There’s something to like about the Cardinals and not just because of the Urlacher “crown ‘em” game. Larry Fitzgerald has been an easy player to cheer for over the years, their season on Amazon’s “All or Nothing” was incredible TV, and that dagger into the heart of Green Bay in the playoffs was exquisite. But, as the song goes, Times - they are a changin’. This team is radically different than the one that made a deep run in 2015. To get the scoop on the new-look Cards, I reached out to Seth Cox over at Revenge of the Birds for all things Cardinals in advance of Sunday’s trip to the desert.
Windy City Gridiron: 1. I think it’s safe to say that the early returns for the Cardinals have this squad in rebuild mode. Let’s start at the top where Bruce Arians was replaced by Steve Wilks, a former Chicago Bears defensive backs coach. What was the thinking behind the Wilks hire and what can Bears fans expect to see from his coaching philosophy on Sunday?
Revenge of the Birds: Sometimes you have to just change it all and that was what the Wilks hire was. Gone was the fun uncle, the guy who was fast talking friends pouring drinks in the parking lot and in comes a more stoic, reserved and disciplined coach.
Through two games it looks like a disaster, but the idea was to get away from the “no risk it, no biscuit”, six-gun offense and went to a conservative, no risk based offense. The idea under Wilks is to let your defense win games and make sure your offense doesn’t lose them.
That’s fine in theory, but the practical aspect has been awful so far.
There’s no consistent pass rush in Wilks and new DC Al Holcomb’s zone based defensive scheme. They’ve basically benched their 2014 and 2017 first round picks in Deone Bucannon and Haason Reddick because they’re struggling from the mental and physical aspect of the defense.
On offense, Mike McCoy’s 1998 offensive playbook has been incredibly ineffective, reducing David Johnson to a clone of 2008 Adrian Peterson in his usage.
Jeff, it hasn’t been pretty thus far.
WCG: It doesn’t sound like it - 2. The Cardinals did that thing where they signed Sam Bradford to a lot of money and drafted a QB high in the first round to groom behind him (no judging, Bears did it last year with Mike Glennon). Bradford has predictably been the check-down artist extraordinaire through two weeks of the season, leading to a paltry 6 points. How long does he last and when will we see Josh Rosen debut?
RotB: That’s the million dollar question right now. Bradford has been awful, he has not been accurate and he looks afraid when he drops back.
Yet, per Wilks, there was no consideration to insert Rosen against the Rams, despite only getting past the 50-yard line in the games waning moments.
We are hoping as a fanbase that if the first half against the Bears is similar, we’ll see Rosen soon. But, it’s been quiet on that front from Wilks, so who knows.
WCG: 3. The great Larry Fitzgerald has played his entire career with Arizona and is chasing some impressive all-time rankings. He’s 3rd in receptions, 81 behind Tony Gonzalez, and 3rd in yards, a mere 285 behind Terrell Owens. Just how much has he meant to this franchise and if this ends up being his last season, is there any talent that can emerge from his shadow like Christian Kirk?
RotB: It’s incredible to have a player that is worth the price of admission for 15 seasons. Factor in that Fitz has had two good quarterbacks in his entire career for the sum of about six of those 15 seasons and it has been a joy to watch. If this is it, and understandably so, it was a once in a lifetime type of career and person. You don’t get a player like Fitz who can be a WR1 for 14 seasons very often. You don’t get a player who produces despite turnover at every position around him at least five times. When you buy a players jersey, if you’re into that sort of thing, you hope to get a contract length out of it. Fitz has been the jersey to have since 2004. For a franchise like the Cardinals, with their history of failure, his play has been something to remember.
As for emerging post Fitz. It’s been impossible through two games to gauge. Kirk has five receptions on the season for 32 yards. Chad Williams has six targets and no catches. They have talent, they just haven’t had much of an opportunity to show it.
WCG: 4. As an Alumnus of the University of Northern Iowa, I have to ask about my guy, David Johnson. The Cardinals recently inked him to a nice extension, keeping the do-everything back in the desert for the next few seasons. How has he looked coming back from the wrist injury and what are your expectations for him moving forward?
RotB: He looks healthy and misused. I wrote this on Monday, which basically tells the story of the bastardization of Johnson’s talents through two games. Hopefully, Mike McCoy figures out what he has in Johnson, and soon, but through two games, it has been an abomination.
WCG: 5. Let’s quickly move to the defense before we run out of time. The Cardinals let Tyrann Mathieu walk this off-season to the Texans and let Calais Campbell leave to the Jaguars last year, leaving Patrick Peterson as the remaining household name. Why did they do that and who are the guys on this squad Bears fans need to be aware of this Sunday?
RotB: Chandler Jones and Peterson are the names everyone knows. Budda Baker looks like an emerging star replacing Mathieu. From there, they’ve got a couple solid veterans in Antoine Bethea and Corey Peters and third year defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche has finally begun to show signs of life.
Yet, it has been ugly through two games. As I mentioned earlier, Bucannon has been reduced to a part time player and Reddick has been effectively benched. Jamar Taylor and Tre Boston, the two offseason secondary acquisitions have been really, really bad through two games. There hasn’t been much good, but Peterson has been lights out through two weeks.
Bonus: For Bears fans traveling into the Phoenix area for the game, what type of cuisine should they seek out for a true Arizona experience?
AZ has a great food scene. Mexican food is definitely a must. If you’re in the Scottsdale area and just looking for night out, there’s a ton of places in Old Town. Diego Pops is a great place for fun and drinks. If you’re looking for a little more pricey, but a fantastic dining experience, Steak 44 is the best.
If you’re in on Saturday and want somewhere to enjoy the college gameday, Zipps Sports Grill and Teakwoods Tavern are two of the best sports bars in the valley.
Good luck and good health this weekend.
Thanks to Seth and Revenge of the Birds! You can follow me @gridironborn on the Twitter machine.