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With or without quarterback Kyler Murray, the Arizona Cardinals are a flawed team.
Monday’s 38-10 rout by the San Francisco 49ers in Mexico City showed one team on the rise while the other headed in the wrong direction. Murray’s eventual return from a hamstring injury will not 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 really paid attention to how he performed as a college coach.
At Texas Tech, Kingsbury won 47 percent of his games. With Monday’s loss, the coach’s winning percentage in Arizona is…wait…48 percent (when rounded).
Combined with some of the worst drafts in the league from GM Steve Keim, owner Michael Bidwill should have reached the point where wiping the slate clean next offseason is a serious possibility.
Arizona currently seems to be out and out in most cases. A stunning victory last week with Colt McCoy in the lead doesn’t change the fact that the Cardinals have been mostly bad this season. Also, the Los Angeles Rams is one of the few teams that has been an even bigger mess.
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All four of the team’s wins came against opponents with a combined record of 13-29. Aside from last season’s impressive 7-0 start, the Cardinals have ranged from mediocre to poor. Granted, Kingsbury inherited the worst team in the league, but they haven’t seen any sustainable improvement in the last four years. The opposite happened.
The regression began on October 28 Thursday night football meeting with the Green Bay Packers last year. From that time to today, the Cardinals have an 8-14 record.
One look at the roster shows just how untalented Arizona really is. Four legitimate building blocks seem 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.
The questions and jokes about Murray and his commitment to playing quarterback at the NFL level are moot because the Cardinals signed the 25-year-old to a five-year, $230.5 million contract extension last offseason. Technically, that part of his current contract hasn’t started yet. He’s the guy for the foreseeable future, and he should be.
Whether or not Murray is a movie junkie, it shouldn’t blind anyone to the fact that he’s a talented athlete who has carried offense on points throughout his career.
His explosive arm talent, coupled with his amazing escape ability and special mobility in the open field, make him difficult for opposing defenses to handle. The 2019 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is an athlete of a different caliber than most who play the position, and it shows.
Is Murray perfect? far from there
But the franchise gambled on his natural gifts in a league where players with similar abilities are more prevalent than ever. The NFL is now a league where the most damage is often outside of the structure when a play is extended.
The fact that Kingsbury hasn’t made the most of his hand-picked quarterback after making him the No. 1 overall pick three years ago, mainly because he reportedly fit the coach’s system perfectly, says more about the play. what calls makes the protégé of him.
Injuries have played a role, of course. Murray missed three games last year with an ankle injury. But the bigger problem seemed to be the discontent that grew among the quarterback and team brain trust based on how the team finished last season.
Maybe Murray is “self-centered” and “immature,” as ESPN says chris mortensen broadcast in February. The infighting didn’t stop Bidwill from delivering the aforementioned mega-deal.
In doing so, the choice became clear. If the Cardinals are going to make any changes, it will be in personnel, not who is behind center. To properly build around Murray, Arizona must do a better job. Keim has done a pitiful job of doing so.
Keim became the Cardinals’ general manager in 2013. Since then, he’s selected Jonathan Cooper, Deone Bucannon, DJ Humphries, Robert Nkemdiche, Haason Reddick, Josh Rosen, Murray, Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins in the first round. Oh! This year’s top pick, tight end Trey McBride, has made little to no impact.
The GM’s batting average might not be so bad if it were Major League Baseball. In the NFL, a team can’t sniff that many times during the opening frame and not see their lineup start to fall apart.
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At the moment, Hopkins is the only real threat in the passing game. Since he returned from a six-game suspension, the five-time Pro Bowl selection has hooked 45 receptions for 487 yards in five contests.
He should get more help once Brown is fully designated to return from injured reserve after missing the last five games with a foot injury.
Blockers for Murray and his skill position players are also in disarray. Arizona has endured seven different combinations of starting offensive lines so far this year. The instability in the trenches was predictable given that Keim allowed an aging group in this season without adding significant reinforcements.
Rodney Hudson, Justin Pugh and Kelvin Beachum Jr. are 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 the coaching staff hoped for.
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On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals had no answers for the 49ers. San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo looked as good as he has all season as he worked on progressions for him and even extended some plays that turned into big winners. Christian McCaffrey and his running mates also averaged 5.7 yards per carry.
JJ Watt may be a great name, but he’s not the player he once was. To be fair, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year set an impossible standard. Instead, Baker is the one who sets the tone in the group.
“Budda demands that we all play at a certain level, probably more than some coaches do,” Collins told The Athletic’s Doug Haller.
Something has to change in the next few weeks. Baker’s passionate pleas and the like will only go so far. The Cardinals are going to be underdogs in many of their remaining games.
Next week’s meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers should be considered a flop if Murray is ready to play. After the bye week, the Denver Broncos appear to be the only truly winnable game.
The Cardinals could wriggle away with one against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Atlanta Falcons, but those two NFC South entrants have a lot more on the line as they battle for a division championship. Six or fewer wins is a good threshold to know when it’s time.
Kingsbury’s approach has not worked. Someone else running the office could make a world of 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.