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You've Got Mail: Lions Week

Topics include season expectations, KeeSean Johnson and the 2020 draft (!?!)


Finally, the regular season.

Everyone has been looking for answers about what this team will look like, especially on offense. (In fact, some of the questions below!) That'll come for sure on Sunday, when they play the Lions at State Farm Stadium. In the meantime, of course I will do my best to answer what questions you have in this week's mailbag. As a reminder, you can always drop a question for the next mailbag by clicking here.

As you can imagine, the public face of what the Cardinals want is going to be glass-half-full at least. Certainly, they want to make some noise and at this point, I would doubt they would say anything to contradict that. But in the end, I have said this since Kyler Murray was drafted -- if this team can be competitive (which they were not last season most weeks), if Kyler Murray can make reasonable strides as a rookie quarterback (even if he isn't Baker Mayfield-rookie year, he can be, say, Cam Newton-rookie year, which was pretty solid), if they look like they have an offense that can score some points, I think that's the right step forward. If they win six games, that's still doubling the win total. But of course, details matter, and we have to see why they have whatever issues they might have.

Here's how I see the waiver claim situation -- might you find a guy or two to add depth? Sure. But those aren't the guys who will ultimately determine the course of your season. They weren't going to find someone to ease the pain of missing both starting cornerbacks, for instance. But if Kevin Peterson can give you a few fill-in snaps should Brock/Murphy/Jones get hurt, then that's what they are there for. I do think Marsh helps for outside linebacker depth, a guy you wouldn't normally have been able to get at that point. Not that he's a game-changer, but they are better off there. Hopefully they find a swing tackle that works (actually, hopefully Humphries and Gilbert stay healthy). It's not like my expectations were sky high for those guys. They got cut. And as much as I thought, for instance, Ricky Seals-Jones and T.J. Logan were good people and I hope they stuck around, I also don't see why some fans melt down when they are released. Their roles would have been limited at most.

From Matthew Walsh via

"I read an interesting article which offered a view on the proposed offense Coach Kingsbury plans on installing. The critique was two points: 1) It's great between the 20s but will struggle to score consistently in the red zone when the field shrinks; and 2) The edge will be vulnerable and cause the pocket to collapse and/or sacks at a higher rate. I'm curious if you've had conversations about either topic or if, anything you've seen so far, there appears to be an effort to overcome those stigmas about Coach K's offense?"

My first reaction is that unless Kingsbury or someone with the Cardinals wrote the article, I'm not sure how they would know for sure what the "proposed offense" will be, because they have certainly kept it hidden from view. That said, I understand all the concerns about what Kliff did in college and using those things on the NFL level. But I also think Kingsbury is a smart guy, he's been in the NFL, and I always wonder why people assume he won't have figured out some of these same potential issues and worked on solutions. Bottom line, I don't know how this is going to play out. When we talk about them playing it close to the vest, that includes what I have been able to see/glean.

This feels like a fantasy football question, but nevertheless, I don't know how that is going to play out. I have said a few times, the way camp and the preseason played out, I think Isabella will get some time but in a specialized role. Right now, he's not in line to start as the third receiver. It'll be Fitz and Kirk and then the rest of the rotation will be interesting to watch -- how KeeSean Johnson fits in early, how quickly Michael Crabtree can get on the field and contribute, and even how much they use the speed of Damiere Byrd.

From Kevin Campbell via

"Darren, I am a former coach of 18 years and I believe if Kingsbury keeps a balance run and pass ratio 50/50, he has a chance to win eight or more games. On the contrary, if he passes 70% and runs the ball 30%, then the Cardinals will most likely have the first pick in the 2020 draft and win perhaps two games. So you think that is a realistic expectation based on the run-pass ratio?"

This is where I should probably turn you over to Kyle and his analytics-bent, but I believe pretty strongly in my thoughts anyway. I think any generalization about run/pass ratios is out of date in today's football and today's NFL. Bill Belichick proves that on a weekly basis. There are weeks the Patriots win passing 75 percent of the time. Sometimes, they run a ton. I believe you cannot win in this league if you cannot pass effectively, regardless of your run game. I believe that the stat about 100-yard rushers and winning games is meaningless, because usually, teams that are winning run more at the end of the game because they are already winning. I believe running the ball can't be forgotten, but is not as important as it once was.

Now, do I think he'll pass the ball 70 percent of the time over the course of a season? No. But I can make the argument that, if he does, it'll be because he is behind a lot, and probably losing a lot of games, and if that's the case, did the Cardinals have a bad record because they passed so often, or did they pass so often because they were going to have a bad record?

The same way every single other athlete/coach does it when they come in after a bad situation -- because they believe in themselves. Otherwise, Kingsbury wouldn't have taken the job, right? If you personally were hired for a position in which the previous person was fired, would you go in thinking, "Oh man, I could get fired too." No, you'd probably think, "they should've hired me in the first place."

From Garth Short via

"Most guesses about the final 53 have the team keeping seven or eight wide receivers. If so, how many will be active on game days?"

This question probably came before final cuts, but it still works. The Cardinals have seven wide receivers. I could see six of them active on game days, if the Cards plan on using, for instance, Byrd as a kickoff return man. Maybe that could balloon to all seven because of special teams -- Byrd as KOR, Sherfield as a cover guy. Early, I am curious to whether Crabtree is active the first game or two based on his learning curve and conditioning, and once he is playing, if there is a chance Isabella could be inactive.

According to the NFLPA site as of Tuesday morning, the Cardinals have about $8.17 million in cap space, so I am assuming that takes into account the most recent waiver claims and the Marsh signing. That's about par for the course this time of year, even with all the dead money the team is carrying. There has never once been a thought of tanking from the organization to my knowledge, which only makes sense (if you can say such a thing in the NFL) if you are chasing a franchise QB, which the Cards already believe they have. I have to admit, I find the non-designating of Gresham an odd example of why they would be tanking.

From Tony Ezeh via

"Is it just me or does David Johnson seem a step slower than usual? Back in 2016 it almost seemed like every time he was handed the ball it was going to be some type of highlight reel. Every since his significant injury in 2017 I just don't see the same burst when he gets the ball handed to him (run or pass play). Maybe it's the O-line ? Was our O-line back in 2016 that much better? What do you think?"

The 2017 injury was to his wrist, so that shouldn't affect his burst. To me, it isn't that Johnson is a step slower, but it does feel like he has danced around looking for the perfect hole more often than he used to do. So perhaps hitting the hole quicker is how I'd see it. It's hard to blame him, given how difficult it has been to find running room. But I do think it needs to get better. As far as the offensive line, I don't know if the 2016 line was significantly better. But after the lost 2017 season, last year was just a disaster all around, from line struggles to line injuries (often there were linemen playing who normally should not have been) to an offense that just wasn't well-put together or effective. David insists he's going to have a redemption year. There is no reason I can see right now why he wouldn't be capable of it.

As I noted above, I have not gotten a good look at much. Not beyond what the rest of the media gets to see. I'm governed by the same rules, and that includes coming in after individual drills at practice. So I don't know. Given that there are only two tight ends on the roster, I don't expect to see a lot of two tight-end sets, frankly. But that is why Sunday is so intriguing -- because even though we can guess at what we're going to see, no one knows for sure.

From KylerQB1 via

"Hi Darren, when I say early, I mean way too early, but the optimist in me wants to ask if KeeSean Johnson is one of the most impressive rookie WRs you've ever seen? I know there are 'camp stars' every year. But the way this infant has picked up the game as if he's a 10-year veteran is stunning. Possibly at bare minimum we have found a long-term #2 WR ala Anquan Boldin (different style WRs, I know)."

Couple of things here: Anquan wasn't a No. 2. He was a No. 1 who just happened to be playing with another No. 1 in Fitz. That's what made that tandem so incredible for the six years they played together -- you had two great wide receivers. If KeeSean Johnson can develop into another Anquan, that would be amazing. In terms of production, if KeeSean can be, at least, a Floyd or Smokey Brown or even a Breaston when those players were at their best, the Cardinals would be overjoyed (obviously they'd like for Johnson's peak to last longer in a Cardinals' uniform.) But Smoke was pretty eye-popping as a rookie. I'll say this -- Johnson's maturity as a route-runner has been incredible. Hopefully it'll translate to the regular season.

From Joy Brooks via

"Watching the preseason games, i do think we have some really good young receivers now. However, they can all learn from our most reliable receiver, Larry Legend. I know he didn't play much and it was just preseason, but Coach Kingsbury has been made aware of Larry's consecutive catch record, hasn't he? Don't want to see that end before he gets another record or two."

This question made me chuckle a bit. Don't worry. Fitz is going to get his work, and he'll still be important in the offense.

From Jerry Brown via

"Will Haason Reddick be available to play at the start of the regular season? If so, how effective do you think he will be? Who is the likely alternative?"

I think it'll be close to see if Reddick is available Sunday. I am guessing he'll show up limited on the injury report and probably questionable for Sunday, just to give him the most time to potentially be ready. If he can't go, I'd guess Joe Walker will be the starter with Jordan Hicks.

On offense, I am going to go with KeeSean Johnson and/or Michael Crabtree. On defense, frankly, I am anxious to see what Terrell Suggs does now that it's the regular season.

From Joe Jackson via

"Do you feel that Kingsbury has been overthinking the NFL so far? For example, not showing anything in a preseason is understandable, but normally for a team with tenure."

Not sure what tenure has to do with anything -- like you have to "earn" your ability to run what you want in games that are meaningless. Don't forget, he has an entire staff of NFL coaches that likely agreed with the approach. No, I don't think he's overthinking the NFL. Just like I don't think the Cards are Super Bowl-bound should it go well Sunday against the Lions, or that all of Kingsbury's ideas are terrible if they struggle.

Primeiro de tudo, é Vance - só quero ser preciso. Mas ele queria ser agressivo, algo que será mais difícil sem Patrick Peterson e Robert Alford. Estou curioso para ver quais coberturas ele usa - e como essa defesa de resistência vai aguentar.

(Thanks, Google translate. Hope it turned out somewhat readable.)

From Robert Malicki via

"My question concerns your take on the playing surfaces of many NFL stadiums. Games played on natural grass see the old-school use of cleats by players give them the dual benefit of dig and give. I have noticed in stadiums having other surfaces too much sliding and falling by the players. I saw it at Lucas Oil when the Cardinals played there and the current games played and shown on TV, including up in Minnesota, players not being able to trust their footing? Am I imagining this as a problem? I know years ago when carpet surfaces first were introduced the big complaint was it being too hard and unforgiving?"

Today's artificial surfaces are vastly different than the ones originally used in the 1970s. That was a thin mat over concrete. This has much more give. It's possible slipping happens more often than normal turf, but I don't think players think about their footing much in those situations.

From Punchy Juan via

"Hi Darren! I know you don't like talking 2020 draft at 9:17am on August 26th, but I'm gonna ask anyways: No matter where we pick in the first round, would you put a house mortgage on us targeting offensive line? If not, what other position? I'm all for BPA. But at some point you need to prioritize the merchandise. Protect Kyler. (FYI - I am a draft watcher and there are some GOOD OLs in next year's draft. Hope is coming)."

Obviously this is an older question but it was too good to pass up, even though yes -- how could you possibly be thinking draft right now? That said, will they target a first-round offensive lineman? I know it's not the answer you (or many want) but no, I don't think they'll go in that specific. Do they need to add a good piece to the line? Yes. And I totally could see them taking a lineman. But it does matter where they are picking and what is out there. If there is a stud pass rusher to grab to pair with Chandler Jones, would you pass on him? A Patrick Willis-type inside linebacker? A stud defensive lineman? I think it'd be foolish to box yourself in -- especially if what you say is true and the draft will be deep in offensive linemen. (All that said, I do think the Cards have to find a way to get young, good talent on the line.)

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