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You've Got Mail: The Top Players On The Roster

Topics include trading down, home-field advantage, and playoff OT strategy

Mailbage Kyler JC 022024

Teams who have a franchise tag candidate -- which does not include the Cardinals this season -- now have their window open to slap on such a designation, and the Scouting combine is a week away. Meanwhile, the mailbag marches on. Questions have been edited for length and clarity. Don't forget to send a question for a future mailbag.

From Jesse Arrieta:

"Hello Darren. Of our current players on our current roster, who do you think are our five best players that should be starters next season?"

Hey Jesse. Little confused by the question -- if you are one of the best five players, you're going to start. There is no "should be" about it. But if I had to pick the team's five top players right now, in no particular order, it'd be Kyler Murray, Budda Baker, Trey McBride, James Conner, Jalen Thompson (And Will Hernandez is close for me.) 

From Art Pozza:

"The main consensus in the draft is that we take MHJ. We may or may not. If MHJ is not available at No. 4, do you think the likelihood of the Cardinals trading down increases? And how far do think we should trade down? The Cardinals need immediate starters. It would be less likely if we trade down."

If Marvin Harrison is off the board by 4, that would mean one of the top three QBs fell, so yes, I would guess that would increase the likelihood of a trade simply because I would expect a team wanting to trade up for that QB. How far all depends on the haul I may or may not be able to get. There is opportunity cost lost every spot they drop, obviously. But it's the first round -- I would hope there is a good chance pick No. 27 could start. They aren't dropping below that in a trade from 4, so if it's about finding a starter, that's not a concern of mine. A chance at a star? Sure, that would seem to diminish the further you drop. 

From Jason Angelini:

"I've been an Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals fan since the days of Buddy Ball. This year's home games were especially rough because every game felt like we were playing a road game. The opposition fans in attendance at State Farm Stadium were noticeably louder than our own Red Sea. How can we keep the home-field advantage and 'protect the nest' in 2024 like it should be? Until we start putting more games in the win column, are we going to continue this trend? Thanks for your time and look forward to mailbags in the upcoming months."

Let me start by saying the organization has undergone an overhaul on the business side with a focus on creating that atmosphere for home games. The effort is coming from that side and I believe it will be seen this season. But ultimately, yes, I do believe the football is the main driver when it comes to the fans, and while Monti Ossenfort and Jonathan Gannon are trying to get results on the field as soon as they can, this remains a process and Ossenfort wants to make sure he does it right and creates something sustainable in the long run. 

From Michael Travers:

"Appreciate the opportunity to ask questions about our Cardinals. As fans we now understand that the Cards have a process but that always begins with a plan. In your opinion, do you feel the focus in free agency will be on defense? If so, which position groups?"

I think the free agency "focus" will lean defense just because that's where the most holes are right now, but ultimately, I think it'll comes down to particular players the Cardinals want to grab rather than overall positions. It'll be fascinating to see how Monti Ossenfort approaches that part of the offseason; he seemed to show last year he'd lean draft as the main backbone to what he would do to roster-build. 

From Larry Pearlman:

"Hi Darren. It seems that every year the Cardinals get hit with key injuries in waves. I realize that every team has to deal with injuries but it seems as though the elite teams make it to the playoffs in good health and the Cardinals never do get deep into the season healthy. Do you have access to statistics comparing player days lost to injury for the Cardinals vs league average for the past several years? If it turns out that the Cardinals really do sustain more than average injuries, shouldn't we look closely at our training staff?"

I don't have the league average, but I can tell you the Cardinals lost 139 games to injury among 32 players last season, and the Cards used 77 players in games, third-most in the league (behind Tennessee with 83 and Houston at 81). Wise veteran Cory Redding once said of playing in the NFL, "It's not a question of if you will get injured playing in this league, it's a question of when." Teams get injured. The Chiefs lost a Pro Bowl guard and their best edge rusher to serious injuries in the playoffs; they still won. As far as looking at the training staff, every part of the operation is looked at every year. Same with the strength and conditioning coaches. But explain to me how torn ACLs or torn biceps are supposed to be prevented? I'd get it if there were a bunch of hamstrings or such, but torn ligaments or muscles, that's just rough luck. 

From Phillip Gilliam:

"There's been a lot of discussion about playoff overtime strategy post-Super Bowl. You win the toss. Do you go on offense or defense? The Chiefs seemed pretty happy to go on defense first, for obvious reasons (getting the ball last and knowing exactly what they have to do to win). If you're forced to go on offense first, and you score a TD, do you go for two? I think that's the only way you get a second chance if the other team matches your eight points. Only getting seven, sets you up for a possible two-point try by the other team if they score a TD. Do you know if JG has a point of view on this?"

I do not know what Gannon would do in such a circumstance. I would likely want to go on defense first, but I believe there are also reasons to want to go first and it also depends on circumstances -- who I have, who the other team has, how the game flow has gone. I will say this, if I got the ball first and scored a touchdown, there is no way I go for two. I want the pressure on the other offense for that do-or-die play; if you go for two then and miss, you are basically handing the team an easy way to win with a TD and some momentum knowing they just stopped the two-point chance.

From Kenyon Carlson:

"There's been a rather exhaustive discussion on one of your threads regarding analytics as it relates to the NFL. The more we discussed it, the more I realized how little I really know about it. We can't even agree on a simple definition of analytics, and I've never even seen one! The only time I've heard analytics mentioned was when the head coach had a decision to make between calling two different plays (e.g. going for it on 4th and 3 vs. kicking a FG). I know Kyle was a big analytics guy, but perhaps you could shed some light on the subject? How are analytics different from statistics (I don't believe you can used the terms interchangeably)? Lastly, how are the data for analytics compiled, by whom, and who can have access to it? Is the analytics database merely comprised of historical data of similar play attempts of each team and then lumped together for an average success/failure rate?"

Analytics has evolved into a catch-all term encompassing the numbers and data a team may use to help in decision-making. The Cardinals have a couple of full-time analysts along with interns breaking down these sorts of things. I suppose I would put it this way: analytics is a way to put statistics into context so they can be used tangibly. Teams have proprietary processes for what they do; there are many number crunchers out there publicly that can give examples (like going on ESPN or Twitter and seeing accounts that talk about going for it on certain fourth-down plays, for example.)

When you see a fourth down v FG/punt number, it's usually about how much more your chance to win percentage goes up (or down) based on the decision *before it happens. *In other words, these numbers don't take into account at the moment if you fail, because no one makes decisions already knowing the result. I understand many aren't comfortable with the "risky" decisions being made in the NFL these days, but if the point is to do what you can to win and it makes sense to take some risk, maybe the mistakes have been made all these years, rather than now.

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