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You've Got Mail: Steelers Week

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After a hard-to-watch performance against the Rams, the Cardinals now have the Steelers at home Sunday, in a game Pittsburgh needs to stay in the playoff chase. Sounds like a good time for some questions. As always, you can leave a question for next week's mailbag by clicking here. So here we go. I had anticipated a rough one after Sunday, but we'll muddle through.

From BB Mofa via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren. I saw Mike Bidwill on the broadcast and he looked none too pleased. That game was so bad. Worst is we weren't competitive. Players looked like they wanted to go home. Some are blaming it on the bye week. I guess I wanted to ask if you think there's any validity to that excuse? I mean Thanksgiving was on Thursday. It does seem like it was a particularly exhausting week in terms of distractions. Rams on the other hand were angry from that Baltimore spanking. We hate to see professionals come out flat, but I can relatively understand why this, of all weeks, would be the one off."

In the end, the Rams celebrated Thanksgiving this past week too. The team might have had some holiday stuff at home, but their schedule remained virtually the same, including a normal Thursday practice on that day. Kliff Kingsbury called it unacceptable, and that's simply what it was. Holidays or not.

Well, they didn't rest the entire bye week. They were in the building Monday and Tuesday, with a Tuesday practice. The only extra day off they got was Wednesday before the bye. The collective bargaining agreement requires teams to give players four consecutive days off on the bye week, and every team does Thursday-Sunday. And the Cards returned to a normal week the following Monday with a practice.

From Chad Johnson via azcardinals.com:

"Since the Cardinals have a lot of rookies playing, and the college season wrapped up for a lot of teams this last weekend, is there any hint of fatigue in young players (mentally, physically) to get geared up the last four games?"

Well, I believe the rookie wall -- especially for a team that is not in the playoff hunt -- is a reality. (Rookies on good teams I think can be affected too, it's just that there is a certain adrenaline around a locker room when the playoffs are a possibility.) It is a long season, and the rookies have basically gone non-stop from the start of their final college season, training for the draft, the combine, draft visits, a new team in a new state, offseason work, extended time with the team (they basically get about two weeks before camp) and then training camp and the season. Has it been obvious? No. But it's naive to think guys aren't feeling it.

From Juan Gooding via azcardinals.com:

"Question: What are your thoughts on leaving Kyler in the game when we were down 34-0? Midway through the third quarter, when it appeared Kyler threw three consecutive interceptions, the game was beyond over,and venturing into very ugly. I understand they left him in so he could gain some confidence. Fight through adversity. And he did get that lone TD late. But we all know that if Kyler had gotten hurt in that 4th quarter. There would be absolute hell to pay."

You are right, people would have been angry. But this season is all about Murray's development, and not developing him now -- when you have a chance -- so that he's better prepared for 2020 seems counterintuitive. If he was a finished product already, I am with you 100 percent. But he is not.

I think the Cardinals will want to try and overhaul their defensive line. The way free agency played out last season, both the team and Rodney thought he would be elsewhere in 2019, so I'm not going to rule out a return. I don't know if Gunter is going to get the big money out there that he hoped to get.

From 11 4ever via azcardinals.com:

"This is a silly-esque question but it still needs to be asked, how many nightmare games like that can Kyler endure before he goes back to baseball? We want to laugh and shake it off, but ultimately I think that looms over a lot of Cards' fans. It's happened three times in actual sports history. Will we be the fourth? Every time he says he's a football player, there always seems to be that unspoken 'for now' in the background. What do you think?"

I think you're right -- I think it's silly. Anyone worrying about that is gonna give himself/herself an ulcer for no good reason. You think, if Murray is a good football player, he's going to dump the sport for baseball just because the team is bad? And if he is not a good football player (which I don't see happening) why would it matter? (I'm also curious to know the three players of whom you speak that left football for baseball. Context matters.) And for the record, no, I don't think that's something Murray thinks about.

I'm sure Steve Keim would be the first to say he is a part of where the Cardinals have ended up defensively. The Cards need more talent on that side of the ball. I've thought that since the regular season began. It felt, after where the defense was by the time 2018 ended, a rebuild was needed. They lost out on some expected pieces (Philon, Alford, Swearinger.) This offseason, in the understatement of the year, will be crucial on that side of the ball.

From Fannie Tosh via azcardinals.com:

"Happy Winter Solstice Urbz! I love my Cardinals and our players but I think this is a fair question. Who is our vocal leader on offense? On defense it seems to be a combo of Chandler-Suggs-PP-Hicks-Budda. But on offense, I'm struggling to figure out who is the rah-rah guy. It certainly isn't Larry or Kyler. Both are 'the leaders' but not rah-rah guys. I'm not saying these adult men need a motivator, but I do think they need a central sticky guy who actually ties everybody together. Do we have that guy?"

I'm glad you noted that they don't need a motivator. I get where you are going about someone who ties guys together, but I've also found over the years that that stuff on this level is overblown. Even your suggested defensive players, while vocal in some ways, aren't necessarily exactly what you describe. What ties pro athletes together is playing well and winning.

No one has said specifically. There is no way to know on the outside without someone saying what exactly it is. We don't know what they are being told to do or where the breakdowns exist. I agree with Kliff Kingsbury's Sunday comment though -- anything he says about it will fall on deaf ears because the only thing that matters is getting to the point where tight ends are covered a heck of a lot more often.

From June H. via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren. I noticed in Mike Jurecki's snap breakdowns that Maxx Williams only played 18 snaps Sunday. I don't think its a coincidence that we looked like that team from Game 1 (vs. the Lions) yesterday, when you consider how little we used Maxx. Clay got in on some plays, but Maxx is our predominant flex TE. It seems we backslid to our five WR sets, and that just flat-out doesn't work. We are so much better with a TE on the field. My question for you: Does anybody say this to Kliff? Meaning you, the media in QnAs? It seems we slowly found an offense that works in the NFL, but Kliff wants to keep reverting to his 4/5 WR offense."

I'd disagree that the reason the Cardinals backslid on offense had much to do with the personnel groupings Sunday. I don't know what the plan was for the Rams or what they saw coming in. If Kingsbury had to do it over again, I'm sure he'd have a different gameplan. But as for the media's role in such things, I mean, it might get brought up as a question of why, but it's not the job of the media to tell the coach what to do. (And yes, I know there are segments that do feel it's their job.)

I know everyone loves to talk draft this time of year, but again, there are so many variables at play by the time we get to April. Who is picking ahead of the Cardinals? What needs are filled in free agency? But early on, without knowing those variables? I would lean toward defense, in particular a pass rusher, interior defensive line or cornerback. And yes, I'd consider an offensive lineman and/or a dynamic offensive playmaker.

From Joey Spitz via azcardinals.com:

" 'AZ waives CB Tramaine Brock, which is a surprise. He’s been their top-rated cover corner.' Worst pass D in the NFL, and we waive our highest rated CB? Explain. PLEASE."

You left out the part where he was the top-rated corner based on Pro Football Focus, so take that for what you will (and for the record, Chris Jones has a higher-rated coverage grade and Jones' overall grade is close to Brock's.) To me, the key is when Kingsbury said "we wanted to get better, basically." He wasn't specific, and we don't know everything that goes on -- all we see is what is on the field.

From Me Again via azcardinals.com:

"You're just dropping all sorts of Twitter gold (Monday). I want to discuss this nugget: 'Kingsbury said the Cardinals have discussed using Haason Reddick at outside linebacker.' I've been saying that forever. Dude was a first-round talent as a DE/pass rusher in college. Not ILB. Can we please stop trying to skate uphill? Yes, please use him as a pass rusher. That's what hes good at. Thoughts?"

At this point, it makes the most sense to me. I understood the idea of trying to make him into an inside linebacker, given his physical tools and his size. The Cardinals were hoping he could become another Daryl Washington. The concern about Reddick as an edge rusher has been his size and his ability to hold up out there against much bigger tackles. If they aren't going to use him inside, however, and with the pass rush clearly struggling, trying him out there is worth it.

From AndyStandsUp via azcardinals.com:

"Hello Darren. Saw Chase Edmonds was back this week. And he hopes the team will 'run 80/90 plays' so the full complement of RBs will be used. Last I saw, AZ was middling in offensive snaps this season. Wasn't this team supposed to be a fast team in response to number of plays? What has slowed them down or is this warranted based on defenses or acclimation of a rookie head coach?"

The idea of running a ton of plays always sounds good, but there is a lot that goes into it. I think Kingsbury would've liked to have more instances already this season where he could up the tempo and when the Cardinals have, they have been fairly successful. But I think that idea -- along with things like 10 personnel -- hasn't been used as much as Kingsbury originally anticipated as he figures out the NFL game. The danger of trying to stuff in a lot of plays is if you go fast and it doesn't work and you punt, the defense is also playing a lot more plays, and that's probably something you want to manage given how the defense has performed.

I would be surprised if he doesn't share snaps the rest of the season. I suppose we could come to a point where the Cardinals give him another game to dominate the snaps, but that certainly does not seem like the direction it is going right now.

From Daniel Fly via azcardinals.com:

" Hi Darren. Got a left-field topic I want to talk about, a lot better than the vitriol otherwise being talked about. So we notably went through some very-bad-no-good years at QB, right? Why didn't we look in our own backyard? There was a (now recently retired) Rattlers QB by the name of Nick Davila. Nicknamed the Latin Lazer. This guy was a 3-time Arena MVP and 4-time Arena champion. In area league circles, hes a legend. Before anybody rolls their eyes, Kurt Warner is a two-time arena league MVP as well. At the end of the day you're just slinging a football, whether indoors or outdoors. So why, Darren? We had a Latin Tom Brady available all these years. Is this a Cameron Wake situation where we did in fact take a look, but didn't sign?"

You are right, Warner was an arena star. The Cardinals once signed another arena star QB. Sherdrick Bonner was with the Cardinals at the end of the 1999 season and starred for the Rattlers himself. And, as a quick aside, I covered Warner's last arena game ever -- he lost, QBing the Iowa Barnstormers, at then America West Arena in the ArenaBowl against the Rattlers. I remember interviewing him after the game, and looking back, neither one of us could have predicted our stints with the Cardinals. But I digress. I'm sure the Cardinals paid attention to a local guy to see how he looked on tape. But arena success does not mean you're destined to be Kurt Warner Part II.

Could I see them looking at a receiver in free agency? Absolutely. Would I think they'd chase arguably the top guy in free agency, and spend that money there? I don't know if I see that. I'd have to see what other receivers are going to be on the market. And what DL/OL/CBs too.

From Hartford Englewood via azcardinals.com:

"Hey Darren! I noticed today that D. Byrd was playing instead of K. Johnson. I know that certain games this season Byrd has been inactive and other games Johnson has been inactive. Was just wondering if there is any indication to whom will probably be active for the remaining games, and why the Cards switched from Johnson to Byrd before the Rams game? Thanks!"

When it comes to receiver -- and Byrd and Johnson in particular -- I think it's about the matchup each week with whatever defense they are playing. So no, I do not think there will be an indication ahead of time, necessarily.

Again, I'd have to see which guys are actually available come March -- remember, teams have two months after the season to try and keep guys -- before really knowing. I would guess they would like to sign a defensive lineman and/or cornerback, and maybe a wideout. But it's less about positions than specific guys when it comes to free agency. And also who they think they might have the best chance to draft plays into that as well.

From Kyler Numero Uno via azcardinals.com:

"Hey Darren. Is Patrick Peterson leaving the locker room postgame before the media arrives a common thing, or is that new to 2019?"

Kliff Kingsbury has been taking more time postgame to come to his presser than previous Cardinals coaches, and the locker room isn't opened for interviews until Kingsbury comes in. So that plays a factor on who is still left in the room when it opens. Peterson has been around postgame countless times in his career.

From Amy Pierce via azcardinals.com:

"Hello Darren, love the mailbag, thank you! This is also about DC Vance Joseph. First, I want everyone to go read his bio. Impressive! It is instructive for why we hired him. I agree with you, we need some continuity, allow him to build a rapport with Kingsbury and other coaches. Get him players! Our defensive backfield is filled with still learning youngsters, although talented. Every coach or player I respect says games are won up front and looking at our defensive line it is clear there is work to be done. Firing the coach does not further that cause, let him, with Kingsbury, build with what have that shows promise. Thoughts?"

I'm sure, given all the other stuff floating around, Vance would appreciate a pro-Joseph take. Again, I understand the frustration of fans with the play of the defense. But if the Cards make a chance, they would then have their fourth defensive coordinator in four seasons, and it is difficult to form anything with so much instability. How this team performs the final four games will impact the choices made. I don't think there is much doubt about that.

I'm not going Jim Harbaugh on you here. Sunday in particular there was definitely an effort gap. You can see that when you rewatch the game, and Kingsbury made that point after. I do think there remains a talent gap, and I've said before the Cardinals need to upgrade the roster in the offseason. Because of those two situations, it's hard to know if there is a significant coaching gap. The Rams have beat up on three different staffs now over the last three years.

From Reggie Park via azcardinals.com:

"Mornin Darren, I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving. I actually don't have a question for you, friend, but a factoid I think both you and the Cards fan base will enjoy, so I'm hoping you'll post it. Fact: Many of us remember Randy Johnsons famous 'bird ball.' During a spring training game against the Giants, Randy smoked a bird with a fastball. Big explosion of feathers. Very epic. The interesting factoid is the batter was Calvin Murray -- Kyler Murray's uncle. Neat!"

Oh, why not.

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