defensively. That side of the ball needs upgrades, and that's not going to happen until the offseason -- and I don't see how a "message" changes that.

From Fannie Tosh via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren! I really enjoyed the game despite the loss. It was at least exciting. Did you (or anyone else ask) Kyler about those two missed throws at the start of the game? We are becoming super-spoiled by Kyler's accuracy and dependability, that when he does miss wide-open throws, its a big 'wuuuut?' moment. Just curious if he commented on those. What happened?"

He didn't comment on those or was asked -- there was a lot of other stuff that happened that trumped that -- but I can imagine, in Kyler's voice, him saying, "I just missed them." I agree, I think everyone has already set high expectations on the rookie. And the missed TD try to Cooper that was just a bad overthrow, that ultimately hurt. But he's going to miss some. Everyone does.

From Juan McCall via azcardinals.com:

"Hey Darren. I guarantee this will be the only mention of this guy's name that you receive: CB Kevin Peterson. With CBs and LTs, the rule is 'If you don't hear their name, they are doing a good job.' Kevin Peterson played 62 snaps Sunday, or about 75% of all defensive snaps. Did you hear Kevin's name once? I didn't. For a no-name CB that we added late, the kid has been playing admirably. Do you have any insight on him whatsoever? Do coaches ever talk about him? Have you ever spoken to him? He just seems like this ghost player who shows up Sunday, plays well, then disappears."

I did talk to him after a game once, and he is a very nice guy. I think he's good for the locker room. Now, he hadn't played much after Patrick's return, and only played a lot Sunday because Tramaine Brock was injured. And also, the part about his name not mentioned -- he actually committed a crucial defensive hold on the Bucs' first drive that negated a third-down stop. The referees mistakenly said it was Patrick Peterson (and unfortunately it'll go in the official stats as Patrick) , but it was Kevin Peterson. Still, he's a good fourth cornerback to have on the roster.

From Cards 4ever via azcardinals.com:

"What is your outlook for the 2020 off season? We have a lot of money. Do you think we spend re-signing our own guys (if so who)? Or do you think we make some big name free-agent acquisitions? The benefit of having a cheap franchise QB is that there is money to spend elsewhere."

Too early to speculate much on the offseason. I think there are a couple of guys that warrant extensions (Zane Gonzalez and potentially Kenyan Drake, depending on what he wants, come to mind.) I do think there might be a couple of key pieces needed in free agency, although I am wary when fans say "big-name" -- that has not been Keim's M.O. and everyone seems to get so disappointed in that. We'll have to see who actually is on the market in March as well. A lot of time for players to re-sign with their current teams.

  • Offense: Need more playmaking ability at wide receiver, given Kingsbury's offense.
  • Defense: Front seven, and more specifically, more help on the defensive line.

From Bofa Suniooalu via azcardinals.com:

"Appreciate the mailbag Darren. Lost in the uproar about the officiating at the end of the game was that we gave up another TD to a TE. I think it's time to start naming names. Somebody is supposed to on that guy every game, and he's not. Who is it? Budda Baker was clearly assigned to George Kittle last week. So is it Budda every week? At some point we need to designate a TE guy."

I appreciate the senitment, coach, but I'm pretty sure Vance Joseph (and actually, most defensive coordinators) doesn't work that way. O.J. Howard got a TD, yes, but I don't think that was as much about having a single guy assigned to him as much as whoever was assigned to him on that play messed it up. Again, I think this team needs help with defensive talent, and it also can't have so many mental mistakes that it is obvious to see from someone like me sitting in a press box. Every game is different. Howard wasn't a guy I was basing my defense on last week -- it was Evans and Godwin. The Cardinals felt the same.

From Allie Q via azcardinals.com:

"The OL is playing really good! I think that's due to everybody staying healthy. I wanted to ask about A.Q. Shipley and the center position. Obviously they'd love to keep the band together for as long as possible, but A.Q. is currently on a 1-year deal. Do they bring him back again next year? Or do they begin the transition to Mason Cole or Lamont Gaillard? Sort of feels like a Lyle Sendlein situation. Where the old guy held on and on and on forever and then the young guy wasn't ready when Lyle finally retired."

I would agree that is one of the most important questions of the offseason. I agree with your analysis -- Shipley has been solid, but at some point, they're going to want to pass the baton, probably to Gaillard (Cole very well could end up at guard, where he has been playing). But have they seen enough at practice? Do they offer Shipley another one-year deal? Those are questions that still need to be answered.

From Kyler QB1 via azcardinals.com:

"I noticed Kyler warms up with a smokey visor and then plays with a clear visor. What's up with that? I understand the NFL rule that QBs aren't allowed to have smokey visors in game, but why warm up with it at all?"

The NFL rule is that no player can have a "smokey" visor in a game, unless he gets special permission. But it's a confidence thing with Kyler, and he's not the only Cardinal that does it. Personally I'm not sure why it's important to him, but it is.

I think the hope right now is that they already have the safeties to play with Budda in the Thompson twins, Deionte and Jalen. Those are your top three safeties going into 2020, I'd think. How they deploy them and where Budda ends up will be part of the 2020 offseason decisions, but I think they are hopeful all three can morph into guys that can play both strong and free and switch up during games.

From Paul Stamp via azcardinals.com:

"Chandler Jones' deal expires in 2021 and the cap hit inflates to 20M next year. The guy is a clear future ROH member, and all-around great player. When do you think we begin extension talks (possibly in order to lower the cap hit) and how many years would you predict? I'm thinking three years. He's 29 now, so the extension would go until he's 34. Thanks!"

I would be surprised if the Cardinals starting working on an extension (for anyone) with more than a year left on a deal. The cap hit inflates, yes, but so does the cap -- these deals take that into consideration. And there will be a new CBA beyond 2020, so that too could impact contracts, another reason to wait to get a deal done.

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