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You've Got Mail: Chargers Week

Topics include playoff chances, playing division games internationally, and 'Hard Knocks'

Mailbag gang tackle Mexico City 49ers

With the short week and the long trip back into the wee hours of this morning, the mailbag is a tad shorter. I did what I could. Questions have been edited for length and clarity. As always, you can send in a question for a future mailbag here.

From Darrell from Pinetop:

"What are the odds of a 4-7 team making the playoffs at this point?"

According to this New York Times interactive graphic, all 4-7 teams are not created equal -- the rest of the schedule and tiebreakers figure in. For instance, the Saints, also 4-7, have a 10 percent chance. But according to this, the Cardinals are at two percent.

From Dawson Schilz:

"Hey Darren, do you know why Zach Ertz isn't on IR?"

At this point, it's a matter of bookkeeping. I would guess that's the move you make when it's time to activate Hollywood Brown to the roster from IR.

From Charlie O:

"Darren, I enjoy the mailbag. My question is with the Cardinals a home game in Mexico City against 49ers. As far as I can tell that is the only division game on a neutral field this season. Do you think this is a disadvantage for the Cardinals? Does the NFL plan on having more division games out of country? I do recall the Rams playing us in London a few years ago though. Thanks."

I don't think the NFL thinks of the international games that way. First they determine which teams will "host" games outside the country, and then they figure out based on the opponents what makes the most sense. As you mentioned, the Cardinals played the Rams in London. In fact, the Cardinals have now played three international games and all of them have been NFC West opponents. Ultimately, I subscribe to the belief you need to win wherever you play.

From Matthew Chadduck:

"I was quite high on Trey McBride coming out of Colorado State, but was surprised when the Cards drafted him, already having Ertz and Williams, although they clearly need a tight end now. Unfortunately the only plays I've seen him make in the NFL are a fumble on his only reception against L.A., and two bad holding penalties the week prior. Seems like he might not be ready, despite taking most if the snaps after Ertz was sidelined. Do you think the vet Stephen Anderson gets more time or are we trusting McBride?"

Time is going to tell on that. Anderson has some experience, but there is also a reason he has been behind McBride on the depth chart. My guess is that McBride will continue to get snaps but the Cardinals won't be using the tight end as pass catcher nearly as much as when Ertz is healthy. It's way too early to know what McBride will be or if he won't get to where the Cardinals need him to go, although he had by far the most tight end snaps on Monday.

From Meu Matthews:

"Hey Darren, I have a question about game preparation. When your opponent of the week has two possible QBs that might start, ones with very different playing styles, is it harder to be ready for that game? Spending time practicing with a quarterback spy for instance, then having an older QB who gets passes out quickly as the one playing. Are there any particular rules that keep a team from taking advantage of that, and is there ever a reason to announce the real starter at any point except right before the coin toss?"

Some good questions in here. Yes, it can get more complicated prepping for two QBs, but in the end the offense is the offense. In the Cardinals' case, yes Kyler is much more mobile and dangerous, but the plays aren't different. If you are talking about a spy on Kyler, then to me you practice for it and then if the Cardinals have McCoy, it's easy to dial that back. As for the reason to announce a starter, you can argue both ways. In a vacuum, no, there is no reason to announce anything. But if you are supposed to be the starting QB you may start feeling some kind of way if it isn't public (and teammates might start having doubts too.)

From John Buncles:

"Hi Darren! I love the mailbag and read it each week. Great job! First time asking a question.I know in previous years players have been asked to take a pay cut for various reasons. Is it possible (or maybe it's possible but unspoken that this just doesn't happen) that Kyler could take a pay cut for not living up to his contract? It just seems like a terrible situation for the Cardinals to be in with so much money wrapped up in one player not named Mahomes. I'm certainly no salary cap expert, but I would guess this will prevent the signing of other players in the future that could really help the team. Thanks."

Here's the deal on that? Why should he? When players take pay cuts, it's because the team has leverage -- take the cut or we will release you, and you'll likely make even less on the open market. The Cardinals have no such leverage on Murray. If they release him, they still owe him a ton of guaranteed money, plus his contract would jack up the salary cap even more than now. More importantly, he probably was underpaid the last couple of years. If your boss came to you and asked you to take a paycut because he thought you were underperforming, would you? Makes little sense.

From Chuck Mogavero:

"Hi Darren! What's happening with Antoine Wesley? IR? Waived? Traded? Haven't seen anything about him."

Been on IR the whole time. He was designated to return from his original injury but then got hurt again in practice so the window for him to come back expired. It didn't matter; he had surgery so there was no chance to physically come back anyway.

From Uroš Matović:

"The O-line has given us constant rollercoaster ride for the last few seasons, but the highlight for me would be the injuries. Players go down, as it seems from my comfortable couch, very easily, and I know every team has injury-prone O-liners, but it seems that Cardinals are on another level for years. Is it all 'bad luck', is it preseason (not getting on good enough fitness level), scouting and medical teams not doing their job thoroughly when estimating new players? How do you see it getting better?"

These guys aren't pulling hamstrings. When a guy tears ligaments, or pectoral muscles, that to me is bad luck while playing a sport destined to get guys hurt. Humphries is a good example. Had bad luck early in his career. Missed a ton of games. But up until this stretch now with the bad back, he missed one game in three seasons and that was because of Covid. And yes, the older the linemen you get -- the experienced ones -- the more chances their bodies could break down. That's true on every team. I get that it is frustrating but it's reality. What most of these guys already go through to play would certainly send you or me or anyone else on to their "comfortable couch."

From Mark King:

"I've seen a lot lately on the impact of artificial turf and injuries. I'm not a doctor, neither are you, and I don't claim to be one on TV. But how much of an impact do you think that had on Zach Ertz's injury? (Wishing him a speedy recovery)"

I have no idea. It didn't seem to be non-contact, which is where turf really is a problem. I suppose down the road Ertz will have an opinion.

From Chad J:

"What are the boundaries with 'Hard Knocks' and the team in regards to what they film, how they craft the story, what makes the final edit, etc? I'm not a subscriber, so I haven't seen this year, but I imagine there are things that the cameras are not allowed to film? Do players need to provide consent to be on camera? Drama sells, and if there isn't in-game drama I can only imagine some creative storytelling would be tempting that might rile up the fan base unnecessarily."

The boundaries, as I understand them, are this: They film way more than they can every use. There are hidden cameras in places. But do they record everything? No. And that's just logistics -- it's impossible to be everywhere all the time. Players do have to consent if they are doing something off-site (the producers chat up players they'd like to follow around and interview, and usually those guys are up for it) but the cameras on everything at the building or on game days is just part of their job for this season. Yes, they have to create storylines, which is why it's important for them to find players that make sense to follow rather than "hope" for something to develop. The Cardinals know what's coming every episode, and realistically, the NFL Films crew isn't looking to make an exposé, either.

From Kevin from Canada:

"Hey Darren, I don't have Twitter but I can only imagine the garbage you were receiving. K1 is our QB, sure he's struggled but he isn't going to be benched if healthy. It's been talked about so much on the broadcast how much defenses have been playing this shell cover 2 coverage. Do you see them approaching the game plan the exact same with Kyler, quick short routes and let Rondale and Hop get YAC. Kyler has struggled so much holding the ball too long so I hope they do."

To be clear, if a defense has two-high safeties, it doesn't necessarily mean they are playing Cover 2. As for what the Cardinals do with Kyler at QB, I mean, getting the ball out quicker more often is what I think they have already wanted him to do. We will see if that happens. But what the Niners do will dictate some of that, and again, Murray's ability to scramble changes the equation.

From Cindy Dobbins:

"Why Eno Benjamin instead of Jonathan Ward or anybody? Is it to give him a chance to go elsewhere? He contributed so much this season. I know fair isn't always a factor but this seems almost cruel. Thanks for the mailbag!"

Benjamin wasn't released to clear a roster spot, or so he could go elsewhere. While Kliff Kingsbury never explained exactly what happened, it's fair to say there has been enough said -- and enough reporting -- that it isn't really that hard to surmise the reason behind the move.

From Collin M:

"Hey Darren, appreciate your call-out of the Twitter troglodytes who clearly haven't been hugged enough. This past week, we focused on (a) quick throws and (b) a simpler offensive scheme. Is it possible Kliff's 'ideal' offense is too complex? Mike Garafolo made the comment yesterday on GMFB that Kliff has a very complex (and therefore tough to defend) offense. But with our execution issues,.perhaps it's *too* complex?"

That's always a possibility, that coaches get too in the weeds. I don't know if that is the case. Anytime you make things more simple it's a benefit, but again, can your players execute and be the more talented team to make up for what is in theory an easier scheme to defend? The quick throw thing was easy to notice in L.A. They did it mostly in Mexico City, and obviously the results weren't good enough.

From Sebas Quiros:

"Hey Darren. Does all the receiver personnel run a route on every play? What I mean is, I feel like every now and again I see players pretty much not running a route except for one or two players who are the ones targeted on that specific play. I feel like this is common in plays that involve a quick pass but I guess my question is more like: are there plays that are just a one read where the ball will go to one and only one player?"

There are never plays in which you have only one receiver set for the ball. You would have a first read, but the best quarterbacks are working off what the defense is doing and you don't know how that might direct you. And yes, you are either blocking or going out for a pass every pass play.

From John McGill:

"Hey Darren. A shout out to Zach Ertz. Keep your spirits up. Wishing the best for you and yours. Is there a timetable for Hollywood Brown's return? Also, on Eno Benjamin. I am just as surprised as anyone about his release. However, I do remember a time when the Cardinals got rid of Anquan Boldin when he was complaining about getting paid less than Larry Fitzgerald. This came after they just gave him a new contract the year before. Like you said we do not know everything but if he was going to be a distraction to the team and if he is not going to be happy returning to his role as backup, I do not have a problem with the move."

I would expect Hollywood to have a good chance to play against the Chargers. As for the Eno situation, again, he was not released because he was upset with playing time. It was how he was upset. And let me clear one thing up, and that is there is absolutely no parallel between Eno's situation and Anquan's. Boldin wasn't upset he was paid less than Fitz. He was upset because he felt the Cardinals had promised to give him a new contract with three years left on his current deal and they disagreed. And Boldin spent two entire seasons with the Cardinals after he was ticked off and made it public, before he was traded.

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