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You've Got Mail: Panthers Week

Topics include urgency, the future of the offensive line, and linebacker usage

Zaven Mailbag 0927

Rough outcome against the Rams, and the slow starts bit the Cardinals again. As you can imagine, some anger in the mailbag. (A pro tip: I appreciate actual questions if at all possible; I understand the desire to rant or ask me sarcastic questions but those entries are going to have a tougher time making it on the page. Questions have been edited for length and clarity. As always, you can send in a question for a future mailbag here.

From Blaine S:

"Hey Darren. What a roller-coaster couple of weeks! I am not ready to panic yet, but I am curious as to your opinion on where you think which aspect of the Cardinals game plan needs to be cleaned up. Does it come down to the coach and the playcalling, the players and the execution (ie dropped balls, communication), something else not mentioned or maybe a combination of all? As the most respected opinion in the mailbag. what do you think they need to focus on to get back on track! As always, thanks Darren!"

To echo Kyler Murray, I wish I knew. Mostly because if I did, I could parlay it into a much bigger paycheck. Of course it is a combination of all. To think this all is because of one reason, I just don't buy it. I'll say this: I thought when the Cardinals were at their best last season, there was a ground game threat that isn't there right now. There was the Conner-Edmonds 1-2 punch and still the threat of Kyler on the ground. Murray is not comfortable running as much, and definitely not when Aaron Donald is around. The running game has been hit and miss, in part because they keep falling behind. And there is a lack of explosive plays right now. In three games, the Cardinals have a total of five plays that gained at least 20 yards -- two runs, three passes. And the longest was the 30-yard pass to Greg Dortch to set up a field goal at the end of the first half Sunday. It's tough to win without some bigger chunk plays.

From Keith Southern:

"I am wondering if the Cardinals know why they drafted Kyler Murray. The answer is his MOBILITY! If you look back over the time he has been here, the Cardinals are successful when he uses his legs and keeps the defense guessing. Yesterday's game against the Rams was ugly. Where is the Kingsbury creativity with the offense?"

One, that point has been made, many times. Two, which has also been mentioned many times, Kyler's first thought isn't to run; he'd prefer not to given the risk of injury. I agree Murray's legs, and the defense's fear of them, needs to be a big part of the offensive equation. I don't think the lack of usage is as simple as saying Kingsbury isn't calling plays like that.

From Larry Phillips:

"Hi Darren. My question has to do with urgency. On defense, Steve Keim does not have a sense of urgency of getting a run stopper for the defensive line, a pass rusher for the outside linebackers or a cornerback that can get on the field ahead of Jace Whittaker (veterans that can help are still available). On offense, we can be down big in the fourth quarter, yet the 30-second clock runs down to near zero on every play. Where is the sense of urgency to win the game?"

I will admit I was surprised at the tempo at what turned out to be the Cardinals' final drive Sunday. Needing two scores, they never really looked much different than the other three loooong drives they went on during the game. As for the defensive help, perhaps the group they have figured it out. The last six quarters hasn't been bad, and it would be good enough to win if this offense was producing the way it should. (as for cornerback, I get what you are saying but Antonio Hamilton is back after this week and the veterans out there? I saw Jackrabbit Jenkins tweet he'd play but only if he got $5 million guaranteed and, for me, that's a nope. Who knows what guys are asking for?)

From Charles Hunt:

"Hi Darren. Can someone ask Kyler why he continues to throw long sideline balls when it's third-and-short but the rest of the game he dinks and dunks? So frustrating to watch as a fan! Also, how does Vance think it's a good idea to match an undrafted free-agent cornerback on an All-Pro player. Bad coaching. Thanks for letting get this off my chest :)"

Let's start with the second part first. I am guessing that is a reaction to a single play, because Jace Whittaker was not on Cooper Kupp the whole game. And Kupp also only had four catches. So I'm not sure, other than you just noting that an undrafted guy shouldn't cover an All-Pro in general, that it is a complaint worth having, at least from Sunday. As for the deep shots, that's a little easier. When it's third-and-short, the defenses stack the box expecting a run and Kyler sees one-on-one coverage available. Hence, a deep shot. The other downs, especially Sunday, the Rams played softer and what was available were short passes.

From Bruce Chamberlain:

"You have fourth-and-4 and a field goal cuts to one score and Kliff goes for it? Something seemed off. That was not a normal head coach decision when they have the ability to come back with a quick strike. I lost confidence in KK on that call. Darren what was your feeling about that call?"

I thought they were going to kick it for that very reason. Not sure what you mean when you say "they" have the ability to come back on a quick strike. If you mean the Rams, then it makes more sense to go for it. If you mean the Cardinals, alas, there has been no ability shown this season for a quick strike.

From Lesean Dean:

*Hi Darren. What's going on with Colt McCoy? I've not seen him on the sidelines. If injured, what's his injury? It's starting to seem major, what happened?"

Not sure where you have been Lesean, but Colt hurt his calf in the final week of preseason practice. He has been on IR and is eligible to return starting Week 5, when the Cardinals host the Eagles.

From Randle Gershon:

"When Cody Ford is healthy do you think it likely he slides in at right guard? I had high hopes for Will Hernandez but man is that guy a turnstile. Kelvin Beachum isn't much better. The right side of our line is bad. Hudson is playing like he has a foot out the door already. And Pugh (while playing well) might be a cap casualty after this year. So really we only have 1 reliable OL for the foreseeable future -- Humphries. I don't get it."

I don't know if he'd jump right in the starting lineup. Could he end up there? Possibly. Like Hernandez, Ford is a free agent after the season, so this very well could be an audition for both for 2023 -- Pugh is scheduled to be a free agent too, so little has been determined for guard in the future. I'm sure they will give Ford a long look.

From Dan Linggi:

"Darren. Am I understanding this properly: Ben Niemann, Tanner Vallejo and Nick Vigil are all better ILB options than Isaiah Simmons? Sidelining him after his disappointing Game 1 doesn't seem like healthy coaching at this point, it's just pridefulness. Also, calling a timeout on the 4th and 4 when we had their defense tired and weakened was a critical, critical error in my opinion. I can't understand why a coach wouldn't be quick to seize that strategic advantage. Can you help explain?"

The timeout I am guessing was about making sure they were ready to run their play in such a crucial time as opposed to worrying about the defense. I wish they hadn't called timeout just because it felt like they weren't sure that's what they wanted to do and you'd hope they were already prepared for such a situation with the clock running. As for the linebackers, Simmons played as much as those other guys. If you are just bringing up Simmons not playing, I think -- and I don't know anything other than reading between the lines -- that if you believe that his situation now is strictly because of the Chiefs' game, you are being naive.

From jpr cards:

"So what exactly is the issue with Isaiah Simmons? I assume that he was one of the players that wasn't getting it done in practice that Kingsbury alluded to. Is it that he isn't making good reads and mastering his position? Is it that he isn't giving full effort in practice? Is it that he just isn't executing physically? It is all a bit confusing to me because we heard during the offseason how he was going to be a 'starbacker' filling different roles according to situations, etc. But instead of seeing him progress and get better we see his playing time decrease drastically after a bad game against K.C. and then we hear that he isn't 'doing it in practice' either. Where is the disconnect?"

Let's be clear; The public -- and me, for that matter -- are rarely going to know everything that goes into a decision. I think it's all of the above. To me, knowing how reserved Kliff Kingsbury has been his whole tenure of saying anything negative about an individual player, I am guessing he had to have been driven far with the Simmons situation to say some of the things he has said publicly. There is no way this is only about one bad game against the Chiefs. It feels like they counted on him to have a big role and were trying to encourage him to work for that big role. Maybe he didn't to their satisfaction and the Chiefs' game just was final proof of that. Speculation on my part, but realistic given how this has played out.

From Rise Up Red Sea:

"Hi Darren. I want to talk about Kliff and his playcalling, more specifically the run game. This last game against the Rams reminded me of how we messed up the game against Detroit last year (who at the time was last in the league in defending the run). WE DIDN'T RUN THE BALL. At the end of the first quarter we had two carries for four yards! Kliff should know by now that his offense is at it's best when we are keeping the threat if the run alive, just like Week 4 vs the Rams last year, 40 carries for 200+ yards."

Let's not get sideways too much. One of the reasons the Cardinals had 40 rushing attempts against the Rams in Week 4 last year is because the Cardinals had a giant lead (and Kyler had a couple of huge scrambles on pass plays.) Also. they only ran 10 total offensive plays in the first quarter so it's not like it was that out of whack. I agree there needs to be some balance. But right now James Conner is averaging only 3.0 yards a carry and when you combine that with trailing for every single minute of regulation through three games, that's a bad equation.

From Bon Johnson:

"Unfortunately I do think the book is closed on Simmons here. He's likely going to be a player who jumps around the league a bit until someone knows how to use him. And the day that happens, he will likely be very good. But not here. My comment/question is actually in regards to Zaven Collins, and it's arguably even more worrisome than Simmons. I actually cannot think one single Zaven 'wow' play since he's been a Cardinal. Is there any reason to be excited about Zaven?"

It's a fair question. There was actually a play Sunday where Collins ranged across the field and got to Darrell Henderson knocking him into the kicking net. The speed to the sideline impressed me and it was a good play. Does he need many more of those? Of course. If you are skeptical, again, I can't argue. But we are one year and three games in. I'm not ready to declare his potential worthless.

From Dhruvraj Parmar:

"Thanks for the mailbag Darren. Three questions :

  1. With slow starts, do you think this indicates that pre-game warmup routine needs to change? Maybe guys are not coming in hot enough?
  2. Isaiah Simmons has had one terrible game. But twice last year (OT Int against the Seahawks and a 4th-and-goal stop of Trey Lance) and once this year he has made game altering plays. Why would he see less snaps then say Vallejo or Niemann? If he misses on 120 plays (not that he does) and then creates a turnover every once in a while wouldn't that equate to playing average on 6 out of 10 plays. Math is off but hope point goes through.
  3. We have had bunch of high profile players leave. Wonder how they are doing right now and who do you think would make the most impact or left the biggest hole on our team? David Johnson, Chandler Jones, Pat P, Tyrann Mathieu, Chase Edmonds, Christian Kirk, Jordan Hicks."

Three answers:

  1. I don't know if it is pre-game warmups. It's the same routine this team had when they were 7-0. People are searching for a magic bullet and I don't think there is one.
  2. The Simmons pick against Seattle was 2020. But your math doesn't work, no. Because you are assuming all non-altering plays are created equal. Why do coaches go with "guys" like Vallejo or Niemann when they could play a Simmons? Because of the experience and because of the trust they will be in the right spots. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, but most coaches want guys who know exactly what they are doing. And it's tough for them to give a really long leash if those kinds of mistakes are consistently made.
  3. That's not an easy question because it's apples and oranges. Given when they left and where they were in their careers, it hurts that Mathieu left -- but it was hard to tell how much he had left, and the Cardinals also had Budda Baker (and it would've been tough to have two smaller safeties tbh.)

From Robert Malicki:

"Hello, Darren, How do you see the coaches adjust, especially going on the road to a place where the team has developed a stumble bumble history. We will be kicking off in EST. Another question for you has to do with the Packers LB No.59, Campbell. Two years now of his stellar play for their defense makes Steve Keim look foolish in letting him go. Was it pride in his choosing Simmons/Collins and going younger than retaining the veteran Campbell or Joseph's call?"

The kickoff for the Carolina game will be 4 p.m. local (1 p.m. in Arizona), so the time change will not be a factor this week. As far as De'Vondre Campbell, he was good the first half of his first season but his play fell off and yes, they already had drafted Simmons. Campbell had the best year of his career last season, so it's not like Keim let a Pro Bowler leave. You don't draft Simmons and then keep Campbell. Why bother drafting Simmons then? Had Simmons gone to Carolina at pick No. 7, the Cardinals would've taken defensive tackle Derrick Brown, and Campbell might still be here. (Campbell has played one year and three games with the Packers.)

From Auden Reef:

"I hope A.J. Green isn't badly injured to the point where he experiences knee pain for the rest of his life, but at this point is losing Green for the season necessarily a bad thing? I'm sorry, but you just wrote an article about 'trust' with receivers. Green is unreliable and a liability. If he never gets another target, it'll likely be the best for us. The relationship needs to be over."

I don't know if Green is going to miss a game or two but we will see him again. And if this team is going to go anywhere, they will need him to come up with a play or two. They don't win in Vegas without him. That said, yes, the drops have been disappointing.

From Zay Pringle:

"Hi Darren. Griping about the offense along with everyone else. But I want to point out a particularly troubling fact. For several years now we've heard Kliff say they script their first 5-10 plays. If this rudderless, dead offense at the start of games are scripted, what's that say about the script?"

Kingsbury was asked about that this week, specifically about the script. He didn't have much more of a response than the one he gave to the general slow start issue. There's no real way to know if the script is the issue because players still need to execute.

From Sebas Quiros:

"Hey Darren. Kinda hard to sugar coat it so let's not, that was a pretty ugly game. Truthfully the Rams didn't play fantastic, and looked beatable but not being able to muster anything but field goals is tough. Do you think Kliff is very dependent on D-Hop? I mean, of course losing a player of his caliber will always affect a team, but it's a really drastic change from when he does to when he doesn't play. Props to Hollywood for a huge game."

I am fascinated to what the Cardinals look like when Hopkins gets back. Because truthfully, the offense mostly struggled in the games Hop played post-hamstring and pre-knee injury last season. Hopkins makes a big difference, and having him out there with Brown and Ertz and Moore should be good. But this feels like more of an issue than just Hopkins not in the lineup.

From Mort Blank:

"Listening to the post game right now, and I want to give a shoutout to Cardinals fans. They are sharper than I give them credit for. Several callers have called out the fact Vance Joseph is doing his best with absolutely no talent to work with. My question is regarding Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders.We need to get them snaps. No disrespect, I love Markus Golden the person, but he's a non-factor as a pass rusher. Furthermore, if Simmons is truly benched as it appears, when do we see Chandler Wooten? I've been a long-time reader Darren, I know you're going to have some sarcastic comment about Wooten, but seriously dude, Wooten at least has raw athleticism and heart. He can't be any worse. Sticking with what is clearly not working is the insane decision."

The Cardinals have been solid enough defensively since halftime of the Raiders game. Are you sure it can't be worse? I'm not going to be sarcastic when I ask, with all due respect to Wooten -- a player who is on the practice squad and whom hasn't been picked up by anyone else -- why do you think he has "raw athleticism and heart?" Because you watched him play a little bit of a couple preseason games? I get when people are frustrated and want to see something different, but to say "throw some guy out there because he can't be worse" is just incorrect.

From Chris Minton:

"Is there a noticeable difference in podcast traffic after a win vs. a bad loss? I'm a loyal listener of Cards Underground and Cover 2 (and the Rage and the Red Sea Report to a lesser extent), and if the team hadn't redeemed themselves by the end of the Vegas game, I wouldn't have listened this week simply because I wouldn't have wanted to rehash it or get my hopes up for Week 3. But since they won, and in thrilling fashion, I was glued to each episode."

I do not know the exact podcast numbers. But all our stats tend to fall off when the team loses/isn't doing well. It's natural. (But skipping Underground? C'mon man.)

By Byron David:

"Just curious as to why the Cardinals would not choose to have a mandate that mic'd-up coaches shield their mouths while playcalling and communicating defensive assignments? I doubt if Bill Belichick and staff are the only ones capable of stealing communications. Maybe Sean McVay's perennial success with stuffing the Cardinals might be rooted in signal piracy? Always appreciate your insights Darren."

Wait, are you suggesting that the Rams have stolen the Cardinals' signals or something like that? Pretty sure that's not the case. The Rams are just better most of the time.

From Julian K:

"Hello Darren, I've got a question regarding cap space. Why are some teams carrying that much free cap space with them along the whole season, like the Browns currently around $37M? Because it's a business and the open money can be kept by the owners when they don't see players to add? Secondly, like you can rework contracts with void years, can you also rework them to save cap space in future? Staying with the Browns as example: getting future guaranteed money from the big Watson deal into this year to fill it up? Thanks and greetings from Germany!"

It's some of all that. Remember that cap space doesn't necessarily equal cash payout each season. But yes, you can use it for extensions and push a bunch of money on a contract early in the deal to save cap space later. Also, teams are allowed to roll over most cap space into the next year, so if you have big plans in the future you have the space. The Browns could yes, move Watson money into this year.

From Steve Drumm:

"Hey Darren, A little off topic here but the Phoenix Suns are for sale. My question to you is if you had the dough, would you consider buying the team?"

Are you asking if I had billions of dollars -- which, let's mull that for a moment, can we? -- would I consider spending $2 billion or $3 billion of it for the Suns? Why yes. Yes I would.