Not an ideal finish to the Monday night game against the Rams, and now the Cardinals are feeling just how thin the margin for error is at the top of the standings. Nevertheless, the mailbag marches on. As always, you can send in a question for a future mailbag here.
From Angela Nunn:
"Just writing to ask someone to pass along a message to Chandler Jones. I would like to personally congratulate him on becoming the Cardinals all time sack leader. With that he passed my late Uncle Freddie Joe Nunn's record. I am very happy to see that he honored my uncle in doing so by showing Freddie on a T-shirt, giving him the honor and respect for a record he held for many years. I was so happy to see Chandler do that and I know my uncle would be overjoyed. My uncle and I were close and it hurt me to my heart to lose him. Again, congrats and many many thanks to Chandler Jones. Much love and respect!"
Angela, I'll make sure Chandler sees this. And I am sorry for your loss.
From Dhruvraj Parmar:
"Hey Darren, thanks for the mailbag. Quick reminder to critics we are still 10-3 and I am not gonna lose hope for Super Bowl aspirations. I have one question and one rant .
- Communication errors that have happened have now cost us one game for sure and another one maybe, if say a Hail Murray was possible again. Now that it looks hard to regain the top NFC seed given the Bucs' schedule is way easier than ours for remaining season, how do you think Kliff/Kyler will handle a hostile playoff crowd?
- I get that the Rams were the better team on MNF but not necessarily in the first half . We finished the first half tied at 13-13. Here is what I heard (roughly) from commentators: 'This Rams defense has stepped up big and stuffed the offense here. This Arizona offense needs to put some points on the board.' At 13-13, I am just heartbroken to hear that if I was listening without knowing the score. #JustSaying."
The announcer thing doesn't really rile me up much. Most of the time they don't really know much. They can't -- they just aren't around the teams enough. As for the first question, a) it's a stretch to say the last miscommunication (where everyone was expecting a spike but Kyler) cost them a game. They would've been some 60 yards from the end zone, much further than last year's heave; and b) as far as hostile crowds, the Cards have done a decent job of that thus far.
From Jason Beckum:
"Hi Darren, after this loss, what can be done to fix our O-line? We let Brian Winters go early in the season. Now we have backups in at guard, but when we face teams with good D-lines we are getting bullied. Also why are we so better on the road then at home? As a Cardinal fan last night was a really good representation of the Red Sea home crowd, but it didn't seem to matter. We have all complained that we never have enough fans, but we can't have home-field games if we can't win at home."
Gotta say, this is panic fandom at its peak. The offensive line is fine. The guards struggled against the Rams, yes. Shockingly, it was because the best defensive player in the league was playing at the top of his game. If you think Brian Winters would've been much different (and he was released because he couldn't earn the job over the guys already here), I'm not sure what to tell you. No one was complaining about the line after the Bears game. Or the Seahawks game. As far as the home games, no one knows exactly what it is -- obviously it's been a topic of conversation for weeks now. If there was a specific thing, trust me, they'd work on it.
From Darrell from Pinetop:
"Hey Darren, obviously the Cards blew a chance to clinch a playoff spot against the Rams. While I think there is still a good chance the Cards get in, the game has me concerned about the play calling on fourth down. The Rams are a good team, but I can only wonder how things might have turned out if Kliff didn't try to force it on fourth down. There are a lot of things to clean up, but one thing I noticed is why does Kliff call lateral throws to Moore that don't seem to go anywhere?"
With Moore, the Rams sniffed those out pretty well. The idea is to get Moore in space. It hasn't worked out quite as well of late as they'd like, clearly. As for fourth downs, I don't have an issue with them going on fourth down. I understand the frustration with the Conner stop on the last one and whether that could've been a different play, but the Hop drop -- tell me you wouldn't take a slant on 4th-n-2 to an open Hopkins every single time.
From Albert Fuller:
"Hi Darren, again thank you for mail bag and everything you do. Hypothetically, let's say the Cardinals go to the Super Bowl and win. Does that raise the amount of salary cap and/or total spending money to keep players here in Arizona so that we can make another deep run next season. Or does the salary cap and/or total spending money stay the same? Again thank you."
The salary cap is the same for each team. A team's success -- or lack thereof -- has nothing to do with the cap. The only differences is that unused cap space can be rolled over for the next year, although the Cards have basically used up theirs. Good news on the cap front -- the cap, now that fans are back in the stands -- is jumping from a dip of $182.5 million this season to $208M next year.
From Sebastian Quiros:
"Hey Darren. How come Rasul Douglas wasn't really much for us but on Green Bay he's tearing it? He has a few picks in not that many games and really has played great for them. Is it a matter of system? Or perhaps different styles of coaching? It just seems odd that a player we dropped from the practice squad because he didn't pan out goes to another team to play like very solid corner, not just a regular decent corner, but a very solid one."
Some of it was opportunity. Sometimes, a guy gets on a hot streak. Here, he was not better than Antonio Hamilton, who is the fourth cornerback. It's not like the Cardinals screwed up. Heck, Douglas was once a third-round pick of the cornerback starved Eagles and they cut him, and he was cut by the Texans and Raiders this offseason before the Cardinals signed him. (And if A.J. Green turns around, he goes from making a game-saving pick to allowing a game-winning touchdown.)
From Ian McMechan:
Now that is a fascinating question. I know with recency bias many will say the Hail Murray. I think it would be that hands down if it had propelled the Cardinals to a playoff season. Unfortunately, the season got a little sideways after that. Given the history -- how it might've solidified Josh McCown's spot at QB (at least short term) and opened the window for the Cards to draft Larry Fitzgerald, right now, I'm giving McCown to Poole the edge. But time helps make these things more iconic, if that makes sense.
From Jeff Smith:
"Darren, I appreciate you responding to my questions. It's probably not worthy but makes me feel important (I show my daughter and it makes for a fun conversation). I have been a long time fan of the Cardinals and can honestly say the 2021 Cards give confidence I have never experienced. This said, Jordan Hicks, JJ Watt, DJ Humphries, Marcus Golden, James Conner, Budda Baker, Hopkins and Murray are the heart and sole of the team. Zaven and lesser so, Simmons will command salary cap space, I would argue not congruent with the impact on losing players of influence. Will or would the execs jettison a recently acquired number 1 pick to keep proven leaders. Would be disappointed to lose proven players for potential."
I'm not sure what you are asking, exactly. Right now, Simmons and Collins are on rookie deals. Simmons wouldn't be eligible for an extension until after the 2022 season at the earliest and non-QBs tend not to get those extensions until even later. So it's a moot point. The reality is that, when you win, and when you have veteran players, you can't keep them all. You just can't. Of your list, only Conner is not under contract for 2022, so many of those guys will be around at least another season if that's what the Cardinals want to do. You'll need to think about extended some of them before then, yes, but the Cards have time.
From Nick R:
"I know Chase Edmonds comes back soon. Do you think he will resume his role as No. 1 RB or be behind Conner or 50 - 50 type of thing. Love both of them, I also like Eno Benjamin. Do you think we'll see him again this season?"
Once Edmonds and Ward both return, it'll be interesting to see what they do with Eno. As for Chase and Conner, I believe they will move back to the roles both had early in the season, when it felt more 50-50.
From Robert Malicki:
"Hi, Darren. Could you comment on the question of division games, or rivalry games, in the NFC West? Even though it's been quite awhile since the division was formed, the national media seems to emphasize this issue far more for teams east of the Mississippi than those out west. The exception might be the AFC West because those rivalries pre-date the NFL-AFL merger and are known well by old-time football fans. The oldest continuous rivalry would be Rams vs. 49'ers with the other combinations shorter-lived. Here in the Midwest media coverage can be intense even if one team has dominated another in the division. To me the Cardinal-Rams game is being covered in a too-laid back manner. Is there a different vibe with divisional games there compared to what we in the Midwest witness?"
I mean, the Monday night game was important. No way around that. I do think the Cardinals have been, despite their record, under the radar much of the season. I'm sure that is more of a factor than division games. I don't get the sense the nation is talking a lot of about the NFC or AFC South either. The conversation is around the big brands and/or the big cities. Steelers-Ravens, all the NFC East, Packers-whomever in the NFC North.
From John White:
"When a kicker sets up to kick a field goal how do they determine which hashmark they will kick from? Thanks for the mailbag!"
The hashmark is determined by the previous play. If the ball is outside of a hashmark on either side, the next snap is made from that side's hashmark. If a play ends in the middle of the hashmarks, it's right there. That's why once in a while you'll see a play specifically run to go lateral and move the ball from one hashmark to the middle, specifically to center up the kicking attempt.
From Barbara Ashby:
"If J.J. Watt doesn't come back this year, what about next year?"
The only question is if Watt might be able to return at some point in the postseason. Whatever happens, there is no doubt he'll return for 2022.
From Jay Locoste:
"Hey Darren, just a little tidbit I thought you might appreciate. I dont think anyone noticed it, but if you go rewatch the Budda Baker INT vs the Bears, Leki Fotu is right there in step with the rest of the caravan. Considering he's arguably the largest man on the team, that was tremendous hustle. I don't know if he reads the mailbag, but your effort was noticed, Champ."
I'm still waiting for the former rugby star to get a carry.
From Matthew Chadduck:
"Two questions for you Darren, pre-Rams: First, is Marco Wilson the best Day Three pick of the draft so far? I don't see any other above average starters in that group, although I might have missed somebody. Second, what are the tiebreaker options versus the Buccaneers? (And Rams if we lose) At what point is the strength of schedule locked to the point we can know who has the advantage for seeding?"
I don't know enough of all the Day Three picks, to be honest. Marco got picked on a bit by the Rams but I think he's bee a solid addition. As far as tiebreaks, right now the Cardinals are behind the Bucs but ahead of the Rams. Not going to get into all the dozens of possibilities, but we'll keep you up to day on the weekly playoff tracker.
From Joachim Ploug:
"Hi Darren. Do you know if the Cardinals expect Zeke Turner and/or Charles Washington back this season? Chris Banjo and Joe Walker have filled in solidly on special teams, but I just think Washington is a dynamite gunner, and Turner has a knack for making a couple game changing special teams plays a season."
Turner is not expected to return, but the practice window has been opened for Washington, signifying that at some point, he should be activated.
From Joey Cammiso:
"Darren, is there any room for Adrian Wilson to move up in the organization at this point, or would he have to go to another team to get a promotion? I would love for him to be the GM someday, but I also think Steve Keim has done a good job and his seat is chilly. What are your thoughts? Also Michael Bidwill should sell one percent of the Cardinals to Larry Fitzgerald."
A-Dub has already been promoted a couple of times in the front office, so I wouldn't say he hasn't gotten a promotion. I know he'd like to be a GM one day. We'll see where that opportunity comes. I think he's done a great job in his role, and he is Keim's right-hand man at the moment.
From Richard Wakefield:
"I just read yet another question about Fitz and your responding with 'Nobody knows when or if." You'd be wrong. I'd bet the minute Fitz knew, and I believe it was shortly after last season ended, he would have told Michael Bidwill and asked him not to make it public. But he's too classy to hurt the team by leaving them hanging."
I'm not sure how you can say I'm wrong and you not know for sure yourself. That doesn't compute. Here's another possibility: The two sides talked about whether he would come back. Fitz said he was on the fence. The Cards told him what they were willing to pay him if he did return, and the door would be open if he decided to come back, both sides acknowledging that the team would have to build without him if he wasn't around. I don't know for sure (and I feel confident you don't either), but I can also say that as of now, anyone still thinking he'd come back is probably fooling themselves.
From Bruce Wayne:
"Hi Darren - why does Byron Murphy have a mouthguard strapped to his facemask that he never seems to put in his mouth? Against the Bears it was noticeable since he was wearing a gaiter for warmth. It seems like it would be a huge distraction to have that thing flopping around while you're running. (I think Marco Wilson might have the same habit, not sure). If you're not going to use it, why have it strapped? Is it an NFL requirement to have it part of the equipment but they don't enforce actually using it?"
Let me start by wondering aloud, why, Bruce, would you use a pseudonym on a mailbag question like this? I'm always curious. It's not like you're saying someone is bad or should be fired. Why not use at least a first normal name? Odd. Anyway, I don't think there is a rule that says you have to wear a mouthguard. Why you leave it dangling? I don't know that either. Maybe on probable pass plays they don't want it in there? I do know this: If you are only going to have it in sometimes, having it strapped seems a lot smarter than having to take it in and out every play and having to store it somewhere when you don't want it in.
From Stevie Henderson:
"Hi Darren. I was very impressed with the discipline of the Cardinals defensive line (and really, the whole defense) when Andy Dalton was trying to draw them offsides with his hard counts in Chicago. It seemed like he did it on multiple possessions and they stood firm every time. If I am correct, this is a huge improvement from the recent past. Has anyone asked Vance Joseph about this and who do you think gets the credit ? And by the time this mailbag airs, I hope we can say the same about the Rams game as veteran QB Matthew Stafford has the ability to try the same tactic. Thanks, I know this was more of an observation than a question, but I haven't seen or heard anyone bring up this subject."
I mean, and this is just me, that shouldn't be a coaching thing. These guys are professional football players. If they are being drawn offsides, that's just basic football. If you can't handle that, then I have to find someone who can.
From John Staszkiewicz:
"I am a lifelong Cardinal fan. I am from St Louis and was sorry to see the Cardinals move but I understood why. They were never treated fairly here and I was happy that they finally got a great stadium. I am still a big fan and happy with their season."
We'll see how this year finishes out, but I know there are still a lot of people in St. Louis who root for the Cardinals. Any success of the team is as much for that group as it is for the fans in Arizona.
From Goncalo Baptisa:
"Greetings! I'm an NFL fan from jolly ol' Europe and I've been following the sport for few years now. I wanted to know more about each team from resources other than second-hand information like Wikipedia; stuff that people who live and breathe the club know and feel. Could you please let me know what makes the Cardinals special? What is it like to get behind them and cheer every Sunday for every inch gained? Thank you for taking the time to read this as I know you have far better things to do!"
I mean, and I have addressed this before, I don't think I can say what makes them "special." The whole point of being a fan is to find what makes your team "special" to you. Every team has history or stars. You can read and watch clips about Kurt Warner or Larry Wilson or Larry Fitzgerald or Aeneas Williams. You can catch up on interesting historical stories about the team in our Folktales series. You can watch live exciting players like Kyler Murray or Isaiah Simmons or DeAndre Hopkins or Byron Murphy. But again, special is in the eye of the beholder.