So there was finally some real football. It was a tie, of course, but it ended much better than it began for the Cardinals, Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray. Lots to talk about, certainly. On to the questions, and as always, send a question for next week's mailbag by clicking here.
From 11 4ever via azcardinals.com:
"Well, ol' Darren, ol' pal I'm going to put you on the spot. In the alternate universe where Larry Fitzgerald had a solid QB all his career (say Warner or Palmer), would Larry have passed Jerry Rice by now? When you consider Larry is second in almost every receiving category, despite the ups-and-downs at QB, I don't think it's a question Larry might just be the best wide receiver who has ever played the game."
So here's the deal -- there are seasons in which I think Fitz would have had better numbers, yes. But not every non-Warner/Palmer season (for instance, John Skelton was mostly QB in 2011 when Fitz had more than 1,400 yards, so I don't know if his numbers would have been much better.) There have been two seasons in which I think Fitz's numbers were significantly harmed by the QB situation and he didn't battle nagging injuries: 2012 and 2018, although he might've had more receptions in 2011, say, with a more accurate passer (then again, the end of the 2011 season evolved into throwing the ball to Fitz as much as possible, which doesn't hurt the stats.)
Anyway, Fitz is still 238 receptions behind Rice and a (crazy) 6,503 yards behind Rice. Honestly, do I think Fitz would've more than made up both totals with different quarterbacks? He'd definitely be closer, and on catches, maybe you can make an argument Fitz would've had maybe 100 more total? Maybe 150? (Again, his numbers remarkably weren't that far down, and a couple of his lesser years were actually with Palmer while trying to learn Bruce Arians' offense.) On yards, maybe he'd have another 1,200 or 1,500, but that's still far short of Rice. This isn't to take away from Fitz -- it reflects more on how incredible Rice's career was. (Rice had 92 catches for 1,211 yards the season he was 40!)
This isn't to say Fitz isn't great, that he doesn't deserve to be in Canton, or that he isn't among (in my opinion) somewhere among the top five receivers in NFL history. But I don't think he would've passed Rice yet. I do think he'd have bigger postseason numbers, however, because the Cardinals would've had better teams.
It was both, of course, but I do believe we saw a lot of what Murray can become. It was his first NFL game. Do I think he'll play at that level all the time in 2019? Probably not. The roller-coaster of a rookie is real. But it definitely wasn't simply a product of the Lions breaking down.
From Sidney Sexson via azcardinals.com:
"When players are drafted or brought into camp as undrafted rookies, do they get paid a salary during camp or are they only paid when and if they make the 53-man roster or are signed to the practice squad?"
In the offseason, players are paid a stipend -- much less than they would make in the regular season -- but they are paid. Rookies are put up in a hotel by the team if they don't have a place to live. But the paychecks don't happen until the regular season starts.
I have not had a chance to talk to anyone but Kingsbury, but I think in general the feeling was they did OK. It was interesting to see how Snacks Harrison, the Lions' stud defensive tackle, tweeted after the game he had been dominated during the game. I think Justin Murray did fine at right tackle given his circumstances. And I think there were times Murray was pressured when he probably should've gotten rid of the ball sooner.
From Allie Maudestie via azcardinals.com:
"Do you expect Reddick to resume his full time starting role next week?"
That's hard to say. I don't know where his conditioning is at this point. He looked pretty healthy when he played, and they need his speed on the field. But I wouldn't be surprised if there was one more week of sharing time with Joe Walker.
I would have to know the plays. Generally, yes, I would think receivers too close to one another wouldn't be ideal. Then again, if the play design is a rub route or something like that, the whole point is to create traffic to get a guy open. I'll be honest, for all the issues the passing game had Sunday, I don't know if I'd pick receivers close to each other as one of the main culprits.
From Brandon St. Randy via azcardinals.com:
"Darren. I wanted to ask where did Larry line up on Sunday? I know he had two deep catches, which almost suggests he was an outside receiver? Does that put Kirk in the slot? If you know the breakdown of what receivers lined up where, I'd appreciate it."
Unfortunately, I don't have the time to go over every play and where every receiver lined up. But I can tell you on Fitz's 41-yard catch, he was in the middle of a trips right formation with a fourth receiver lined up on the left. On the 45-yard catch, Fitz was in the left slot with a balanced four-receiver alignment, with two receivers on each side. Generally, I'd say Fitzgerald will end up as an inside receiver even on his deep tries. On both those plays, Kirk was also inside -- the receiver closest to the linemen on the trips right formation, the inside receiver on the right on the balanced formation. On the 45-yard catch, in fact, Kirk ran the same route as Fitz just on the other side, and Kyler Murray actually looked his way first -- but when the lone safety over the top cheated a bit toward Kirk, Murray properly went the other way to Fitz.
- Jordan Hicks is someone who looked like he can be a real anchor in the middle of the defense. And fourth-quarter Murray.
- It would've been how much Murray struggled the first three quarters. Overall, not sure there really was anyone.
- Most important factor against the Ravens will be how they handle Lamar Jackson. The Dolphins didn't pass rush him. I think you need to make him feel the pressure, although I know his running ability can kill you.
From Jack McCall via azcardinals.com:
"Hi Darren. It would appear for the third head coach in a row, we have an aversion to TE receiving usage. When you see the Gronks of the world, and then Sunday Hockenson shred us, it continues to boggle my mind that we seem to rarely ever pass it to tight ends. If you are a tight end in Arizona, you are a blocker, and that's it. Do you have any insights to this, because I cant figure it out. Tight end is such a great weapon, and we're leaving it on the table."
Arians wasn't a believer in the tight end as receiver, Wilks didn't exactly have a good tight end to throw to, and when you run an offense that often has one RB and 4 WRs, guess what -- the tight end isn't going to be a factor. Personally, do I think the tight end can be good? Yes. But you need to draft a Hockensen or a Gronk. The Cardinals just don't see the tight end that way, and as the Patriots showed Sunday night -- especially when they were running Edelman on routes for which they used to use for Gronk -- it's about the players, not the position. Fitz and David Johnson can get you some of the same mismatches.
I think the run defense overall looked better than I expected. Jordan Hicks really played well, IMO. As for a rookie, I'll go with Byron Murphy. You can see why the Cardinals were high on him. He'll still have a learning curve with coverage, but I love how physical he will be against the run and in tackling.
Well, obviously Kliff Kingsbury said Crabtree will play in Baltimore. I don't think he's gonna swoop in and be a dominant player, but yes, I think he has a chance to help. I do wonder where he fits -- I thought KeeSean Johnson looked pretty good out there, and I definitely think Damiere Byrd has earned his snaps. As for the separation, that was a problem last year. These days, I don't know how much separation Fitz is going to give you; even he seems to understand he'll be about contested catches (which he is great at). But part of the hopes of a Kingsbury offense is hopefully they can scheme some guys open a bit more.
From Reggie Burse via azcardinals.com:
"Hey there Darren, good start to the season. Do they actually expect CB Robert Alford back this year? A broken leg is a big deal. For all we know he wont be ready til 2020. But that was unclear to me. From what you've heard, does the team actually plan for him to suit up late this season?"
I think the hope is still there. I think it's far from a certainty, and with most situations like this, it may come down to where the Cardinals are as a team. If we get to late November or December, is it worth bringing him back if the team is already out of a postseason opportunity? I agree, it's a serious injury. But the reason they waited to put him on IR until after the original cutdowns was so the option was there to bring him back -- so yes, I'd have to think there is optimism there.
See, I actually think the special teams -- save probably for the inconsistent early field-goal kicking -- was pretty good last year as well. Special teams coordinator/assistant head coach Jeff Rodgers knows what he's doing. But overall, that was an excellent performance Sunday. Andy Lee is Andy Lee. Zane Gonzalez has shown why they had so much faith in him. The coverage units are really good. I said on Twitter Monday, I think Trent Sherfield is trending toward becoming a Pro Bowl-type special teamer before our eyes. And Dennis Gardeck and Ezekiel Turner were really good last year, and that continues. Can't complain about the transition game.
I would generally agree. I didn't look to see how many times Vance Joseph did it, and it'll be a question brought up Thursday I am sure. But to be crafty in your playcalls, you have to be willing to change it up once in a while.
From Wilbur Barry via azcardinals.com:
"What does getting 'Kyler rolling earlier' entail? Perhaps planning a handful of passes to Larry just to get some momentum? I ask because it's a strange thing to say. Early in the game the defense isn't tired, so other than 'playing better' how do you help Kyler out early?"
I don't know if it would be about passes to Fitz specifically, but when Kingsbury talks about getting Kyler in a rhythm, he's talking about maybe a couple of more simple passes, easy completions. Certainly not complex plays in which there are multiple spots where the play can break down/blow up.
I would think it would be D.J. Swearinger, but it's not about leadership to me as much as guys overall understanding assignments in the heat of a real game. Haason Reddick hasn't been at practice much, Byron Murphy and Chris Jones didn't have regular-season experience, and they were all trying to get their feet beneath them. The miscommunication seems typical in Week One for a bunch of teams -- there were plenty of wide-open pass catchers across the league this weekend.
Well, I wasn't in the crowd, but it sure seem like they were excited once the comeback was underway. Look, in terms of the game, the Cardinals' offense was terrible and gave fans nothing to be excited about for 48 minutes. Can't blame the fans for being frustrated.
Now, in terms of fans not believing in Murray and/or Kingsbury in general? People can "hate" on whoever they want. To me, I feel the same about it that I have all the other years and players/coaches for which I have seen it -- if those guys are successful, the "hate" will dissipate. If they fail, people will pile on. Now, for those who already were calling Murray a bust during the game ... that seems stupid to me.
Tell you what -- if the Cardinals go 0-0-16, I will quit my job.
And go off to somewhere quiet, because the apocalypse will be upon us.