It's time to start the week countdown to Mexico City and "Monday Night Football." I will apologize ahead of time -- I got a ton of questions this week, and while I appreciate them all, I can't possibly get to all of them. (Some are similar too -- like all the last-second Eno inquiries -- so even if yours isn't answered, I likely answered one close enough.) As always, questions have been edited for length and clarity. As always, you can send in a question for a future mailbag here.
From Jacky Small:
"If Kyler comes back next week (on primetime) and the offense is dead on arrival, dysfunctional, does Colt come in at halftime? Or no? Do we in fact ride with healthy Kyler no matter what? What do you think? Benching the starter has always been the line in the sand. It's so weird. In baseball, a starting pitcher does it haven't one night, he's pulled early. No effect long term. Try again next week. But in football, the moment you bench your starting QB, it's catastrophic. It's the moment the team fired their QB."
There are many questions this week about Colt and Kyler and who to start and what to do at QB. So I wanted to get to them right off the bat. I think Colt's game has to be put in context. He was wonderful on Sunday. He was exactly what this team needed. Yes, the offense seemed to flow better. BUT. The Cardinals' defense dominated. The offense had two three-and-outs after the first field-goal drive, but it didn't matter because the Rams couldn't do anything. It gave McCoy and the offense time to settle. The Cardinals still had fewer than 300 yards and in most games, that won't be good enough.
If Kyler is healthy, they will start him. He will not be pulled from a game. If he is not healthy, they will go back to Colt (although let's not forget McCoy came out of the game with a bad left knee that leaves his availability in the air too.) As good as McCoy looked, I don't think the offense did much more than it has with Murray. It felt cleaner yes because often times Murray is trying too hard to make a big play. But I'd like to see Murray in a game where he only has to deal with one false start instead of five. There are fans that want to move on from Murray, but many felt that way before. It's not happening. The contract says it won't, the talent level says it won't.
From Mich Ott:
"I thought it was pretty awesome how well the backup offensive line totally nullified Aaron Donald. Which is to say, it's possible to stop a game wrecker if you plan for him. So why can't we more often? I think back to the butt whoopin last year in the playoffs. Why could we not pivot and key in on Aaron in that game? Or is it a Kyler issue? Somebody on the radio said that Colt getting the ball out very quickly was more effective than the OL. That's fair. But I also cant verify if thats true."
I do think McCoy getting the ball out quicker is a big help. But there is a lot at play here. They did a very good job against Donald. But there were very few passes down the field when McCoy had to stand there in the pocket. The game was close enough the Cardinals could run the ball. And sometimes, even the best players have off games. Donald didn't do anything in the regular season game at L.A. last year either. The other two times? I do think Kyler and Donald aren't a great mix. But it's funny -- I hope you're not implying they aren't trying to nullify Donald every time. Because they most certainly are.
From Carey Hyland:
"Hi Darren! Great game man. I was laughing on the way home listening to the post game call-in show. We all knew at halftime what this week would be: QB CONTROVERSY! And I must say, while I don't think one game makes a career, I do think Kyler came out looking awful. Man, every time the camera was on Colt, he was talking to his teammates. Talking to his coaches. Picking guys up. That was the most franchise quarterback-looking dude we've seen since Palmer, off the field I mean. Calm. Steady. Leader. So what is your takeaway from Sunday? Not asking who's the starter, obviously Murray. But do you think this game was a wakeup call at all?"
The only QB controversy is whatever is driven by outside of the building because there won't be one inside it. I get how McCoy looks and acts. I've been around him plenty. And Kyler. They are two different people. Kyler might never be that exact guy. I do think he'll continue to grow. (Not to drag Fitz into this, but Larry Fitzgerald at 25 was much different than Fitz at 31). But a couple of things: The network camera doesn't show all. I don't believe it showed Kyler (and Hollywood) running down to congratulate Rondale Moore for his huge fourth-down catch, for instance. But Murray was around McCoy and how Colt operated three starts last year. He's seen what he does. So a wakeup call? I don't see it (and I'm not sure one was needed.)
From Daniel Czirijak:
"Why did the Cardinals look competent on offense this week? By my count (and granted I did not watch the whole game) there was one false start penalty, and zero timeouts taken to offset a delay of game. How can the backup QB come in and play a steady game when the primary QB has multiple miscues during every previous game? Did the playcaller simplify the playbook? Or did the game just play out that the second-string QB had an easier game to manage?"
It's funny how you say the "previous QB had multiple miscues" when, for instance, is a bad snap his fault? A false start? Here's what I know: tackle Kelvin Beachum said the offense was simplified this week, and that even might be less about QB and as much about all the backup offensive linemen they have. I do think the game played out easier to manage because the Rams, offensively, were never a threat. Center Billy Price played well. McCoy, yes with his experience, steadied the ship to a certain extent. But if the question was implying that the offense will just be better without Kyler, I don't agree with that blanket statement.
From Charles Hunt:
"Hi Darren, my question is why the Cardinals have such difficulties defending bootlegs? All three teams in the division run it pretty often,, they have seen it multiple times, and the Cards really haven't solved it."
Defending the play-action bootleg, to me, is all about discipline. I do believe the Cardinals have made it a point of emphasis -- we saw that on "Hard Knocks" -- on defending such things. But in the heat of the game, when your tight end cover thinks it could be a run and wants to chase the backside, that guy has got to understand the tight end (or receiver) could slip out the other way. Easy to say, harder to pull off in the moment.
From Wally Long:
"Sending out good energy to Zach Ertz. What's this mean for Trey McBride? I was annoyed on the first play of the second half which was a pass to tight end Stephen Anderson, which he dropped. Did we not spend a second-round pick on McBride? It is high time that guy starts being a big contributor. This fanbase is sick of our top picks being no-shows. Do you think we actually see lots of McBride usage going forward, or will the position just slowly evaporate?"
McBride still had 62 snaps played (and Anderson 25), even if he didn't get a lot of targets. So I guess I'd ask what you mean by usage. I don't think he's going to be targeted as much as Ertz, but if they have Hop and Moore and soon Hollywood Brown, I wouldn't want to feed the tight end as much in this situation anyway.
From Sebas Quiros:
"WHAT???!!! Eno RELEASED? This is absurd management. Two running backs on injured reserve, Conner having had issues which should raise concern for potential future injuries and you release a guy who every time he plays has done well? It makes no sense. This is why us fans get mad. He's on a rookie deal. Literally from no point of view is this helpful to the team. Do you have any info or anything that might suggest as to why?"
First, maybe take a moment to breathe and look at all the points you make and perhaps there is more to this? Again I don't know. There are reports about him being upset with playing time issues and it perhaps escalating. But being more emotional than logical about it as a reaction makes little sense to me. We will see what Kingsbury says Wednesday.
From Aleksi Koskinen:
"How much was different in the operations of calling and running plays with Colt McCoy at QB when compared to Kyler Murray being there? Sure Colt is a very experienced veteran, but still the offense was operating at ease without constant hassle at the line of scrimmage."
I have no way of truly knowing. Things were simplified some, we've been told. Again, I think part of it had to do with the Cardinals holding a lead much of the game. And yes, I believe part of it is McCoy's experience.
From Rawchester Nick:
"In the Rams game we saw Conner do basically all of the running. The only other back I saw run was Keaontay Ingram. (Who for some reason I am really high on and what to see out there) Do you think we will see more of Ingram in the future? Also, my boi Moore is doing really well, do you think he will continue to see the same amount of targets going forward? At least until Hollywood comes back."
Given than Eno Benjamin was cut, that leaves Ingram as No. 2 so yes, I'd expect some work. As for Rondale, this is what they envisioned -- this kind of production. That's not changing. Your top three receivers when everyone is healthy are Hop and Brown on the outside and Moore in the slot, with the ability to move all three around.
From John White:
"Hi Darren, what is preventing the team from having any kind of downfield threat? It was there (-ish) with Christian Kirk, and we have the weapons with Rondale Moore and now Robbie Anderson. It's baffling that all other teams can generate this threat by the Cardinals can't (or won't)."
Some of it is the way defenses are playing with two-high safeties and making the Cardinals grind out shorter passes. Some of it is the offensive line, especially right now. There was a reason McCoy threw a bunch of quick passes Sunday, and it was to mitigate how much time the line had to block.
From Brandon Butterfield:
"Just based on what I have been seeing/hearing, 'Hard Knocks' doesn't seem to be painting Kyler is the best light. Him telling D-Hop to calm down after he missed an open read doesn't play the best for audiences. A compare contrast I've seen is Josh Allen, says about himself 'It's tough to win when your quarterback plays like sh.' It doesn't seem like there's a lot of accountability on Kyler or by Kyler. Is that a fair perspective to have?"
I'd like to see in-game stuff from Josh Allen; I do not think it's fair to compare what Allen says in a press conference to something captured in the heat of a game that 99.9 percent of the time you don't get to hear. I'd argue the verbal battle between Kyler and Hop was accountability in the moment. That's what it's going to look like. It sounds more like you are looking for contrition or remorse from Murray publicly. That's a different topic, it's something I think Murray does at times, and in the end, it feels like -- when the losses outnumber the wins -- fans are looking for everyone to basically do that.
From Jeff Gollin:
"Is there a difference between the team culture of the Cardinals and other NFL teams? What do we do better? What do we do worse? Love your mailbox feature."
I have only covered one team in my career/been in the building for one team. And to me, there is no way to truly know the culture unless you are in there. Ultimately, I know "culture" is a popular buzzword, and I'm not trying to dismiss it. But the culture is similar now to when the Cardinals made the NFC Championship in 2015. In my opinion, culture is lower down the list of what causes teams to not play well.
From Michael Sozinho:
"Not that important, but curious what restaurant did Hopkins and Simmons eat at in the first episode of Hard Knocks?"
I'm OK with going a little off the trail once in a while. I asked Hop and he said it was Bacanora in Phoenix. Said it was his go-to place in the Valley.
From Al Stevens:
"Hello Darren. Thank you for the mailbag and tolerating the frustration that must come with it. I'm out in New York City making sure I see the games every week. It feels like our squad doesn't have much urgency this year. Do you think there's a problem with setting the tone for the team? Whether it's by the coaching staff or the team's leaders? Anyway, I love this team and wish nothing but the best for those guys."
I think one of the things you see on "Hard Knocks" is that the urgency sure seems there to me. I know there is frustration at how some of these games play out, but I disagree with the urgency. I am not saying they didn't start fast, and I think they may look carefully how they handle training camp/preseason, but I don't think urgency is the problem for this team.
From Eldon Larsen:
"Darren I love the mailbag. I really enjoy reading your answers to the questions, especially when I can tell you're a bit put off by the question. I've been a high school football coach for many years at a small 1A school where we play 8-man football. Here are my questions. Do the Cards and Kliff script a number of plays offensively to begin the game? If so, how many plays do they script? Do you know if they try to set up plays by running other certain plays or is the play calling mostly by feel and flow of the game? Thanks."
I had asked about it earlier in the season and yes, there are scripted plays. Kingsbury has acknowledged such recently too. How many, I do not know. I think it's pretty clear with 11 straight passes to open the game in L.A. there was meaning and planning behind it. I don't think any coach doesn't have some aspect of trying to set up plays down the road in a game with early calls, but of course there is flow and feel -- especially if things get sideways early, which unfortunately has happened often this season.
"Before the season started, and after they drafted Trey McBride, Ron Wolfley was excited about the possibility of seeing 12 personnel on the field, as was I. With a banged up offensive line, don't you think it would be a good approach to implement it, especially with the two-high shell defensive schemes that seem to permeate the NFL these days? Do you think Kingsbury will ever relinquish play calling to a more run-oriented OC?"
Why do you want a run-oriented offense? That kind of team cannot sustain winning ways in today's NFL. You have to be able to run, yes. I saw a stat of the top three running backs in the league in terms of run value -- essentially the best and most efficient running backs -- and those three were Nick Chubb (3-6 with the Browns), Josh Jacobs (2-7 with the Raiders) and Aaron Jones (4-6 with the Packers.) The Cardinals, when they use 12, it's usually splitting one of the tight ends in the slot. They aren't both in-line. I love Wolf, but (and I said this many times on the podcast) the Cardinals under Kliff were never going to go heavy 12 personnel or become a run-heavy team.
From HF Schubert:
"Albert Einstein once said that you can't solve a problem by using the same thought process that created the problem in the first place. Though Mr. Einstein was never a football coach I think his advice is something Kliff should think about when it comes to play calling. I think Kliff is a great coach, Keim is a great GM but they need a playcaller who's only focus is just that, play calling and watching the clock. Any idea when Kliff might really consider this as a solution to our offensive woes?"
I don't believe it would happen unless something drastic were to go down. It's what he lives to do as a football coach.
From Bart Sutton:
"I love the mailbag. I am a former season ticket holder when I lived in Phoenix and am a 30-year fan. I'll bet this won't get printed but I have to observe/ask. I understand the offensive line has injuries/issues however the number of repeated mistakes by the offense is appalling. This level of consistent mistakes usually points to coaching. At what point do the Cardinals consider a coaching change given the talent of the roster vs. mistakes/lack of results?"
The coach just got an extension, they are 4-6, and they made the playoffs in the most recent season completed. Also, the roster's talent has been hammered with injury. No one cares about injuries, but at the same time, if you don't have the pieces you're supposed to have, it has to be included in the analysis.
From Michael Sozinho:
"Hi Darren! I have been a fan long enough to know, this probably isn't the year. But in thinking back to some glory years, I was curious if you knew of any conversations about the Ring of Honor. We all know Fitz will be there but what are your or the organizations thoughts of eventually including Anquan Boldin and Karlos Dansby, who I are more than qualified to included. Thanks for the time!"
I am not privy to any ROH discussions. It would not surprise me that both of those players could and would be considered, I think Fitz would be the next in at some point, but again, that's a Michael Bidwill decision.
From Jaxson Oliver:
"Hi Darren. To escape from the pain of the current, tell us a story from the past please. The courtship of Peyton Manning. I remember being at ASU at the time, in my dorm room looking out the window and seeing the planes land at nearby Sky Harbor and wondering if that's the one Peyton was on. Not that you were IN the room, but from what you can ascertain, why didn't we get him? Did we not offer enough? What was the difference maker?"
Only Peyton knows for sure, but at the time a) Eli Manning was playing in the NFC and there was a lot of talk that Peyton wanted to stay in the NFC so the only way they would have to meet in the postseason was in the Super Bowl, and b) there were still questions about what the Cardinals could look like. That was 2012, and while that team started 4-0, they finished 5-11. Does it all change with Peyton? It does change, but I am guessing he got what he wanted out of the Broncos. I'm sure the Cardinals would've paid what he wanted. Fitz was the best receiver he could've played with. (Also, Peyton I'm sure was flying private planes, not sure you would've seen those from the dorm room.)
From John Davis:
"Two main questions. Do you see any viable options that they can try to do to help get this offense to improve and end on a better note? I know Kliff goes with the horizontal passing game to help alleviate the burdens of the offensive line that way, but it's tough to watch when they go for little to no gains. My second question would be in regards to how you would proceed with the wide receiver room next year, with the top two in Hopkins and Brown needing extensions. Would you commit to those two and fill the rest of the holes in the roster in free agency, or pick a receiver and trade Hopkins to get younger at that position."
Hopkins would only need an extension if you want to lower his cap number (which is about $30 million next season, so that is possible). The way Hop is playing right now, I'm not sure I want to see an offense without him. I think I'd look to see what is available in the draft but there are a lot of places picks could be spent (pass rusher, defensive lineman, center) so if you have the the receivers, I'd think you'd want to keep them for now.
From Kevin Parham:
"With Bruce Arians as the head coach, the Cardinals implemented an accountability board (or something like that) to track which guys were making mental errors in practice. Not sure if a fine was associated with the mistakes or if it just for public shaming/accountability. I know this is a totally different regime, but does the current coaching staff have anything like this?"
I do not believe there is anything tangible. Kingsbury is a big believer in treating players like adults who should be holding themselves accountable. Doesn't mean the coaches don't do it too -- I'm sure it comes up in film study -- but there is no instrument you can point to like the accountability board.
"Darren, apologies for my (unpublished) fourth-quarter scream into the void during the Seahawks game. You do a great job answering questions, and don't deserve to get dumped on by frustrated fans. I'll try not to do that again. So, some actual questions:
- You've covered the Cardinals for 20 years +/-, which was the most frustrating team to watch from your point of view? What made that team so frustrating to watch?
- What did you think of the first episode of the Cardinals on Hard Knocks?"
I don't think there is any question it was the 2016 season. That team was coming off the NFC Championship, was picked to win the Super Bowl by Sports Illustrated, stayed relatively healthy with all its key pieces, had a season from the ages by David Johnson -- and was under .500. That should've been a 10- or 11-win team at worst, and it went 7-8-1. As for Hard Knocks, I enjoy the genre, and considering I am living in the middle of what they are shooting, it still provided me with entertainment and things I didn't know. It will be fascinating to see the season play out like that.
From Simon from China:
"Hi Darren, greetings from Shanghai. In case you're wondering, I am still waking up every Monday at 4am to watch the Cards, despite the disappointing season so far. To brighten the mood in the mailbag, I wanted to mention how great of an addition Dani is to the broadcasting team. A real breath of fresh air. A couple of questions about her transition from Dallas to the AZ:
- How long did it take for her to be on top of things with the Cards? I imagine it to be quite a challenge to internalize all the information and stories about every player.
- Is she still rooting for the Cowboys and keeping in touch with their players?"
Well Simon, why don't I just let Dani answer you in her own words.
- Hi Simon, appreciate the kind words and viewership on our content! I started Week 4 of the 2021 season and my main goal the first couple of weeks was to just get comfortable enough to understand the key matchups of that week's game. After about a month or so I felt more comfortable with the backgrounds of most of the starters, but even a year later I'm still learning cool things about the history of the organization (shoutout to our Folktales series). Thankfully, people like Darren were (and still are) so fantastic at answering any questions I have or sharing fun nuggets about the team because they've been covering the Cardinals for so long.
- Let's make it clear to everyone (I'm looking at you, Craig Grialou) that I am NOT rooting for the Cowboys. Look, I grew up in Dallas in a family that has followed the Cowboys since their inaugural season, so of course I was a fan of the team growing up. I'm so grateful for the three-plus seasons I spent as their team reporter and the moments I got to share with my family members surrounding that organization will always mean the world to me, but I bleed red and white now and thankfully my family is incredibly supportive and are now Cardinals fans (although when we played Dallas last season it was a close call on who they were truly rooting for). Thanks for the questions and making Darren's mailbag about me 😊
From Joe Miller:
"Hey Darren, thanks for taking the time and patience with all these questions. My question is how hard is it to answer these questions from us fair-weather fans? I have been a fan since the team moved in the 80's and through my military career, I got to watch highlights and none cooler than when the Red Birds were in the Super Bowl. Watching Fitz run down the center of the field was one of the coolest things to ever see as a fan. My question is what do you think causes us to forget we had a playoff team last year -- yes they are having a rough season but so are most of the other NFC teams?"
Let's start with the idea of "fair-weather fans." There are levels to fandom, to be sure, but ultimately, I don't see fans as fair-weather. When your team isn't going well, it stings. And some people are going to be more emotional about it than others. That's not fair-weather to me as much as being human. I've been there before myself with sports teams in my life. I think last year's playoff berth would've had more staying power if a) the Cardinals hadn't stumbled their way into the end of the season and b) hadn't looked so bad in the postseason game itself. It's tough to hold that up as a plus. Again, everyone has to absorb this in their own way. But I also have to handle this in my own way. The fans can be angry if they want; I don't have to take on that burden if I don't want to. Hopefully the mailbag and social media can keep working toward a happy medium.
From Ellie Sunday:
"Hi Darren. Random journalism question. Why is it you write several separate articles after the game? You write a game recap. Then you wrote a Colt article. Then a Budda article. Then an A.J. Green article. It's fine, and good reads. But I just wonder why you don't write one big article that includes everything. All the events of each article occurred in a single game, so why not a single article? You're like an author who breaks a single series into many books lol."
Fair question. To begin, the Colt article was an update of the quickie recap I post as soon as the game ends. That becomes a more fleshed out recap. But ultimately, to write everything I want, one article would be way too long. Most won't read all of that. There are times I fear the separate articles I write might be too long (although that would be a mistake because they are truly excellent, right?) Also, it gets a headline on different things that need a headline -- in this case, shining a spotlight on three people that deserve the spotlight. It also lets each story go in the direction it is supposed to.
Here endeth the lesson.