It was a weekend of mixed emotions, of a disappointing loss to the Colts and then qualifying for the playoffs anyway. Two regular-season games to go. To send in a potential question for a future mailbag, go here.
From Matthew Chadduck:
"I'm sure there will be a lot a negativity in the mailbag after three losses, but we clinched the playoffs, we have some good players that might return for the postseason, and the sky still isn't falling. My question is: Is there any real point in risking our players in these last two games? Obviously momentum and confidence comes into play if we're 0-5 in our final matches, but if we're underestimated that can been a boon vs other teams. Facing the second seed or the fourth seed doesn't really seem like a real difference, so why would we show our hand vs the Cowboys? Or play Kyler in a meaningless game vs the Hawks?"
That's a bold strategy, Cotton. I'll say this, riding a five-game losing streak into the playoffs would seem to me a troubling development. It's one thing if you rest guys, which has been done before. But since the Cardinals are not playing nearly as well as you'd like, especially offensively, you need the real in-game work. Having Kyler miss five the of the final nine games of the season doesn't make a lot of sense. Besides, this team wants a home game and a division title. That's still possible.
From Tom Ward:
"I know you will be getting a lot of remarks regarding the defensive side . But here is an observation on the offensive side for your consideration. Hopkins is of course the best acquisition in the NFL. But in my humble opinion I believe Rodney Hudson is the key for so much of the Cardinals success. I live in Vegas and I refuse to bet the Cardinals if he is inactive. How important do you think having him on the field equates to their success in the postseason?"
I think he's really good and absolutely feel it is important to get him back. But Hudson alone won't mean wins. He played against the Rams and they lost that game. At this point, the issues aren't just about one guy, either one that is playing or one that is not.
From Sonny AZ Cards:
"Hi Darren, are there logs on our OL penalties? Who did the most, who did the least? Thank you!"
In 15 games this season, six offensive linemen have been flagged:
- Josh Jones 8-53 (4 false start, 3 holding, illegal downfield pass)
- D.J. Humphries 6-40 (4 holding - 1 declined, 4 false starts, illegale downfield declined)
- Kelvin Beachum 5-30 (4 false starts, 1 holding, unnecessary roughness offset)
- Sean Harlow 4-40 (4 holding)
- Justin Pugh 3-20 (2 false start, holding)
- Max Garcia 2-20 (3 holding with 1 offset)
From Blake Crosby:
"I see the comparisons of this season to the 2008 Super Bowl season where the team collapsed at the end of the year, suffering several absolute blowouts. Our current season isn't quite that. We aren't getting blown out, which is good. But I would say the main difference is expectations. That 2008 season, I don't think anyone necessarily expected them to make the playoffs, certainly not the Super Bowl. After our 10-2 start, we absolutely expect playoffs and hoping for a Super Bowl. There's a much bleaker feeling, I think, just because we had those elevated expectations. Life is all about perception, they say. Honestly, I really don't see much comparison between the two teams. Do you?"
Since I have been the main person making those comparisons, yeah, I see similarities. But let me clarify some things from 2008 first. 1) Yes, there were playoff expectations in 2008. The Cards were .500 in 2007, and they played in a weak division. They were also 7-3 at one point before they went off the rails. No one expected the Super Bowl, but that was because of their bad finish, the Patriots loss, etc. Going into the season finale at least, it was as bleak in my opinion of a deep run. That said, if the Cardinals win their last two, the feeling is going to be a lot different.
From Oli Patterson:
"This snap issue is beyond the pale man. It might happen a handful of times per year on any other team. But its been happening on the Cardinals multiple times, every game. What is it, Darren? Can we please just get a straight answer out of the team. It's mostly Garcia, but even Hudson has been guilty several times. Snapping when Kyler isn't ready. Snapping at his ankles. Snapping over his head. My first thought is that's exactly what Kliff is talking about when he says practice isn't carrying over to games. Because I can't imagine Sean Kugler would ever let this issue go unaddressed."
It's an excellent question, Oli. Obviously it's not something they are trying to do, and in Garcia's case, he had never played center before this year and I'd think that is a factor. For Hudson, and you're right there have sometimes been issues even with him, maybe he's never snapped shotgun so often? If I or anyone knew how to fix it, it would be fixed.
From Alton Yardley:
"The fact our mostly starting DL could get no pressure on Wentz with a fourth-string OL tells you everything wrong with the team. Just under-talented. Good dudes, hard workers. Not talented enough. They can be good run defenders, which we saw vs the Colts. That's good. Kudos to them. But the reality is any strong guy can stop the run. Money is made in the NFL by getting to the QB. And we have none. Without Watt we are rudderless. Jordan, even when healthy, is an impressive bust by Keim. I guess my question is do we blow the entire thing up next year?"
Can I see them trying to add a defensive lineman or two? Yes. And we will see what happens with Phillips and Peters in particular. Watt will be back. It feels like helping at DL and pass rush, as well as OL, will be the priority. Easier said than done, however, and there are also other places to consider too.
From Xavier Gibson:
"Hey Darren, I've been watching the post-game interviews after the Colts. Did anyone asked Kliff about the challenge/non challenge debacle in the second quarter? First, that challenge on the catch was atrocious. The Colts obviously caught it.The non-challenge on Wentz first-down scramble was atrocious. It was disheartening to see so many Cards players lobbying Kliff on the sideline to challenge the spot of the ball, only for Kliff to pace around and ultimately do nothing. I understand players play and we are losing right now because of the players, but those challenge situations are directly in Kliff's control and it seems he's struggling more often than not."
Kliff was asked, he just addressed the non-overturn and said he thought the ball moved. I know plenty of people said the Cardinals could've challenged the spot, but because of the first miss, the Cards would've been out of challenges and maybe he thought the Colts with Taylor likely would've converted 4th-and-inches anyway.
From Janice Crain:
"Since Kliff Kingsbury has a history of losing in the second half of seasons, is Cardinals ownership happy that we'll lose the last two games? Our team looked unprepared in Detroit. They are making tons of mistakes. This all falls to the coach. Is ownership happy with his performance?"
Michael Bidwill hasn't spoken on the subject so I don't know. I'm sure he isn't thrilled they have lost games. I'm going to hold off on assuming the Cardinals will lose the last two games before it happens. That's just me.
From Stacy Wright:
"Darren, with the ever-changing COVID situation, as far as NFL policy sits today, are players on IR required to test for COVID? I understand some IR players train and workout in team facilities. If so, were one of them to test positive, is the team punished in any way by the league, beyond the obvious loss of the player being made unavailable even longer? The reason I'm asking is the closer to crunch time we get, the more player availability is going to be critical in what will likely be a difficult road forward."
Almost all the IR players are around. Yes, they are tested, but at this point, testing is random unless a player has symptoms. The team isn't "punished" beyond the reality that if a player is positive, he'll have a chance to infect others. But you don't have guyys rehabbing somewhere else all the time and then popping over. Guys like Aflord and Watt and Maxx Williams are doing their rehab here.
From Jerry Brown:
"OK, Vance Joseph says Zaven Collins is the backup Will and Mike linebacker. So why is Joe Walker in there playing instead of Collins? Any idea what is going on? This doesn't make any sense."
It makes sense. They are more comfortable with Walker playing for Simmons, and more comfortable with Vallejo backing up Hicks when Vallejo is healthy. You might not like the sense it's making, but let's not be naive.
From Johnny S:
"It's exhausting listening to angry fans roast our coaching staff for not playing certain players more — e.g., Collins and Isabella. As if the answers to all of our problems are hiding in plain sight on the roster. Doug Franz liked to say, 'Having a need at X position doesn't make player X who plays that position good.' My view is that the coaches who do this for a living would love to play, say, Collins, more if he was good enough. In your time covering the team, have you ever seen exceptions to this? Do any benchwarmers who suddenly thrived once given a long overdue chance come to mind? (Aside from the American Underdog.)"
I mean, in some ways, Haason Reddick, but he had to move positions to do so. And I assume you are talking Kurt Warner early career and not Warner in Arizona. But mostly, no, I haven't seen that. I agree -- all things equal, the team would prefer to play a first- or second-round pick because that's how it's supposed to work. I guarantee the coaches would rather not be constantly asked why Collins isn't on the field.
From Clifton Marshall:
"Is there a disconnect between what guys are saying publicly, about Kyler being a great leader, and what the eyes tell us when the cameras show Kyler sulking on the bench? The adversity that we knew was coming has finally come, and other than laughing it off at the podium, Kyler doesn't seem to be handling it particularly well."
The problem with what the "eyes tell us" is that there is no context and you only see what the director wants you to see. I thought this was a well-done (short) thread on the subject. And just because he acts differently doesn't automatically mean they would play better. One more thing on Kyler: His personality is what it is (This is a well-done story.) As people have pointed out, Tom Brady often acts like Kyler. The difference? Brady has Super Bowls, so he gets a pass. Yes, you have to lead, but the Cardinals haven't lost three straight because Kyler got mad after a series. That'd be well down the list in my opinion.
From Andrew Miller:
"Hi Darren. I just read that Hopkins will be having surgery. The date of this report is, I believe, something like nine days after his injury.. Apparently, it is not unusual for there be a few days of diagnoses and if surgery is indicated, for subsistence of trauma, it seems like if the goal is to repair and heal in time for a possible (but perhaps far-fetched) post season return, is there a reason surgery was not scheduled earlier?"
I don't know specifics. And if the surgery report was based on the same info that came out publicly, we don't know exactly when it happened. I'll say this -- I think Hopkins was trying very hard to find a non-surgical solution so he would be able to return faster. There is also, as you said, the need to let swelling go down or something like that. But the reality is that Hop's return remains a long shot.
From Dan Linggi:
"Hi Darren. I feel bad for Kingsbury the way some players have performed the past three weeks. Watching the recent postgame press conference, the phrase 'look at yourself in the mirror' was mentioned several times from different players. It's no great revelation that people can easily believe something different about themselves than what is reality, so that seems a very questionable approach given the Cardinals current state. Since Kingsbury appears to be a 'players coach,' type B personality, do the Cardinals have a true alpha dog in the locker room that will bark, bite and draw blood if there are other players not playing up to a certain standard?"
When Chase Edmonds talked postgame about the need for that leadership right now, it felt like what you are talking about. But when you bring up Kingsbury, I'm going to disagree. Not that he's not a players' coach, but in my years covering this league, you better have mostly self-starters. Because an alpha dog and his "bark" only gets you so far.
From Tyler Durden:
"Hey Darren. When Detroit LB Reeves-Maybin batted down Kyler Murray pass and then gives Kyler a hard shoulder and knocks him down, was that a penalty that didn't get called or was that a legal shot? I don't want to blame officiating for the loss, it just seems like unnecessary roughness penalties on the QB called or uncalled have a larger impact on games than almost anything else. Do you think 'pocket passers' get that call more often than 'mobile' QB's? Yes I am using a pseudonym, but I can't talk about it."
On the latter, well played. Well played. As for the play, I tried to find it but I could not. I don't know if mobile QBs get the call less. Kyler has gotten a couple of calls this year I thought shouldn't have been called. Mostly I think it's a crapshoot when it comes to some of the officiating.
From Myron Hatfield:
"Hi Darren. I will lead with my question then follow up with one or two observations. Have you ever seen a video of the Keystone Cops? If not find one or two on YouTube. Against the Packers, Rams, and Colts the Cardinals looked like the football version of the Keystone Cops. Losing by one score or less and having decent stats doesn't mean the Cardinals played a good game. The Cardinals were dominated in all three of those games and they looked like the Keystone Cops doing it."
I am guessing you have not been a fan very long. I know the Cardinals haven't played well but I have seen the Cardinals as "Keystone Cops" over my 20-plus years, and this ain't it.
From Tye in 801:
"What kind of contract situation do you think the team is going to be in with Kyler Murray? When is he going to be looking for a new deal? With a super contract that might hurt the teams cap space? He's talented but has he really proven that he is that guy?"
Well, with the latter question, I think he's that guy, but I also say, what are you doing without him? Josh Rosen or someone like him? As far as the contract itself, the Cardinals can in theory exercise his 2023 option, but he's going to need an extension sooner rather than later. He can get one as soon as the end of the current regular season. I don't know if that means he'll get his extension right away. How he plays the rest of the way might impact how he or the team approaches it.
From Chad Johnson:
"I'm interested in how player/coaches are receiving the new COVID protocols. It seems that changing the protocols mid-season unfairly provides an advantage for teams for the remaining of the season because teams who previously isolated players before would not have had to isolate under current rules. I know the game is full of 'unfairness' but it seems that if the NFL enforced rules impacting wins and losses and then changes said rules that impact wins and losses it has to be frustrating to everyone."
I'm not sure what you are talking about -- the entire league operates under the same rules. So how does that give anyone an advantage? I know this: This current strain is really easy to get, and there are a ton of guys that are/are going to be testing positive through the playoffs and you just hope you don't lose key guys in the postseason.
From Gary Gammeiro:
"Hi Darren. Do you get the impression that Kliff Kingsbury avoids talking about Andy Isabella? I wonder if he is in the doghouse with Kliff. I wonder how the other players feel about Rondale starting over Andy. Rondale is fast but small and I think he is used in plays where he won't succeed. Thanks for your time."
No, I don't think Kliff avoids the subject. If no one asks about it, he's not going to bring it up. I know people wonder about Isabella, but at this point, there is a reason Moore is playing. One of the reasons they drafted Moore is because they realized Isabella wasn't going to fill that role.
From Kevin from Alberta:
"Hey Darren, truly enjoy your coverage of the Cardinals. I've been a massive AZ fan from Canada and I'm really hoping they can hold off the rams for the division. Following your tweets from the Cards app during the Lions game, I shared your frustration with some of the ridiculous comments 'fans' made. The calling for anyone's job is utterly ridiculous. People don't understand that 11 guys have to do their job correctly for a play to be successful. So does a false start, batted down pass, missed block mean the play call was terrible? I guess so according to the twitter warriors. I hope they've never made a human error in their line of work otherwise they should be jobless as well. My only concern during the lions game was they frequently pressured Kyler and the O-line with a rush up the middle. Do you think they make some adjustments to as least calm the pressure in Kyler's face?"
I've said my piece on the in-game comments. I understand frustration; I don't understand calls for guys to be fired when the team has most of the season been successful. (And if you want to argue it's just heat-of-the-moment Twitter, that's fine, but then don't tag me or risk being blocked.) As far as the pressure up the middle on Kyler, it's an issue. The interior play has been inconsistent with the revolving bodies, but Rodney Hudson is back and that helps.
From HH AZ Cards:
"Hi Darren. On the offensive side, is there anyone consulting Kliff when deciding to go for it on fourth downs? Or two-point conversions? I think there are software programs that can do live analysis and get back with some percentages to better choose what to do. The decision to go for it on fourth down against the Rams late in fourth where we could've made the game a single possession, looked really odd to me. Against the Lions, down 10-0, Kliff still decided to go for it on fourth down, play-calling aside, we could've made it a single possession game and give defense enough momentum to make a stop, and maybe get the ball back before the half ends. Also against the Lions, I was also confused on going for it for a 2-point conversion where we were two TDs behind regardless rather than going for an extra point, we missed the 2-point conversion and now we were down 15 points."
The Cardinals have an analytics department, so yes, they have discussed many scenarios going into games. I'd guess the 2-point conversion was the idea that if you made it, you still were within two scores even if the Lions kicked a field goal (which they did.) I definitely think Kliff would do some things over on the fourth down inside the 5, but that also had to do with the defense allowing the long TD drive.
From Jake Melnoe:
"Do you find Kylers 'I'm not worried' brush off as disingenuous as most? Everything is trending down. Fans and media are always naturally pessimistic but there's some legitimate smoke here. To give Kyler the benefit of the doubt, he hasn't done much losing in his life. So perhaps he doesn't perceive things the same as others. But for a guy who was hanging his head on the sidelines, to dismiss the loss and say everything is fine feels tone deaf."
Well, I've already addressed this thing about "hanging his head," which if he were smiling on the sideline, everyone would complain about that. But bottom line, it's not disingenuous because Kyler doesn't do that. I know him well enough to know he's going to wear his emotions on his sleeve, and if he says he's not worried, it's because he is not. I get why fans are concerned, but at the same time, if players got as concerned as the fans, the Cardinals (or any team) would be toast.
From Don Geisler:
"Hey Darren. Merry Christmas and thanks for all you do! (The Lions game) was a particularly frustrating game to be sure. I feel like the last several games we have let QB's feel VERY comfortable. Any thoughts on why VJ seems to have misplaced the 'Blitz' page of the playbook? The base rush is just not getting there. Also, Kliff seems to have drifted into a very predictable first-down routine. (Run Play, 1 yard). The 2nd-and-9 situation is really stifling the offense. Lastly, the officiating is an atrocity. Feels like every opponent lately has a 12th Man in black and white. I guess there will never be any accountability for calling the game fairly until people actually just stop watching."
I appreciate that Don. But I do think the blitzes have been used. You don't want to do it all the time. And it's funny, you seem upset with run plays on first down and I have others who are upset they aren't running more often.
From Mel W:
"Kyler Murray started the season as an MVP QB then got injured, since then he has not performed as an MVP. How long do you think before he returns to playing like he did before getting injured?"
That's the big question, isn't it? Not having his best receiver is going to make it much more difficult.
From Michael Schmoor:
"I'm too disgusted to ask any of my questions about that performance so I give you questions from my kids.
- How do they decide how long time outs are? Sometimes they are 30 seconds and sometimes longer do the teams decide?
- If a quarterback gets hit while throwing the ball and it doesn't touch the ground is it a fumble or interception?
- Who is your favorite player of all-time?
- They're obsessed with the penalty for helmet removal, when can a player legally remove his helmet after a score? Or a play? If they were refs they would throw that flag every play.
- When they run up the middle why doesn't the back simply run around the pile instead of through it where all the players are. I know the answer but I get berated with that question by my daughter constantly.
Just trying to lighten up the mood from the onslaught of gloom and doom questions. I hope they bounce back."
It's all for the children, Michael.
- It's all based on TV. If they need a TV timeout, it's automatically going to be longer. If they are calling timeout just to stop the clock, often it'll just be 30 seconds.
- Depends how the ball leaves his hand. But if the ball goes forward, it's usually called an interception.
- If I didn't say Adrian Wilson he might come after me. (But in my youth, before the Cardinals ever moved to Arizona, I liked Lynn Swann, Jerry Rice, Barry Sanders.)
- Technically, the helmet isn't allowed to come off on the field of play. So if someone does it before reaching the sideline, it's supposed to be a flag.
- I would suppose that's one of the hardest things to understand for a football novice, because it does seem counterintuitive -- at least until you team keeps taking losses trying to get around the edge.