By: Ryan Ehrmantrout
2018 Finish: 3-13, 4th in NFC West
2018 Success: Stopping the run
2018 Failure: Failure to produce on Offense
Offensive MVP: David Johnson
Defensive MVP: Chandler Jones
Will Kliff Kingsbury’s offense translate to the NFL?
The Arizona Cardinals couldn’t turn the page fast enough on a disastrous 2018 season where they finished 3-13 and earned the number one overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft. There were a myriad of reasons for Arizona’s struggles, but chief among them was the team’s inability to sustain anything offensively. The team struggled under rookie Quarterback Josh Rosen, finishing at or near the bottom of the league in nearly every offensive statistical category. As a result, the Cardinals fired Head Coach Steve Wilks after only one season, and replaced him with former Texas Tech Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury. They then chose to let 2018 first round pick Josh Rosen go, trading him to the Miami Dolphins after selecting Oklahoma Quarterback Kyler Murray with the first overall pick. Arizona will now hope that the newly minted marriage between Kingsbury and Murray will be enough to turn the tide of a franchise that has been toiling in mediocrity for several years.
I’m not sure there’s a team in the NFL that faces bigger questions coming into 2019 than the Cardinals. Can they survive the suspension of All-Pro Cornerback Patrick Peterson? Can Running Back David Johnson return to the player that led the league in all-purpose yards just two seasons ago? Will Kyler Murray finally give Arizona the long term stability they have been seeking at the Quarterback position for so long? These are all pertinent questions that will no doubt have a serious impact on the outcome of the Cardinals 2019 campaign.
For as much impact as these questions will undoubtedly have on the Cardinals organization, no question is bigger or more of an enigma to me than that of new Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury. The Cardinals hired the 40 year old former Texas Tech Head Coach in the offseason in hopes that his air raid philosophy would revamp an offense that ranked at or near the bottom of the league in nearly every major statistical category. Interestingly, Kingsbury was hired with a track record that didn’t include much success. He was 35-40 during his tenure at Texas Tech and had been fired by the Red Raiders earlier that year.
Kingsbury didn’t seem to have a lot going for him, but two factors he did have were age, and the fact that he appeared to be a Quarterback whisperer. Kingsbury is only 40 years old, and the NFL is notorious for being a copycat league, so perhaps the Cardinals hired Kingsbury in hopes that they would catch the same lightning in a bottle their division rival Rams had a few seasons prior with their hire of Sean McVay. As far as being a Quarterback whisperer goes, Kingsbury appeared to have some type of magic touch as he had coached both recent Quarterback sensations Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield at Texas Tech. After taking Murray with the first overall pick, there was little doubt that both the Cardinals and Kingsbury believed he belonged in the same class as the aforementioned players. Kingsbury said as much when he was quoted in a recent article by Robert Mays of the Ringer as saying, “I had that baseline…That was my conversation to start, that I felt like [Murray] fit into that group”. The big question for Cardinals fans and observers alike is not only does he, but is Kingsbury the guy to raise Murray’s unquestionable talent to new heights at the highest level?
Personally, I have a hard time buying the stock of a guy that has never had success at any level. To me, the Cardinals seem to be a directionless team that is led by a General Manager who knows he’s on the hot seat and will bend to any whim in order to keep his job. In the NFL, just as in life, it’s typically innovators that enjoy the most success, not those that follow. The Cardinals do not seem like innovators, but rather a team that is trying to follow the success of other teams like the Seahawks with Russell Wilson and the Rams with Sean McVay.
Kingsbury was able to produce eye popping numbers with the spread offense in college, but he never won anything of significance. Furthermore, he struggled defensively, never really showing an ability to overcome those struggles. Remember when it was widely believed that Chip Kelly and his offensive prowess were going to tear apart the NFL? The point is, we’ve seen this story before, and it generally hasn’t ended well. The good news for the Cardinals and their fans is there really isn’t anywhere to go but up. I’ll take the over on the Cardinals for wins this year just because I think Kyler Murray is that dynamic a player, but it’s difficult to imagine him being able to lift the Cardinals to any place of significance on his own.