Thu, 25 Feb 2021

You've Got Mail: Reflecting On The Season

Arizona Cardinals
13 Jan 2021, 18:03 GMT+10

Topics include COVID cap issues, playcalling and Simmons as OLB Darren Urban

The playoffs have started, the Cardinals work through the early part of the offseason. As always, if you want to send in a question for a future mailbag, you can go here.

From James Bradbury via azcardinals.com:

"Hey Darren, I think reasonable minds can come to expectation that the 2021 season will look similar to the 2020 season. COVID isn't going anywhere anytime soon. So we very very likely will see another fan-less season. So my point being, we shouldn't be worried about paying Fitz, or PP, or Drake, or Reddick. The actual hard decisions come next year, with Chandler and Kirk and Chase. You know what I mean? People should not be thinking this is a one-year cap issue. It's actually a two-year cap issue, and the issue compounds after two straight fan-less seasons. Perhaps we bite the bullet and pay nobody in 2021, so we can afford to resign more important guys next year?"

You raise multiple questions here. To start with, I do think the hope from the NFL is that, by the time we get back to another season in September, fans will be able to attend (now, whether that means full houses I do not know). The impact on the salary cap, even if the league went back to full houses in 2021, figures to hit at least some in the spring of 2022 anyway (and maybe beyond.) But there are hard decisions every year, and honestly I don't see a significant difference in terms of the two examples you give. Steve Keim's setup always has a three-year outlook around roster planning, so this stuff will all be taken into account.

From Tom Cowley via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren. Where do you believe the Cardinals begin their self-analysis top to bottom to rectify the abysmal team performance over the final five games? This must be a team analysis because it was a team collapse totally starting with Kliff and his playcalling during this span of games -- a real 180 from what was a very positive start."

I mean, it'll be just that -- a team analysis. Where it "begins" doesn't matter because I think there are multiple areas that need to improve. I'm sure there will be self-reflection by Kliff about every aspect of what he was doing (and that's something that needs to happen annually, even if you make the postseason.) Ultimately, while I know there are areas of the defense that have to be boosted, it was the offense and the inability to find consistency that, in my opinion, had the greatest impact on the team's struggles. The window you have with a quarterback on his rookie contract is short and running out, and that's going to put the pressure on next season.

From Bob Kitsos via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren. Thanks for your continued work with the mailbag. It's a fun, informative read. You mentioned in your team review that receiver Andy Isabella had a 'disappointing second year and future seems murky.' In the limited playing time that he's received, the speed and hands appear to be there. What part of his game are the Cardinals not happy with?"

We have not gotten any direct answers on what Isabella was lacking. At the end his rookie season, it was essentially the attention to detail on the NFL level that needed to get better. The speed is there. I think the hands improved but I don't know if they are "there." Given that he was inactive down the stretch (and still only played three snaps when he was active in the finale, even with Fitz out) says a lot about where his standing is on the depth chart.

From Lane Kidd via azcardinals.com:

"Teams have captains but they also frequently have players who inspire and lead, players not designated as a captain but who their peers respect and follow. Did the Cards have any such leaders this year?"

To be honest, not being able to be in the locker room this season made it harder for me to get a read on those kinds of dynamics. But if you are asking about non-captain personalities on the roster, Budda Baker was one (if you recall, he wasn't named captain until after Chandler Jones got hurt.) But given that there were eight captains, that pretty much took up all the probable candidates.

From Bill Thompson via azcardinals.com:

"Darren, I know that all of the Red Sea is upset about the way the season ended. I'm not ready to draft a new QB or fire Kliff, but my question is regarding the playcalling (really, changes during the game). Do you see where Kliff has not able to make adjustments during the game which could have changed the outcome of some of our games? Do you think that the coaching changes already in progress are an answer to that? And do you expect more changes? Please no changes on the defensive side of the ball!"

I don't know exactly what some of the changes will ultimately be, so I don't know their potential impact in context about which you are asking. Are there in-game issues that need improvement/fixing? Yes. Who knows if outcomes would have changed. Take the Patriots game -- the Cardinals could've gone for it on 4th-and-short instead of trying for the field goal that was missed. If Kingsbury chooses goes and makes it, maybe the Cards control the ball and get the win. Maybe Gonzalez still misses a try. But if they were stopped, the outcome likely is the same. As far as further coaching changes, it's hard to know -- even the ones that have been leaked have yet to be officially announced so I do not know how that will play out.

From John Dunne via azcardinals.com

"Hey Darren, with the roster the way it is, with Covid, and what seems to be a plethora of Free agents does/would Steve Keim take into consideration/advice/major input from Kyler Murray? He's their Franchise and future and wouldn't it be wise to ask what he needs to become the best player he can be? Players in the draft that he has a bond with? I know on the surface the question seems simple but I feel this year's decisions are unlike any before. Keim is the key to all of this and personally if I was him I'm going all in with Kyler's input not just the coaches (who probably won't be around as long as Kyler). How much input should a franchise QB have? Do you think Kyler should have substantial input?"

In general, no, I don't think a quarterback should have "substantial" input. For one, I don't want one teammate to have that kind of power over another teammate. Two, I know Murray is the QB, but if you are, for instance, Hop, or Budda Baker, wouldn't you wonder why this kid gets a say and you don't? Three, I'm going to be kept/fired on what I do as GM, so I'm not ceding that decision-making when my butt is on the line. Now, might you bounce something off him? Maybe. Like when the Cardinals talked to Patrick Peterson about Tyrann Mathieu. I get that part. But if the Cards weren't comfortable with Mathieu, for instance, they wouldn't have taken him no matter what Peterson said. Kyler isn't watching video, scouting players. He's 23 and he's still trying to learn the game better himself. He's got enough on his plate.

From CJ Klackston via azcardinals.com:

"While I was watching the Patriots game, a curious thought popped up. We crushed the Pats except in critical situations when it was as if they had our offensive playbook. Were they stealing Kyler's no-huddle signals? Do we switch them from time to time to protect against that? Is that a factor in all the false start and motion penalties? It would take teams some tape analysis of a few games at the beginning of the year to decipher signals, but we did well at the beginning and then some teams inexplicably seemed to have our number. Your thoughts please Darren."

It's been a minute since I watched the Patriots game, so it's not exactly fresh in my mind. But I never got the sense the issues in the Pats' game were because the Patriots knew what was coming. That game felt like a struggle of execution. It was also still in that window when Kyler wasn't running as much. Christian Kirk had a key drop near the end zone. I just think it was a bad game. But big picture, I would say yes, they do change up their signals from time to time.

From Ben Jones via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren. I want to discuss this growing phenomenon of star wide receivers getting an extra rest day. And before I begin, let me say I'm 100% OK with it. Whatever to keep you healthy. With that said, in years past, it began with 'older' wideouts getting the extra day. But now, the norm has become 'every star WR gets an extra day'. That being Hop, Devante, Thomas, Diggs. I just read that 2nd year WR AJ Brown of the Titans has already claimed his new normal-extra rest day schedule. It's funny to me, because (no disrespect) wide receiver is one of the least physical positions on a football team (in comparison to others). Why does the OL or DL not get that extra day? They bang ever single snap. Why not RBs? their job is so brutal their careers end after 3-4 years. It's just interesting of the 'who' that gets this treatment. Could it be the evolution of the 'diva WR?' Thankfully they no longer do situps in their driveway, they just have a shorter work week."

Honestly I don't know about the practice habits of any other wide receivers. I just know that Hopkins isn't exactly new to the league, and the Cardinals had a few vets taking days off this year (Chandler Jones, Corey Peters, and yes, Fitz) so it's not concentrated on one position. In the end, if the coach is cool with it, it doesn't bother me.

From James Maloy via azcardinals.com:

"Your question to Kliff was interesting, asking if all his coaching staff would be back. Because we forget the coaching staff was a piecemeal of strangers. A bunch of position coaches who mostly didn't know each other, and thus didn't have loyalty to each other coming in. This is notable because Kliff himself was the least experienced NFL coach on our team, as the head coach. It's interesting how rarely you speak with the other coaches. Any chance you interview Kugs or Buckner before they depart for the offseason?"

I don't see that happening. I don't know what the other coaches might think at this point. You are correct in that they came in from all over, but they seem to have a good chemistry over these two years (and the one coach reportedly let go, David Raih, was the one coach with direct Kliff Kingsbury ties).

From Michael Schmorr via azcardinals.com:

"When Chris Streveler threw that pick I thought we had a free play or a false start (I thought I heard a whistle). Why can't that be reviewed? It's not a judgement call like PI or holding. I, like most fans, was so upset about this team. We had so much talent but underachieved on all aspects of the game. Very frustrating. Up there with the 2016 team or their special special teams. Why did we keep Streveler on the active roster all year? I wish we could have utilized his skillset more, maybe he wouldn't have been so nervous."

The offsides portion of the Streveler interception play can't be reviewed simply because it's in the rules that it isn't a reviewable play. There are more things that can't be reviewed than can be. As for Streveler, Kingsbury decided at the end of camp he was the best choice to be backup QB. I didn't see him enough, especially once the regular season started, to be able to give any kind of informed opinion on that. I don't know if it was nervousness that ultimately made his game rough, however.

From Boston Mike via azcardinals.com:

"Hey Darren. I'm not tryna bad mouth the guy, I just want to hear your insight. I was shocked that David Raih was fired. It seemed he was always at Kliff's side. My assumption was they were the closest of all our coaches.With that said, I think it was a good idea. Hopkins dominates because he's Hopkins. However all our other WRs badly underperformed. They just don't get open. I think in particular they REALLY struggle with scramble drills."

Again, nothing official yet on Raih, but yes, he was the one guy Kliff had worked with before on staff. I think it's fair to say the Cardinals beyond D-Hop have to figure out some things at receiver. I would expect to add one, either in free agency or the draft. Beyond that, it does feel like an offseason of work between Kyler and the group would be of benefit. Whether they get a chance to work in the offseason is a different story.

From Stevie Henderson via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren, thanks for continuing the mailbag after the season when we fans are not quite as emotional as when our hearts are in our mouths every game, hoping for a win, but not sure we can expect one. My question/comment is that it appears Kliff's strength is in play design, not necessarily in playcalling. I think he would benefit from an 'old head' experienced offensive former-NFL guy, who can advise him during the game. Thanks, and hope you have a good 2021."

I'm sure I'm going to get blowback for this answer -- I already have for similar thoughts -- but all this talk about playcalling and it's like the Cardinals didn't average 25 points and 385 yards a game. Yes, the offense could've and should've been better. Yes, it took a disappointing step back in the final month, which is mostly concerning because that's when your team should be playing its best. And I'm not ruling out that it is possible, if Tom Clements indeed retired as reported, that the Cardinals/Kliff hire an experienced offensive mind to come in to help. But Kingsbury has made it clear playcalling is what he loves and he's not giving it up, and how the rest of the staff and how it operates in 2021 is TBD.

From Chad Johnson via azcardinals.com:

"I never played football and never put on a helmet, so for those who have played this will be a dumb equipment question, but what are the rules on the face mask as far as size, shape, number of vertical/horizontal bars? Cam Newton and Markus Golden seem to have face masks that are closer to their face than others. Just wondering. Dumb question, but thought I'd ask."

I don't know the exact rules, other than I know there are some. Darnell Dockett once had a cool facemask in the offseason that he really wanted to use, but it was illegal and never going to be available for a game.

From Ashton Graves via azcardinals.com:

"Who do you see being the Cardinals starting RB in the 2021 season? Najee Harris next to Kyler would be insane. Why not?"

The 'why not' would only be that I don't expect Harris to be there by the time the Cards pick in the second round, and I would be absolutely stunned if the Cardinals ever spend another first-round pick on a running back. But otherwise, I don't know who starts. I think they like Chase Edmonds in his current role, which is not as every-down back. So I'd expect someone in the draft or free agency, unless Drake returns.

From Richard Wakefield via azcardinals.com:

"I'll be surprised if Larry Fitzgerald stays another year. He's a HOF receiver but played this year with almost ZERO pass thrown his way. He runs great routes, was open many times and doesn't drop the ball. What more could you want? Not throwing to him was like not throwing to Hopkins."

Gotta say, Richard, you and I have different definitions of "almost zero." Fitz was targeted 72 times, behind Hop (160) and Christian Kirk (79) and that was with Fitz missing three games. He still had 54 receptions. You can argue he should've been targeted more often -- and I would agree there -- but I don't know if that will be the overriding factor in whether Fitz decides he wants to play or not.

From John M via azcardinals.com:

"I hate to admit this but after the Rams lost to the Jets, and then lost to the Seahawks, I had a bad feeling the Cardinals were not going to beat the Rams. The way I am coping with things though is realizing that if the NFC East did not needed to be represented the Cardinals would be in the playoffs. Enough said. What do you think the chances of them bring back Markus Golden next year. I thought he did an excellent job for them and deserve to come back?"

Golden's market will be interesting to see, after he did not get the kind of money he had been hoping for the last two years. I think he definitely wants to stay. It may come down to whether Haason Reddick is kept, which, if he stays, might mean there isn't a spot for Golden. But a lot of this is fluid.

From Joy Brooks via azcardinals.com:

"OK Darren, please address the rumor i'm seeing today (Jan. 8) that the Cardinals are going to trade Kyler for Deshaun Watson. It's not true, is it?"

No, it isn't true. My guess is Watson isn't being traded, because the one thing you need in this league is a good QB, and the Texans have one. Giving him away in any deal, as good as he is, makes little sense.

From Wyatt Holland via azcardinals.com:

"So is the plan to roll Isaiah Simmons out as a full-time starter next year? One would hope so. We spent the eighth pick on him. This rotational thing was OK as a rookie. But he needs to be an every-snap game changer like Budda. And as BA says, the only way to play is to play."

Yes, the plan is for Simmons to start in 2021.

From Julian Esperaza via azcardinals.com:

"Hicks, Golden and Kennard are slow. It was hard to watch. And it seems Steve Keim is aware of the problem, having drafted racehorse Simmons last year (and also athletic Haason Reddick before that). Do you think this trend continues? Not necessarily speed over talent. I'm not talking going full Al Davis. But we need to get faster on defense as a whole."

Reddick was drafted when Kennard and Hicks were on other teams, and Simmons would've likely been the pick regardless of who they had. But speed is always an important factor. The issue is finding it with the right guy and the right talent. No one is going out and saying, "Hey, let's make sure we draft/collect slow players." Speed never hurts.

From @Will34240657 via Twitter:

"Why do we not use Simmons at OLB? He's bigger, faster, and stronger than Reddick. We saw how Haason blossomed in an edge role. There's no way OTs can handle Isaiah. That power and speed, combined with his ability to be a heat seeking missile once he gets off of blocks."

I don't know if he is stronger than Reddick. But there were times when he was used as an edge rusher. He won't be used there all the time. He's too valuable moving around to put him at that one particular place, and I don't think he'd be as good on the edge against the run.

From Blaine S via azcardinals.com:

"Hey Darren. Another year of great coverage and conversation in the mailbag, thanks for that! I'm glad you made it through a complete season with everything going on. You have had some time to reflect. If you were a teacher, what aspect of the Cardinals game would you give an A to, and conversely what aspect would get an F (or the lowest grade). Thanks Darren. Have a great off season!"

Well, when you go 8-8 -- an overall C, right? -- I don't know if there was any part of the game I would flunk. I've seen F-worthy things over my 20-plus years, and they didn't have that this year. I suppose I might give a D in "discipline," whether it was curbing penalties or being mentally disciplined enough to be ready at certain times (like the final 49ers game for instance.) I don't know if there were any As, either. I think IMO, they would have a B-minus on offense just because of the bar they set early. As a teacher I'd give the "has so much potential and room to improve" comment. On defense, it would probably be about the same, with the number of players they were missing -- if you would've told me before the season Chandler Jones would be in five games, I'd have said the defense was toast. But it never was. Bad moments, yes, but still overall better than average.

From Peter Kacmar via azcardinals.com:

"Hi Darren. Although I naturally would have prefered the Cards to make the playoffs I still enjoyed the season given the unpleasant circumstances around the world. And I definitely look forward to the offseason. Could you please clarify some crucial timetables/deadlines like when different types of free agents can sign new deals, when a team is allowed to approach players from other teams or when the deals between the teams can be agreed etc.?"

Mindful that some of these dates might change because of COVID issues, here is the schedule for now:

Feb. 23 First day teams can tag franchise/transition players March 15-17 Legal "tampering" period for teams to talk to scheduled free agents from other teams March 17 New league year/Free agency period begins April 29-May 1 NFL Draft

Teams can talk to/re-sign any of their own players at any time.

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