The Cardinals are back over .500 and back in a playoff spot with three games left. It's going to be an interesting final three games. I'm sure it's an interesting mailbag too. As always, send in a question for a future mailbag by going here.
From Bob Haines via azcardinals.com:
"Great win for the Cardinals Sunday. The defense stepped up big time giving the Cards good field position all day. Not to be negative after such a tremendous effort and win, but I can't help but notice the offense failing to score from the 1-yard line again. After watching D-Hop catch the Hail Murray a few weeks ago and watching Big Dan (Arnold) go up for a great catch in the end zone this week, I am wondering why coach Kingsbury doesn't call the corner fade route to one of these receivers and let them out leap the defender for the ball. They both have great hands. Your thoughts?"
Generally, the fade route is one of the least certain plays in the playbook, considering all the other options. It takes a great deal to work, and if it isn't executed just so, the defender almost always gets a chance to make a play on breaking it up. I am not a huge fan of the play (although Fitz worked it pretty good a few times over the years.) Maybe Arnold. As good as Hop is, I'd rather see him be used in a different manner on the goal line.
From Lewis Adamajtis via azcardinals.com:
"After his big performance, Haason Reddick is obviously a big topic. Having had his fifth-year option declined by the team, is there a discourse about potentially bringing Reddick back in during free agency?"
I think the Cardinals would like to bring Reddick back, yes. But we will have to see what the market holds, especially in this offseason to come where the pandemic crushes the salary cap. The conventional wisdom is that the stars will get money but everyone else won't, so it'll be interesting to see where Reddick fits in the league's view.
From Gam Gam Norris via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren, looking at the 2021 free agency list, there are some names that have been discussed ad nauseum. P2 and Fitz. Those aside, I see a bunch of other names that cause concern. None greater than Dan Arnold. He's an unrestricted free agent to be. So what do we do? And what does he do? I think it's reasonably fair to say Arizona is the best place for Dan, if Dan wants long-term career success. However, is the money greater elsewhere? And just how valuable is Dan to us? I think it's fair to say that (PP/Fitz excluded) Dan is our biggest FA decision. What do you think?"
I think if you look at all the free agents the Cardinals will have, it's hard to say he is the biggest. Still, he's become an important piece. I think he fits well here and I think given the choice he would prefer to stay. But to say this is the only place he could flourish is just not true -- and if someone gives him a lot of money, you know they are going to make the effort to utilize him. As I said above with Reddick, what the market might be fore Arnold in a year where money is tight is going to be interesting to see.
From Tom Cowley via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren. Looking good now, could finish 9-7 if we can beat the Eagles and Niners, which will be easier said than done given our let-down-itis. Do you see more correction on offense upcoming given the sloppy performances lately? Seems there is still great hesitancy and reluctance on offense which wasn't present earlier in the season."
The Cards did make some corrections/adjustments Sunday to make things a little better offensively. The Giants didn't mush-rush like the previous three opponents did, and I will be interested to see how the Cards deal with the next team that presents that kind of look. However, I think it becomes only natural to have some hesitancy when things start not to work -- these are humans playing the game, and when things aren't going well doubt is natural. They were better in New York, but I think the way these last four games go as a whole, because the postseason is on the line, is the prism through which the season and the offense will be viewed.
From Jay Arthur via azcardinals.com:
"This has been spoken about a little before, but now it's canon. 'Haason Reddick' will forever be the short-hand counter argument for the claim 'coaches know best.' No they do not. Reddick is not a star, but he's a darn good pass rusher who will get paid next year, elsewhere. Good for him. How should we feel that we wasted three years of him at ILB? 'Reddick is too small to play OLB.' Apparently not. I don't think it's time to draw conclusions on Simmons yet, considering he's playing fairly well at ILB, but the bigger point is that players should play where they play best/are most comfortable. Do we not think Reddick in the last four years has told coaches that he'd prefer to be on the outside? Of course he has. Why has it taken this long?"
That's an awful broad brush, Jay. Once upon a time, I asked Logan Thomas if he'd give thought to moving to tight end and he did not want to do that, and he really didn't have any interest even when the Cards were about to cut him. But QB was where he was most comfortable, so ...
Or we could use the example of Fitz not wanting to move inside when Bruce Arians asked him to do so. Fitz was not comfortable there, but later acknowledged it was the right move. My point is that to take Reddick and make a sweeping generalization doesn't make sense to me. Reddick is better as a pass rusher. But if the Cards had seen him as only a pass rusher, they wouldn't have drafted him 13th overall either. Finally, it wasn't just one coaching staff but three that were seeing how he could be on the inside. In this case, it's clear Reddick was misused. But this is all case-by-case stuff.
From Thomas Krepelka via azcardinals.com:
"For the record: this question is being asked prior to the Giants game. I really invest a lot of time looking at the Film Room videos because the view looks like 'all-22' stuff the coaches and players get to see, which leads to this question: Do the coaches get much in-season time to work on the footwork of K1? He seems reluctant to step up into a pocket, or make a decisive move north on the football field, relying heavily on tremendous arm talent to make off-platform throws (usually moving away from the line of scrimmage). In short, what type of 'base/technique' time to the Cardinals have to address these issues week to week?"
The quarterbacks, like all positions, have positional drills following stretching during every practice. Most of that is the tedium of the same stuff day after day. Footwork is part of that, although since it is an individual level, there isn't going to be a lot of work within a pocket. They video all the practices and after it's over, in meetings, I'm sure where there are sequences where Murray could've stepped up in that situation it is pointed out, but it's not going to happen much in real time I wouldn't think, not when they are trying to practice the game plan over three days in a compressed time frame.
From Val K via azcardinals.com:
"You had a small but noticeable little quip in your post-game article about the sack trio that seemed to drip with underlying opinion. And that was your comment about Gardeck's incredibly high pass rush success rate despite extremely few opportunities. Elaborate sir. You seem to be thinking what we all are thinking."
I have to say, Val, I do not know what you or anyone else is thinking. I can guess with context that you are saying Dennis Gardeck should play more (He had those two sacks in eight snaps Sunday.) I might be able to see that to a point, but there are reasons -- most specifically, his size -- that makes it difficult to do it more. It's like when you bring in a running back who doesn't catch the ball well, you're almost announcing he's going to run. With Gardeck, if he's not rushing the passer, he's not doing what he does best. Besides, who are you sitting for him? Reddick? Golden?
From Cy Fredrick via azcardinals.com:
"In regards to Larry Fitzgerald being back and doing a presser for the first time in a while. Why can't more players be like Larry?"
I assume you are referring to his press conference? I mean, Larry has been polished speaking to the media for a long time, and he is 37, and has the maturity not all players have yet. I've been around Fitz his whole career. If you were around those first few years and saw and listened to his interviews, he wasn't this version of Larry either. Bigger picture, everybody is different.
From Robert Malicki via azcardinals.com:
"Hi, Darren, thanks for taking questions from fans. Mine is about Jim Hanifan and has ownership talked about him and his history with the Cardinals after his passing? Following my return from the war I became a Busch Stadium ticket holder in Don Coryell's initial season and saw how his staff impacted the team. Jim Hanifan was a treasure in developing the franchise's most successful O-line ever. Later, when he was made head coach by Bill Bidwill he repeated that success. The offense was a joy to watch."
I wrote a story with Michael and Ron Wolfley commenting after Hanifan had died. I do not know of anything beyond that.
From Victor Sanchez via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren. On Nugent's 55-yard field goal attempt the Giants' D-line made a big horizontal shift hoping to get the Cards to jump (which they did). Granted the O-Line needs to stay disciplined. I've seen this a few times now and in Cardinals games, I've seen us jump. I can recall Tampa doing it to us last year. I think this is not in good sportsmanship and think it should be made illegal."
That kind of thing has been around for a long time in various shapes and forms. I remember growing up and watching the Staubach-era Cowboys, their offensive line would come to the line, hunch over, and then, before the snap, quickly stand up and then get into their set. It was to shield the defense from seeing shifts in the backfield. But it was legal, and I don't see any of these currently legal shifts changing to illegal any time soon.
From Nicholas Reif via azcardinals.com:
"So we got a win. The defense was awesome, and the offense is looking better, I know Kenyan Drake got around 80 yards rushing but normally Drake and Edmonds aren't getting much for rushing yards when we needed it. What do you think of Eno Benjamin? I think he could be a good goal-line RB and getting those first downs on fourth downs. Have you seen him practice? Please help shed some light for me on why he isn't playing?"
We do not get to watch the majority of practice so I do not know how he has looked, although being so far down the depth chart I would assume he's not getting a ton of significant snaps anyway. Benjamin isn't active on Sundays because he does not play special teams, and right now, he's been deemed less effective as a back than Drake or Edmonds (at least), so that's why he isn't playing. I know he has a fan base here and he earned that. But he was still a seventh-round pick and it shouldn't be a shock he hasn't found the field.
From Frank the Tank via azcardinals.com:
"Temperature check - how do you, your colleagues, the fans, etc feel about this Cards team coming out of Sunday? Defense played lights out, no question, but granted, it's not like the Giants are a terrifying team. I want to discuss our offense. Yes, we won. But it appeared for the sixth week in a row, our offense was disjointed and inept. Based on our starting field positions and opportunities, we probably should've put 40 on the board. What the heck is wrong with this offense Darren? It's mind blowing."
They should've scored more points, but I don't think it was disjointed. If it wasn't for kneeldowns at the end they would have had 400 yards. They ran the ball better than they have in a while. Even Kyler Murray acknowledged there is more to achieve offensively than what they did, but there was no comparison to what they did Sunday to, say, what they did against the Rams and Patriots. Much better this time around. As far as what everyone else feels, I have no idea. For me, this team is still in good shape to make the postseason if those improvements they made against the Giants trend the same way. The Eagles won Sunday but the Cardinals are still a better team, and I believe they are better than the 49ers too. If they can be 9-6 going into the Rams finale, it's going to be fun to watch.
From Mark Hogan via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren. First off props to Haason Reddick. I'm sure the mailbag is flooded with questions about him so I wanted to go in a different direction: special teams. The punt unit put an exclamation point on the defense's effort and assisted in some great field position. Christian Kirk was outstanding. He returned five punts for at least eight yards. (The team had just three 8+ yard punt returns all season, per Pro Football Reference.) Do you think Sunday's performance is sustainable thanks to the Cardinals being more aggressive/ getting healthy/ etc there, or should it be filed away as coincidence? Was nice to do it against a special-teams mind like Joe Judge either way."
I've always thought the Cardinals' special teams were strong. I think Jeff Rodgers is a very good special teams coordinator, and it's been good to see back-to-back good games after a lone clunker in New England. We'll see on the punt returns but I think the coverage teams have been good all season. And of course we will see how the kicker situation unfolds.
From Ian McMechan via azcardinals.com:
"Hello. Since you have been covering the Cardinals who would you say has been the best situational coach and why? Thanks!"
That's an excellent question. Part of the problem is that you tend to remember the times when it didn't go well and not necessarily when it did. Plus, before analytics got a foothold, what are we talking about -- when to use timeouts and when to spike the ball? You rarely went for it unless you had to. I guess I'd probably lean Ken Whisenhunt, in part because he had a very heady QB in Kurt Warner who knew his stuff. Truthfully, I'd have to do a much deeper dive to come up with a solid answer.
From Sebastian Quiros via azcardinals.com:
"Hey Darren. Any idea of how much discussing and game-planning has there been behind getting Kyler to run more. Because whether we like it or not, and whether Kyler thinks we don't need him running to succeed, numbers don't lie. We win more when he runs more. We are far more dangerous when he runs. We are so much more explosive when he runs."
I'm sure it comes up every week as they determine the offensive course of action. Personally, I agree they are better when Murray is a running threat. But I also see where Kliff and Kyler come from in the perspective that drawing up 15 carries a game for Murray doesn't make sense either. Again, I think the threat of him shredding a defense is enough. That means he has to actually run once in a while, but if the threat is there, that should give the offense so many different ways to attack the other team -- even if the other team is determined to take Murray's running away.
From Mark Hogan via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren. How prepared for Life After Larry* do you think the Cardinals are following Fitz's two missed games? Did any intangibles seem glaringly absent to you? (I, for instance, feel Fitzgerald would have encouraged DeAndre Hopkins more late against LA and don't know who fills that void. Open to correction.)
*Subsequent Cardinals-centric podcast debuting 2025ish."
That's an interesting question. As far as the actual offense on the field, it feels like they have already been transitioning that way anyway. His use has shrunk. It's not hard to see. But the other aspects? There was one point Sunday when it got a little heated between the Cards and Giants -- at least until it looked like Fitz playfully got involved (I think with Jabrill Peppers) and everyone kind of settled down. Fitz has that vibe to him, and I have no doubt it helps in the locker room. That said, every team loses guys like that over time. The Cards will find a way, although in the short-term, it might sting a bit.
From William W via azcardinals.com:
"Hey Darren, In the beginning of the season we were doing great. Now I feel teams have found a 'formula' for beating our offense and I'm not really seeing any change from us to counter what teams are doing. I know we can't overhaul the playbook or anything midseason but unless I'm missing something I don't see our offense making any adjustments what do ever. In your professional opinion do you think we should figure out something else to get working or just keep busting out what we are doing and hope it works?"
To be clear, this question came in before the Giants game, but it was also apparent the Cardinals tweaked a couple of things against the Giants and the results was almost 400 yards. I do think they have made some adjustments, but I also think Kyler Murray is still learning things as an NFL quarterback (and, for that matter, Kliff Kingsbury is still learning things as an NFL coach). Kingsbury has already shown since he got into the league he is willing to change things. But the offense is never going to look completely different; Kliff was hired for his offensive ideas and they have shown to work pretty often, before this latest patch. (One of the losses in that 1-4 stretch, they had a great game offensively against a good Dolphins defense. They just didn't win.)
From Jake Wayans via azcardinals.com:
"Is Jordan Phillips trending towards free-agent bust status? Clearly been injury prone. And when he did play, he hasn't had a sack since Week 3. Not attacking the dude personally, I really like JP. But from a business and performance aspect, he's not delivered."
If he tore up his knee, would he be a bust? Because, and I don't know the extent of his hamstring issue, but if he tore his hamstring, I'm not sure how that makes him a bust. I think the hope was that he was going to provide push in the pocket, not that he would necessarily get another 9.5 sacks. For me, injuries are unfortunate but part of the game, and I'm going to see what happens next year. He's not going anywhere.
From Steve Drumm via azcardinals.com:
"Why is Kliff still sticking with Zane Gonzalez despite his kicking woes these last several games? He has a good leg but his struggles seem to be with 40-49 yard kicks. He was good in 2019 but three of his four missed kicks were from that range. Since the start of 2019 he has missed 10 field goals, 8 of them have been from 40-49 yards. Why did the team sign Mike Nugent to the practice squad and if they don't feel he can be an upgrade why not at least audition other kickers?"
First of all, you know we are in a pandemic, right? Clearing a guy just for an audition is, frankly, difficult and a long-drawn out process. The Cardinals signed Nugent because, and I have written this a few times, they wanted to have a kicker around because if Gonzalez got nailed with COVID, they would have a kicker for just that very reason that it takes a week to clear a guy to join a roster. I understand the frustration with Gonzalez, but at this point, they still believe in him. I know Nugent made all four of his kicks but all were within 40 yards and Gonzalez makes all of those too. What happens the rest of this season, and next, we will have to see. Gonzalez is a free agent-to-be.
From Owen Nash via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren. I'm both very surprised by something/and not surprised at the same time. Drake's fumbles. I don't have an official count, but it was 3-4 total correct? Including fumbles on back-to-back drives. Apparently since we didn't lose the fumbles, they are forgettable and OK. Oh no big deal, run him out there again. Zeke Elliott fumbled three times in our game vs Dallas, and people were calling for his job; understandably. And yet I haven't heard a peep about Drake. If you don't punish fumbling, then where's the incentive to not fumble? Drake should absolutely be benched."
So Drake fumbled twice Sunday. He had one lost fumble against the Bills. Those are all the fumbles he's had this season. That's worth benching him? That seems pretty extreme. I would say the incentive to not fumbling is that you don't want your team to lose. Unless you feel like he's fumbling on purpose. (Hint: He's not.)
From Don P via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren. Need you to settle a debate. During an interview with Kyler he was asked about the comments Brock Huard made regarding his efforts at practice. Kyler stated he didn't know about the comments or who Huard was. Does the media relations department meet with every player prior to an interview to brief or prep them?"
I don't know if it happens with every player before every interview but it does happen. I don't know if there was any with Kyler before that interview. Even if Murray did know some specifics, he wouldn't be the first person to feign ignorance in such a situation. Regardless, he ended up answering the question, so I don't think it's that big of a deal.
From Raine Voights via azcardinals.com:
"Hey Darren, thanks for the mailbag! I am a little confused? When we first hired Kliff he went on about this 'air raid' offense and how he wanted to play fast and move the ball down the field. However during the losing streak and especially during the Rams game the offense started off by running a base-looking offense. Then in the second half he decided to run his fast-paced offense which actually allowed us to score. Why does he not start the game like that?"
Kingsbury acknowledged he wishes he would've gone to it sooner against the Rams. I don't know if it would've changed the entire complexion of the game, but it could've helped. Bigger picture, Kliff never once "went on" about the air raid offense. The media might have talked about it, but Kingsbury has consistently said there are multiple layers to what they do. (Make no mistake, there are plenty of air raid principles in the playbook, but this is not a true air raid offense.)
From Charlie O via azcardinals.com:
"This is more of a philosophy question. Old school fourth-and-goal you kicked and took the points. Néw school is go for it. Seems like the Cards have lost some games where the points would of made a difference. So the questions is, how do you feel about going for it on fourth-and-goal inside the 5? I get game can determine what you need but early on I think the three points matter. I will admit it is exciting football though."
I don't understand when you say "early on" three points matter. The analytics prove that it almost always makes sense to go for it on fourth-and-1 or fourth-and-goal from the 1. You won't make it every single time, and those are the times you remember. But over the course of time, it makes much more sense to go (of course, taking into account situations.) For instance, the missed field goal at the end of the Miami game, the analytics said the Cards should have gone for it anyway because the chances were good the Dolphins -- with a kicker with a big leg -- would've had time to get a game-winning field goal. Which seems counterintuitive sometimes when you're talking about tying a game with less than two minutes left. As for the"early" points, it's just as easy to argue that early is exactly the time to go for it -- if it's the first quarter or first half, there is so much more football left to be played.
From Kenneth Schroeder via azcardinals.com:
"Last week you talked about Larry and producing last year compared to this year. I think we are confused since last year he was the No.1 and had the better cornerback on him and he produced 800 yards compared to this year he is playing with Hop and Kirk and now he's just not productive anymore? It doesn't add up. Less game plans against him and less pressure of being No.1. Thoughts on this perspective? Thanks again, South Dakota's biggest fan!"
I'd have to look back on the matchups last year -- I'm not sure he always had the better cornerback on him. Do I think he has more in him than the amount he is producing/being targeted? Yes I do. But I'm also not breaking down the video every day and seeing what he has physically compared to say, Dan Arnold (who, in my opinion, is getting the kind of targets and routes Fitz could potentially get.)
From Joey Cammiso via azcardinals.com:
"Darren, how do you become a sports writer like yourself? Obviously a degree helps but in your experience what is the career path for most writers you have encountered? Also what made you want to be a sports writer? Was it a childhood dream or something you realized would be cool during school? What's the worst part of your job? What's the best? If you could be anything else tomorrow what would it be?"
The path to being a sportswriter these days is a lot different than it was when I was coming up. There were a lot more newspapers and a lot more paid ways to earn some experience. Because being good at writing is all about the reps, just like sports. I always liked to write and I always loved sports (and always knew I wasn't going to be good enough to play) so I've wanted to do this since I was 9, and I wouldn't do anything else. This is what I love. The worst part of the job? It's like any other job -- there are things you get frustrated with, whether it's an inability to hook up with someone for an interview or breaking news at a time when you thought you'd be off. The best? I enjoy being in the middle of something I would be watching all the time anyway if, say, I was a teacher or an accountant.
From Lorne Nel via azcardinals.com:
"Darren! Love ya, don't wanna give you a complex with this question, but what are you to this team? Your job, I mean. I'm very confused by your position. Because you're like a fan engagement writer (which is awesome), but use your personal Twitter, and it's a mix of team stuff, and personal Urban life stuff. Which again, is great. But one would think as the team's biographer that you would have a more official position. Sort of like the President's press secretary. You are sorta PR right? Who on this team is more public relations (i.e. fan relations) than you? You are the most publicly visible and vocal Cardinals staff member. I don't know if you've ever thought about that. You do great work."
Lotsa ways to feel about that question, Lorne. You have hit on a couple of subjects I feel very strongly about, however. I do not see myself as a team biographer, per se. I am most certainly not PR -- we have a media relations staff to do that -- and definitely not a "press secretary." If people want press releases, I'm not the guy. If you want just the rah-rah stuff, that's why we have the team's official social media accounts. You don't need my Twitter feed for that. My background is in journalism, I worked for newspapers for about 17 years before I came to the team, and that is how I approach things, at least the best I can. I try and be the logical, level-headed approach. I'm not going to go too over the top unless the team is playing really well. But even if the team struggles, I also don't see the depths of hell many fans can see. What are the facts? (There are other parts of my job behind the scenes, but it sounded like you were talking about the front-facing stuff.)