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With or without quarterback Kyler Murray, the Arizona Cardinals are an imperfect team.
Monday’s 38-10 abuse by the San Francisco 49ers in Mexico City showed one team on the rise while the other was heading in the wrong direction. Murray’s eventual return from a hamstring injury won’t save the season after a disappointing 4-7 record.
Kliff Kingsbury’s entire tenure as Cardinals head coach can be described as disappointing. Well, maybe not, if anyone actually paid attention to his performance as a college coach.
At Texas Tech, Kingsbury won 47% of their games. With Monday’s loss, the coach’s winning percentage in Arizona is…wait…48% (rounded).
Combined with some of the league’s worst draft picks from general manager Steve Keim, owner Michael Bidwill should have reached the point where wiping the slate clean for the next offseason is a serious possibility.
Currently, Arizona appears to be verified and outperformed in most cases. A surprise win last week with Colt McCoy in the lead doesn’t change the fact that the Cardinals have been pretty bad this season. Plus, the Los Angeles Rams are one of the few teams to have been an even bigger disaster.
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The team’s four wins have come against opponents with a combined record of 13-29. Aside from last season’s impressive 7-0 start, the Cardinals have been mediocre to mediocre. Granted, Kingsbury inherited the league’s worst side, but no lasting improvement has been seen over the past four years. The opposite happened.
The regression began on an October 28 Thursday night football meeting with the Green Bay Packers last year. From then until today, the Cardinals are 8-14.
A look at the roster shows just how talentless Arizona is. Four legitimate building blocks appear to be in place, starting with Murray. Wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Marquise Brown, as well as safety Budda Baker, form the other mainstays of the team.
Questions and jokes about Murray and his commitment to play quarterback at the NFL level are moot, as the Cardinals signed the 25-year-old signalman to a five-year, $230.5 million contract extension. over the past offseason. Technically, that part of his current deal hasn’t even started yet. He’s the guy for the foreseeable future, and he should be.
Whether or not Murray is a movie junkie should blind no one to the fact that he is a gifted natural athlete who has carried the offense at times in his career.
The explosive talent of the arms combined with an impressive evasive ability and special mobility in the open field make it difficult for opposing defenses to manage. The 2019 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is an athlete of a different caliber than most in the position, and it shows.
Is Murray perfect? Far from there.
But the franchise has banked on its natural gifts in a league where players with similar skills are more prevalent than ever. The NFL is now a league where most of the damage is often outside of the structure when a game goes overtime.
The fact that Kingsbury didn’t get the most out of their hand-picked quarterback after making him the No. 1 pick three years ago, mainly because he’s supposed to have adapted the system coach at a tee, says more about the caller than him. makes his protege.
Injuries played a role, of course. Murray missed three games last year with an ankle injury. But the bigger issue seemed to be the discontent that grew between the quarterback and the confidence of the team brains based on how the team finished last season.
Maybe Murray is ‘self-centered’ and ‘immature’, like ESPN chris mortensen relayed in February. Infighting didn’t stop Bidwill from handing out the previously mentioned mega-deal.
In doing so, the choice became obvious. If the Cardinals have to make any changes, it will be to the staff, not who is behind the center. To build well around Murray, Arizona needs to do a better job. Keim did a dismal job of doing it.
Keim became the Cardinals’ general manager in 2013. Since then, he’s drafted Jonathan Cooper, Deone Bucannon, DJ Humphries, Robert Nkemdiche, Haason Reddick, Josh Rosen, Murray, Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins in the first round. Yeah. This year’s first choice, tight end Trey McBride, had little to no impact.
The general manager’s batting average might not be so bad if it were Major League Baseball. In the NFL, a team can’t smell that many times during the first frame and not see their formation start to fall apart.
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At the moment, Hopkins is the only real threat in the passing game. Since returning from a six-game suspension, the five-time Pro Bowl selection has had 45 receptions for 487 yards in five games.
Further help should come once Brown is fully designated to return from injured reserve after missing the last five games with a foot injury.
Those blocking for Murray and his skill position players are also in disarray. Arizona has endured seven different starting offensive line combinations so far this year. The instability in the trenches was to be expected based on Keim allowing an aging group to enter this season without adding significant reinforcements.
Rodney Hudson, Justin Pugh and Kelvin Beachum Jr. are all 32 or older this season. Two of the three are on injured reserve, as is another starting guard, Will Hernandez.
A poorly constructed offensive setup stalled any kind of development expected by the coaching staff.
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On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals had no answer for the 49ers. San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo looked as good as he has all season as he worked on his progressions and even extended a few plays that turned into big winners. Christian McCaffrey and his running mates also averaged 5.7 yards per carry.
JJ Watt may be a big name, but he’s not the player he once was. To be fair, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year has set an impossible standard. Instead, Baker is the tone of the group.
“Budda kind of demands that we all play at a certain level, probably more than some coaches,” Collins told Doug Haller of The Athletic.
Something must change in the coming weeks. The impassioned appeals of Baker and others will go no further. The Cardinals will be unfavored in many of their remaining games.
Next week’s meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers should be considered a draw if Murray is ready to play. After the bye week, the Denver Broncos look like the only truly winnable game.
The Cards could squeeze in with one against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Atlanta Falcons, but these two NFC South entrants have a lot more at stake as they battle for a division championship. Six wins or less is a good threshold to know it’s time.
Kingsbury’s approach didn’t work. Someone else running the front office could make a big difference. As the face of the franchise, it falls to Murray to answer the call of duty.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.
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