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You've Got Mail: Rams Week, Part II

Topics include the Kyler long runs, Hopkins use and penalties

Mailbag offense against 49ers 122920

It's been an emotional few days, but the Cardinals still have playoff hopes and get to the postseason simply by beating the Rams Sunday in Los Angeles. In the meantime, it's mailbag time. As always, send in a question for a future mailbag here.

From André Neves via azcardinals.com:

"Hey, Darren, greetings from Brasil! So, my very first time watching on Cardinals was that Super Bowl in 2009 and I could not avoid to make a parallel to this season, so here we go. Week 1 opponent: 2008 - 49ers, 2020 - 49ers, result of both games? A Cardinals Win. Result of first month of play: 2008: 2-2, 2020 2-2. Final record: 2008: 9-7, 2020 8-7 (with 1 game left). Week 16: 2008 - Lost to a backup QB, 2020 - Lost to a backup QB. Final Game: 2008 - vs. divisional rival Seahawks ( with backup QB) 2020 - vs divisional rival Rams ( with backup QB). That team was, like now, inconsistent through all the season, but when they got to the the playoffs, Larry said at the time, they start to pay attention on the little things in practice, and it paid off. My question is: Do you think is the little things this year?"

I don't know what the overriding issue might be, if there is one. The inconsistency is maddening. But yes, that same inconsistency was part of the 2008 team. They luckily got their stuff together in the postseason. This team has to prove that first. In 2008, that last regular-season game was meaningless; even if the Cards had lost and gone 8-8 they would've been the 4th seed and hosted the Falcons. This year, 8-8 means you're going home. Trust me, I'd love to have a chance to play up the parallels. But you also had a QB who had been through it before in 2008, a guy who knew what that team did and didn't have and pushed the buttons accordingly. Kyler Murray doesn't have that experience yet.

From Anna Jacks via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren. I'm listening to too many media and darn it I'm going to stop. That being said do you believe the team has a hard time with Kliff's leadership? It's coming up a lot in the media and I simply don't believe that. I think the Cardinals are a young team and are struggling with being consistent. I also think that Murray is young and may not handle the pressure of big games super great sometimes."

I think a lot of people on this team are still learning. Kyler is one. Kliff as well. But a "hard time?" Not sure what that would mean. What's hard to understand is how this team, especially offensively, can look so good at times and slide right out of it at other times. Yes, defense matters, but the swing from explosive to dead is too drastic to have it be just that. It's going to be a fascinating offseason, because the bar has been raised on this team and double-digit wins and an excellent offense will be the expectation in 2021.

From Blake Jaroem via azcardinals.com:

"I'll be the first to admit this is somewhat an unfair criticism, but do you also find it odd how despite the fact Kyler is widely considered one of the most dangerous mobile QBs in the NFL, he doesn't have a prolific long TD run? I mention it because it seems all the others do. Lamar of course can break it off at any time. Josh Allen has a few long ones. And Tannehill (whos not even considered a runner) ran in a 45-yarder on Sunday. Why do you think that is? I do know Kyler is quicker than fast. But why hasn't he been able to break off a big one? To my memory his longest run was vs the Browns. But it wasn't a TD like the others."

Um, I don't know? I didn't realize that was one of the measuring sticks (and for the record, Kyler is plenty fast as he is quick). Lamar Jackson is in another universe. Interestingly, my son brought up a similar point on Kyler when Tannehill did his, and there is a simple answer for me on that -- no one is expecting Tannehill to run. Everybody is expecting Kyler to run, and many teams use a spy. Much harder to break off a longer run in those situations. Also, and I do not blame Kyler for this, given his body type, he's not going to risk a lot of contact to potentially go all the way. For all the concerns about his size and being hurt, he's stayed remarkably healthy in two seasons. I think he'll be fine if he doesn't get a 40-yard TD run.

From Paul Dombroski via azcardinals.com:

"Do you think it is time for a new coach? How many experienced NFL coaches would go for it on fourth down five times in one game? It is the coach who is responsible for getting the team ready and he has not show that whatsoever. He shows no emotion to get the team excited. He goes through his methodical boring playcalling and doesn't really let Kyler Murray play according to his strengths. I also believe a new defensive coach would be a good thing. Thoughts?"

To start with, they went for it on fourth down six times, converting four. And it depends on the coach if they would go for it that many times -- to be honest, the data shows that coaches have fallen woefully short on their decisions to go for it in games, because a lot of times, it's worth it to try on fourth down. But bigger picture, no, I don't think it's time for a new coach. I am confused on why people would want to start all over again after doing it twice the past three years. This team was a mess after 2018. They have gone from 5 to 8 and maybe 9 wins, they may end up in the playoffs. Their offense, while inconsistent, is light years ahead of where it was. There have been some (too many) clunker games. But change does not make sense to me. The emotion thing is something fans care about but it doesn't mean much; Belichick isn't emotional. Whisenhunt wasn't that emotional. Arians was super emotional, which fans loved, until he didn't win as much as they expected, and then they all complained that he was too emotional. Kingsbury is not going anywhere.

From Artie Bratton via azcardinals.com:

"Do officials watch tape, or are they briefed on certain players that they feel have been getting away with something so the are looking for that player to do it in the game? It seems to me that the were looking at Mason Cole to make those false starts because he has a history of committing them, kinda like they did last year with the Kyler Murray clap."

I don't think they watch tape in the manner you are suggesting, to target certain players. I do believe the officials were watching for Murray's clap last year but with Cole, I just think he's got some technical issues that are being caught. Four false starts by the center is an odd number, especially over so short a time period.

From Pat Irso via azcardinals.com:

"I don't think we've ever seen so many false starts from a center over the course of a season. Not sure what's going on with Mason Cole, but is there a chance we put in Lamont Gaillard? Gaillard performed very well at center in his time there."

Galliard has already taken some snaps at center even when Cole has been available. Do I think they outright make a change in the starting lineup? I don't expect it, but anything is possible. It would have been interesting had Gaillard been available Sunday if he would have gone in the game. We will see how they approach the lineup this week -- although I wouldn't expect any knowledge one way or the other before game day.

From Chris Montebianco via azcardinals.com

"I don't need to say this, because it was evident to every fan watching Saturday, and I believe you noted it as well, but the Cardinals are as incompetent at tackling, as the 49ers are amazing at tackling. I don't know what to say about the Cardinals. You want to send a message and cut somebody, but how do you cut 10 players? Budda Baker was the only guy out there who looked like he belonged. I guess my question is how do we close that gap, between our effort and the Niners effort? Yes the team was flat and heartless, but we've never seen the Cards D play with the intensity of the Niners D, all season. We've never seen a tackling clinic like that."

I'd have to go back and look, but it seems to me the defensive effort against the Giants was pretty much that, and against the Cowboys. Saturday's game is not one to put up as an example, but at the same time, I don't think the defense -- or team overall -- plays like that week in and week out. It was a bad game.

From Michael Travers via azcardinals.com:

"Hello Darren and thanks again for this forum to talk about our Cardinals. It is week 17 and everything comes down to one game. Win were in, lose and we go home. I feel that we outplayed the Rams in the second half of the last meeting, but coming from behind gave us the sense of urgency. Well, there is no more sense of urgency that this game. Our run game has not been up to par against the 49ers and now comes the high-powered LA defense. This will be the ultimate test for our coaches to come up with a great game plan. Do you think we could have a Eno sighting? With Chase out he could be the surprise as a tandem with Drake."

I would not expect to see Eno Benjamin. If Edmonds is out -- which would be a critical missing piece -- I would expect D.J. Foster to play his role and perhaps see more of Drake. Benjamin, as we have said before, is basically redshirting this season.

From Stevie Henderson via azcardinals.com:

"After the Cardinals played the 49ers, I finally agree with Kliff Kingsbury that he has to call better games. Has anyone asked him why he kept Hopkins on the left side all game rather than using the formula which worked last week where he moved him around? This game plan sure made it easy for Saleh to plan his defense. When Hopkins moved to both sides and even in the slot, (I believe) last week, the Cards were able to overcome a huge turnover deficit. After this poor performance, the Cardinals don't deserve to go to the playoffs. Mostly venting, but I am curious to know if reporters asked Kliff about Hopkins. Thanks, Darren."

The Hopkins question did not come up. The week before, when Hopkins went 9-169-1, he was targeted only once when lined up on the right side, so I'm not sure that's the big problem when it came to an offense that didn't produce. Hopkins has had huge games only on the left, and that's how the offense is designed. The game would look a lot different had Dan Arnold held on to a 45-yard bomb, had Christian Kirk held on to that first touchdown, had Kyler Murray not thrown an interception in the red zone. To be clear, I am not saying Kingsbury called the perfect game, nor that the offense (or even Hopkins situation) can't be tweaked. But I think it's a lot more nuanced than just moving Hopkins to the right side or in motion more often. If the Next Gen Stats screenshot doesn't show up on Reddit a couple of weeks ago, nobody would have thought to complain about it.

From Hannah Algar via azcardinals.com

"Hi Darren. I was thrilled Budda Baker got the Pro Bowl nod, and it is rightly deserved. But I must say, he's been a little quiet the past few weeks. Not that he could keep up his crazy pace from early in the season. But there's definitely been fewer Budda mentions across the recent month or so. Have you noticed that? I was wondering maybe that's indicative of the other 10 guys playing well? Hard to make plays if your teammates make the play? Have you asked him?"

I have not asked him, but yes, I have noticed that there have been fewer times when you are running to tweet about a particular play. That doesn't mean he hasn't been playing well. But other guys have stepped forward -- Haason Reddick in particular -- and Baker is the leader of that defense at the moment. You are right, he should be in the Pro Bowl, and he should be the starter that he is.

From Joe Geraldy via azcardinals.com:

"Who's criticizing DeAndre Hopkins for not practicing? I've not heard one local radio show, nor fan, bring it up yet. What reporter asked him about it, and what was the context of the question? It bothers me that Hopkins is feeling attacked when I've been proud at how supportive Arizona has been of his part-time status. We knew back in Houston he was a part-timer during the week. It's not a big deal. It keeps him healthy"

I'm not sure what radio station you listen to, but it was absolutely a topic for a day or two, rightly or wrongly. Then GM Steve Keim was asked about it, the local paper wrote a story, and it only made sense for my guy Kyle Odegard to ask D-Hop the first time we had a chance to talk to Hopkins. Hopkins is a big boy. He answered it the way he wanted, he seemed to have some fun with it, and the story is over now.

From Bill Thompson via azcardinals.com:

"Is anyone else upset with the performance this year with our No. 1 cornerback? Darren, I've asked about Patrick Peterson's performance before and you seemed to think that I was mistaken in saying that Patrick is not a top flight CB any more. I know that he is still highly ranked in some of the ranking systems (number 10 in one), but frankly I don't see it. The game against the Eagles is what I am pointing out: four pass interferences. Please let other people respond to this; I would like to see what others are saying. Darren, I hope that Santa was good to you! Go Cards (deep in the playoffs)!"

Patrick did get flagged four times against the Eagles but only two were pass interference. It's fair to say Peterson isn't quite the cornerback he once was in his prime, but I think he's still a pretty decent cover guy and needed in this defense. What that means going forward, with him due to become a free agent after the season, we will see.

From Sebastian Quiros via azcardinals.com:

"Hey Darren. I need a little help. For most terms in regards to the NFL I'm quite good and understand all of them. But I really don't get what the difference between 'questionable' and 'doubtful' means in regards to a player's status before a game. Can you please explain?"

Essentially, a player who is questionable is 50-50 (or maybe a little better) that he will play. A doubtful player has about a 25 percent chance to play. In my experience, the majority of players who are questionable are active. The vast majority of doubtful players are not.

From Disappointed Fan via azcardinals.com:

"I don't remember the exact stat, but we're potentially first in false start penalties? With being so penalized, at what point do you look at the coaches for the blame? So much lack of discipline on this team. With the playoffs on the line, this team looked like they didn't care or just weren't prepared. Kliff always says how he needs to call plays better, but do you feel like there is really growth there? It seems like there is so much talent on this team but we play up or down to our opponent every week. I don't have any confidence that this team can beat the Rams to have a chance at the playoffs."

Yes, the Cardinals lead the league with 32 false starts this season (and lead the league with 107 penalties.) Kliff said it himself -- this goes all around. I mean, if you are a player, how are you false starting? That feels like a concentration issue, which isn't about coaches. Of course, coaches can have in place some kind of accountability situation to help cut it down. I said this elsewhere -- I thought this team, before the season, was an 8- or 9-win team. So they will hit that mark. They could have done better. The Rams game will say a lot, win or lose. How they perform will be under the microscope.

From Hague Obie via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren. Suffice it to say, fans can be irrational. Especially after an ugly loss, emotions runneth over. But there is one outcry I think is valid. After the Rams' ugly loss to the (formerly) no-wins-Jets, and then subsequently 'choking' in a clinch game vs Seattle, many Rams fans are calling for McVay's job. Which is a little crazy considering his success. However, the valid criticism is 'it doesn't matter if you win a lot if you lose the games that matter most.' I think that's fair. That brings me to Kliff. Obviously Kliff is nowhere near McVay in terms of wins. But there is a valid question - we've had a number of ugly losses this year to bad teams. If the Cardinals can't defeat a Goff-less Rams team in a win-and-you're-in game (easily the most important game in the last years), doesn't that beg the question, is Kliff capable of winning any game?"

Lot to unpack here. I mean, the Seahawks had a better record going into that game and were playing at home and the Rams choked? Yikes. That's a bar-and-a-half to clear. And I can't think of anything more irrational than Rams fans calling for McVay's ouster. That's beyond irrational. That's utter cluelessness. As for your concept of winning important games, I understand what you are saying, to a point. I'd argue (and Kyle would be proud of this) that the sample size, including whatever happens against the Rams, is way too small. If they would have beaten the Niners but lost to the Rams and missed the playoffs, you wouldn't be any better off but would you make the same argument? I see a team that was a hot mess after the 2018 season, won five games last season with a rookie QB and has a chance to win nine this year. I know everyone wants fast-food, microwaved success, and I get it to a point. There are games the Cardinals wished they would've -- and perhaps should've -- won. But it is stunning to me how quick everyone is to want to fire people and make changes, especially knowing how difficult starting over can and would be.

From Jess Benson via azcardinals.com:

"What's Dennis Gardeck's knee injury, so that we have a time frame. Are we talking a sprain? Or is it an ACL tear, in which he might not be back until Week 6 (next season)?"

A good question, one I posed to Kingsbury. He declined to answer. So right now I do not know.

From Alan Noonkester via azcardinals.com:

"I'm starting to get curious on what positions you see the Cardinals focusing on in this next coming draft. A lot of mock drafts I've skimmed through have us focusing on an edge rusher, but I guess I don't see that as the priority as much as they do. Is this the year they take a tight end maybe? Add more depth to the offensive line at guard or offensive tackle (Like Dillon Radunz in a later round of he is there?) Do you see them maybe making some changes in the receiver core or address the secondary at CB?"

Alan, you don't know me very well, because I won't give much thought to the draft for a while now. Free agency, both who the Cards keep and who they bring in, means a lot when it comes to the draft. And the Cardinals have a barrel full of their own free agents. Take edge rusher for instance: Golden, Reddick and Gardeck are all on expiring contracts. So if they all (or two) get away, yes, I could see them looking at that premium position. But we have a lot of things to get through before prognostication makes sense.

From Charles Oliver via azcardinals.com:

"Darren, I noticed in the Eagles game that the refs blew the play dead on several occasions, not giving the Cardinals the free play when the defense was offside. Is there a reason/rule that sometime the play is allowed and sometimes not? We know that Aaron Rodgers made a career getting the defense to jump then getting the free play."

That is a fair question. I have wondered that myself. The only times they are supposed to blow the whistle is if 1) the defensive player makes contact with an offensive player; 2) the defensive player jumping makes an offensive player flinch with his own false start; 3) the defender is unabated to the quarterback. My guess is most of the time, No. 2 is happening. But I agree, I thought some free plays would be available.

From Lorne Nel via azcardinals.com:

"What are those behind-the-scenes responsibilities you have in your position? Are you involved in advertising at all? I know you go on opponent radio shows, but isn't that also considered fan facing? What's the boring administrative parts of your job, since we all have them."

Lorne, I'd never say anything was boring (because my bosses might be reading.) But I am in charge of overseeing the website, and while I am not directly involved in advertising, myself and my team help get the ads filtered through the site. I also make decisions on website content, I oversee a couple of people, and am part of the group that decides on content across all our platforms.

From Sidney Sexson via azcardinals.com

"Darren I hope you and your family had a great Christmas. I just want to say that I think, as many Arizona fans, that D.J. Humphries should have been a Pro Bowl selection. Also, when I watch his interviews he has such a great personality and infectious laugh. If there was ever a contest where a fan could hangout with a player he would be my first choice."

I agree, Hump should have made the Pro Bowl, although there are some great tackles out there. Hopefully, it's just that year-before -- as in, guys tend to make the Pro Bowl the year after they deserve it (and often make one more after they do not.)

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