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You've Got Mail: Eagles Week

Topics include taking a receiver high, passing on Lamar, and rookie futures

Conner Wilkinson mailbag 122623

We are hurtling toward the end of the year and the end of the season, with a trip to Philly -- and a Jonathan Gannon return to his former team -- up next. First, the mailbag. Questions have been edited for length and clarity. Don't forget to send a question for a future mailbag.

From Richard Wakefield:

"Please explain why Gannon went for two instead of kicking the PAT to be one score down?"

A fair question. The Cardinals, down 24-10, scored late on the Dortch TD and then, instead of kicking the extra point to make it a seven-point game, the Cardinals went for two to make the lead six. The play failed, and the Cardinals were down eight. Let me start by saying I completely understand why someone would question it. But the reality is that the math/analytics have begun to steer teams into going for two if they score a TD down 14. Here is why.

If you choose to kick the extra point on both TDs (assuming you score both and give up no more points) your best case scenario is getting to overtime, where you still can lose. If you go for two on the first TD and are successful -- and let's say you have a 50-50 chance to convert the two-pointer -- then if you score again the kick wins the game. If you fail, you still have a chance to go for two again after the second TD to go to overtime. But you give yourself a chance to win in regulation that does not exist if you just kick. The Titans and Mike Vrabel just did it in Week 14. Down 14, the scored a TD and then converted a two-pointer and then their late TD and kicked XP won the game over the Dolphins.

Gannon said his main reason is knowing what the team would have to do at end of game -- after the Cardinals would presumably score the second touchdown. 

That doesn't mean the human element isn't/shouldn't be factored in. And the Cardinals have struggled in two-point conversions, making only 3 of 12 so far this season. But there was a basis for the decision and many NFL teams have considered/used it.

From Stan Cupchak:

"Hey Darren, in your opinion do WRs move the needle much in terms of wins and losses? Like everyone else I would like to draft WR Marvin Harrison Jr in the upcoming draft, but then I pause and wonder if that's the right decision. On one hand I might be overthinking it, and making another infamous 'just draft Adrian Peterson' blunder, but the more I think about it, it really feels like WRs don't matter all that much. Here in Arizona we had statistically a top 3 WR in NFL history for 18 years. While he wasn't a dominant WR similar to Randy Moss, he was a consistently good WR that any team would love to have. With that said, we rarely experienced success over those 18 years. The major factor that did change our stars was the QB position. Warner and Palmer made us winners, not the WR. Furthermore, we briefly had a No. 1 WR on this team recently with D-Hop. While he had one statistically dominant season with us, again, we can't say we were a consistently good team with him. So here I wonder if Marvin should be the pick."

Here is my take on that. Great players help, regardless of the position. I guess Fitz wasn't quite Moss in his prime, but Fitz wasn't just consistently good to me, he was great. Harrison might be great. Adrian Peterson turned out to be great. But, and there is always a but, these things don't happen in a vacuum. The salary cap matters. Other positions tend to become more important overall. And perhaps most importantly this year, the draft has a lot of very good to potential great wide receiver prospects even if you do not include Harrison. I do think the Cardinals need to upgrade at wide receiver. You can't rule out Harrison. But after watching one Monti draft -- and assuming a QB isn't in play for that high pick -- it feels more likely to be a trade down and go after another key spot and take a receiver later on.

From Riley M:

"Big game for Gannon this week in Philadelphia. Do you think it'll mean a lot to Gannon? When he left Philly after the Super Bowl it sure seemed it was emotional for the fans when it all went down. Curious what you think."

I think it'll mean a lot to Gannon just like any game like that means a lot to a player -- regardless of what they might say publicly. Gannon had a great run with the Eagles, helped get them to a Super Bowl, and yet took a ton of criticism (and still does.) That would bother me for sure. The Eagles are a great team right now and it will be a difficult game for the Cardinals. I am guessing he will low-key his personal connection to the game. 

From Sebas Quiros:

"Hey Darren. I'm kind of a sucker for offseason upgrades on general, so even if we are far off, let me throw a question at you. You've said many times Monti seems like a guy who will focus BIG time on the trenches. I'm very happy about that, but I don't want it to be to a ridiculous level. I mean, we are picking more likely than not at three. And while I acknowledge our O-line needs some juice but I feel like that's mainly at guard. You just drafted Paris and Hump has two years left. I think passing on receiver, which is also very necessary, and considering Marvin Harrison Jr could be there, would be a mistake."

As I explained above, that's what I feel might happen with Monti with his first pick. But who knows? I will say this, if one of those tackles has the chance to be as good at his position as Harrison is at his, is that not worth it? Hump has time left on his contract but that does not mean he is guaranteed that spot. I agree receiver is necessary. But there will be a lot of potential guys like that in the draft even if it isn't Harrison. 

From Tye:

"Do you think the organization regrets not drafting Lamar Jackson in 2018? I know it's been five years but he was a huge miss for all other 31 teams that passed up on him. Baltimore took the risk and it's paid off for them."

You are right, he has paid off for Baltimore, although all the other teams had a chance to get him last offseason if they were willing to spend the two first-rounders. As for "the organization," do you mean Michael Bidwill. Because the GM and two coaches have come and gone since then. I suppose there might be a twinge of regret sometimes, but no more than for any other top player you might have gotten your hands on. It's the NFL. You are going to have a bunch of those "misses" every draft, once hindsight is applied. 

From Jerry Mackenzie:

"Hi Darren, it's about time I think we take Hollywood Brown off the table so put Dortch in there. Also, what about bringing Ertz back? They're paying them anyway, he's tall, he catches the ball, make a deal with him."

Zach Ertz is not coming back. 

From Brad Wheeler:

"The Cardinals have played a lot of rookies this season. Any catching your eye more than others? How many of these guys can make sense as starters next year?"

I do think the Cardinals have a lot of rookies that can play important roles next season. Starters? Paris Johnson is going to remain a starter, and I think BJ Ojulari has a chance to earn a spot as an edge rusher -- although DC Nick Rallis likes to use a rotation there anyway, so I am not sure how important starting is. Michael Wilson had a nice start but injuries and lack of connection with Kyler Murray have slowed things of late; I still think he'll be in the mix. Dante Stills could start next year and I think cornerback is wide open too, for Garrett Williams (likely) and Kei'Trel Clark and Starling Thomas. They have started 11 different rookies in 2023. The math says some of those guys will start next season.

From Jake Reardon:

"Hi Darren. Logistical travel question. After an away game, must all players fly back with the team? Or may they go off on their own (perhaps its their hometown) and fly back to AZ by themselves, so long as they are back in time for the next practice? I was curious with Christmas on Monday, if there were any East Coast members of the team who preferred to head home directly after the game, and then fly back to AZ on Tuesday."

I do not know if there were any players like that -- or even if that is something that is OK with Gannon -- but the timing was good this year for that potential after the Bears game. The players had Christmas off and Tuesday remained their off day so it could be done. Most of the time no, though, because Monday is a work day with meetings and film review. 

From Stacy D:

"With the Niners getting beat up by the Ravens this week, are there any great teams? Who is going to end up in the Super Bowl because every time a team seems like it'll be that team, they play a game that shows the opposite."

The Ravens looked pretty great this week, although it's fair since the 49ers had been steamrolling teams up until Monday. The hot team at the right time will be in the Super Bowl because that's usually how it works -- think 2008 Cardinals -- and it does have a wide-open feel in both conferences. (Although it's tough to see someone beating the Ravens -- they have led at the two-minute warning in every game.)

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