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  • Green in the desert: A look back at previous 1st-year coach/rookie starting QB combos (Part 2)
    by John W. Buckley on May 24, 2019 at 4:00 pm

    Cardinals fans are excited about the start of the Kingsbury/Murray era in the desert, but starting the season with both a rookie head coach and starting QB is relatively rare. How have previous inexperienced coach/QB combos fared? (Part 2 of 2.) Yesterday, we began our look back on the nine previous 1st-year head coach/rookie starting QB duos. Today, we finish with the final five teams, as well as some final observations. We pick things up in 2011 with a certain mobile QB who shattered NFL records in his first season. 2011 Carolina Panthers By the end of 2010, John Fox had worn out his welcome in Carolina as the team plummeted from 12-4 in 2008 all the way to 2-14 in that 2010 season. Unsurprisingly, QB play was a major factor, as Matt Moore and 2nd-round rookie Jimmy Clausen helped combine for a team 9:21 TD:INT ratio and 4.3 YPA. But the defense—Fox’s forte—also fell to the bottom half of the league. Fox was let go, Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera was hired (if you’re keeping track, every single new coach thus far has had a defensive background), and the team used the #1 overall pick on Auburn QB Cam Newton. While team success would have to wait—although the Panthers did improve to 6-10, they wouldn’t make the playoffs until Newton’s third season—individual success was immediate. Newton set several records—most passing yards in a debut (against the Cardinals of all teams), most rookie passing and QB rushing yards, and most rushing TDs by any QB. Unfortunately, the defense was a sieve—a big problem in a division with Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. But the seeds for a Super Bowl contender were planted with the Rivera/Newton pairing. What can the Cardinals learn from this Panthers team? A lot, potentially. The Panthers designed an offense around their dynamic rookie QB’s strengths, letting Newton air it out (500+ passing attempts) while letting him run it 7-8 times a game. Do those numbers sound reasonable for Murray? I think so. Does that mean Murray will also pass for 4,000+ yards and run for 14 TDs? Of course not, as we don’t have anyone like Steve Smith in his prime (79/1394/7 TDs), and Murray isn’t built to withstand all those goal line carries. But nobody expected Newton to do what he did, so the potential for Murray to shock the world is there, too. 2012 Miami Dolphins An 0-7 start to the 2011 season sealed coach Tony Sparano’s fate, as he was fired in December with the team languishing at 4-9, with future Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles taking over for the final three games (going 2-1). The team fielded a strong defense (#6 in scoring, #15 in yards), but the anemic offense—with former Panthers backup Matt Moore at the helm—led to the ‘Fins bringing in hotshot offensive guru Joe Philbin from the Packers (the first offensive hire on this list!). They then selected converted WR Ryan Tannehill from Texas A&M at #8 overall in the draft, with the thinking that Philbin could mold the physically gifted but raw QB like he did in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers. That plan never really came to fruition, neither in 2012 or in subsequent seasons. Philbin let Tannehill throw it 30 times a game, but the results were uninspiring: 58.3 completion %, 12:13 TD:INT ratio, 6.8 YPA. The team did improve to 7-9 IN 2012, and to 8-8 the next season, but the ‘Fins would not post a winning record in Philbin’s 3+ years with the team, and Tannehill never became more than a league-average QB. Philbin was fired after a 1-3 start in 2015. Tannehill lasted another few seasons as Miami’s starter, but his tenure came to an end this offseason; he’s now a backup in Tennessee. What can the Cardinals learn from this Dolphins team? Offensive success doesn’t always translate. Philbin enjoyed great success as the Packers OC, finishing with a top-10 offense in each of his five seasons on the job, but the Dolphins finished with an offense in the top half of the league just once during his reign. Of course, Philbin didn’t have Rodgers in Miami, but he couldn’t get the job done with Tannehill. Can Kingsbury recreate the offensive success he had at Texas Tech with Patrick Mahomes II here in the desert with Kyler Murray? 2012 Indianapolis Colts The 2011 Colts were supposed to be a Super Bowl contender led by head coach Jim Caldwell and future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning. But Manning was never able to recover from offseason neck surgery and wound up missing the entire season. The 2-14 season that resulted magnified the flaws in the team that Manning had been able to mask when healthy: namely, a weak running game and porous defense. Caldwell’s inability to get more than 2 wins out of Kerry Collins, Dan Orlovsky (ouch), and Curtis Painter led to his firing, and the team released Manning as well once it became clear that their next franchise QB would be Stanford’s Andrew Luck, the presumptive #1 overall pick. And for the second year in a row, the Ravens’ DC earned a head gig—this time it was Chuck Pagano. Most pundits predicted a short rebuild, but this Colts team exceeded all expectations. In that 2012 draft, the Colts added weapons like T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen, and Coby Fleener to go alongside Pro Bowl WR Reggie Wayne. They put the ball in their rookie QB’s hands immediately, as he attempted 627 passes in breaking Cam Newton’s 1-year-old record for most passing yards by a QB (4,374). The rushing attack and defense were still relative weaknesses, but, like Manning before him, Luck was able to mask those flaws as the Colts went 11-5 to earn a wild card berth. They fell to Pagano’s old team, but the Colts would make the playoffs in each of the next three seasons until shoulder issues cost Luck parts of two seasons. But the Colts returned to the playoffs this last season and seem ripe for a Super Bowl run in the near future. What can the Cardinals learn from this Colts team? Sometimes the bad times are worth it. Although the Arians/Palmer Cardinals did not have the same type of success as the Manning Colts, it was still among the franchise’s most successful periods before the wheels fell off after both retired following the 2017 season. And, like the Colts, the team’s struggles led to getting the #1 pick in the draft. Will Murray prove to be a franchise cornerstone like Luck? 2013 Buffalo Bills The Bills are a bit of an anomaly on this list. When the team fired 3rd-year head coach Chan Gailey and replaced him with Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone, they had a starting quarterback in place in Ryan“Did You Know He Went to Harvard?” Fitzpatrick, who had been the starter for four solid, if not spectacular, seasons. But the team wanted to renegotiate his contract; he refused to take a pay cut and was released before the draft. On draft day, the Bills traded back and took the top QB prospect available, Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, in what would be one of the worst QB drafts in recent memory. Unsurprisingly, the Marrone/Manuel combo did not take the NFL by storm. Although the Bills’ offensive and defensive rankings improved modestly from 2012, they equaled their 6-10 record, extending their playoff drought to 14 seasons. Manuel missed six games and was ineffective even when he played (58.5 completion %, 11:9 TD:INT ratio, 6.4 YPA). He would only start seven more games over the next three seasons—but he outlasted Marrone, who bolted after the next season (a 9-7 effort but no playoffs) under strange circumstances and became the Jaguars’ assistant head coach. He would later be promoted to head coach, a position he still holds today, if somewhat tenuously. Manuel is now retired. What can the Cardinals learn from this Bills team? Hopefully nothing. Although there are some parallels between Marrone and Kingsbury being hired from mid-tier college programs, Kingsbury doesn’t seem likely to bail after two seasons (although tell that to USC fans…). Additionally, Murray is a far better QB prospect than Manuel was, and much more ready to start immediately. The Bills also had to deal with the death of longtime owner Ralph Wilson after the 2014 season. The situation with these Bills teams seems much more chaotic than what the Cardinals are going through, so hopefully this situation will have no bearing on what happens in the desert in 2019. 2016 Philadelphia Eagles Perhaps the closest comparison to the Cardinals’ hiring of Kliff Kingsbury was the Eagles’ hiring of Oregon coach Chip Kelly in 2013. Kelly also presided over prolific offenses as a college coach—although it should be noted that Kelly was a far more successful college coach than Kingsbury, leading the Ducks to four BCS bowls in a row, including a national title game appearance. However, Kelly’s desire for front office power led to his demise and he was fired toward the end of the 2015 season after making a series of questionable roster moves, including trading Nick Foles for Sam Bradford (that sentence is even funnier in 2019). Replacing Kelly and Bradford were former Eagles player and assistant Doug Pederson and #2 overall pick Carson Wentz out of North Dakota State. Pederson was well regarded at the time, and scouts loved Wentz, but no one was predicting that they’d be a Super Bowl team the very next season (with Foles back in the fold). The 2016 season was one for growth, as the team realized Wentz was a better option than Bradford in training camp and traded him to the Vikings for a 1st-rounder(!). Pederson turned the offense over to Wentz, who threw the ball 600+ times in his rookie year. His numbers weren’t exactly eye-popping, but they were solid for a rookie (3,782 yards, 62.4 completion %, 16:14 TD:INT ratio, 6.2 YPA). The Eagles started a surprising 3-0 in 2016 but faded down the stretch, finishing 7-9. But the next season, Wentz was the leading MVP candidate when he went down with a torn ACL, setting the stage for Foles’s Super Bowl glory. What can the Cardinals learn from this Eagles team? These things take time. It took the Wentz and the rest of the Eagles offense a year to fully learn Pederson’s system. Their offense regressed slightly back toward the middle of the pack from Kelly’s last season to Pederson’s first, but in Year 2 under Pederson, they fielded one of the best offenses in the league. So Cardinals fans should be patient if Kingsbury and Murray don’t provide fireworks right away. Those should come in Year 2. Final Thoughts The 2019 Arizona Cardinals will be the 10th team since 2000 to enter Week 1 with a 1st-year head coach and rookie starting QB. Here are my main takeaways from this look at the previous nine teams: The average team on this list improved by 3 wins from the previous season. That would put the Cardinals at 6-10 in 2019, which seems like a reasonable baseline expectation for the team. Of the nine coach/QB combos, four made the playoffs in their first season. More compellingly, three eventually made Super Bowl appearances, and two won it—Harbaugh and Flacco in 2012 and Pederson and Wentz in 2017. Most of the immediate success stories were teams that largely took the ball out of their rookie QB’s hands and relied on a strong running game and, ideally, a strong defense. The 2008 Falcons, 2008 Ravens, and 2009 Jets rode this approach to the playoffs. This doesn’t seem to be a viable approach for the Cardinals given the offensive line situation and the system Kingsbury wants to run. The other team on this list to make the playoffs was the 2012 Indianapolis Colts, who basically plugged a generational talent in at QB (Luck) to replace another one (Manning). Although the Cardinals are sky-high on Murray, I don’t think anyone would argue that he’s quite as good a prospect as Luck. So I’m not sure how instructive that Colts season would be for the Redbirds. Tannehill and Manuel were clearly lesser prospects than Murray given the scouting reports at the time and their eventual draft positions. I don’t think there’s a ton to take away from their first seasons. Of all the quarterbacks on this list, the two that resemble Murray the most seem to be Newton and Wentz—high draft picks who were expected to throw a ton in their first seasons. Newton’s mobility especially makes him an apt comparison (although not his size), although Wentz isn’t exactly immobile either (at least before his ACL injury). Both of those QBs finished short of .500 in their rookie seasons, but quickly established themselves among the best at the position—although it must be said that they both have prototypical QB size/stature. Could Murray follow a similar career trajectory despite his height/size disadvantages? Regardless of how the season turns out, the 2019 Arizona Cardinals will be a fascinating team to watch. Success or failure, the entire NFL will have its eyes on the Redbirds this season. Maybe this green duo in the desert will wither and die on the vine—or perhaps it will bloom into something truly special. […]

  • Sporting News has Kliff Kingsbury at the bottom of the 2019 NFL Head Coach Rankings
    by Seth Cox on May 24, 2019 at 2:00 pm

    Offseason rankings are really click fodder for writers and sites during the doldrums of the summer months in the NFL. There’s little news, and even less worthy of discussion, so sites are tasked with creating content. Most fallback on old reliable… rankings. Little gets the fans more upset than rankings on the internet by a stranger. That’s why when I saw Sporting News come out with their 2019 Head Coach Rankings, I was excited to see how low they had Kliff Kingsbury. The Arizona Cardinals new head coach has no NFL experience and was fired in college, what does the internet pundit think? They didn’t disappoint: #32 Kliff Kingsbury, CardinalsLast year: N/ARecord: 0-0, .000|Playoffs: 0-0, .000 This is the big experiment. Arizona grabbed Kingsbury from the college ranks and took another gamble with Kyler Murray at No. 1 overall in the draft. Offense has changed in the NFL, and Kingsbury is one of the brightest minds on that side of the ball at any level. Can the Cardinals play enough defense? We’ll start Kingsbury at the bottom and let him work his way up the rankings. To see Kingsbury and the Cardinals experiment start at 32 makes sense. He has nothing for these NFL guys to draw from and that makes him a complete wild card. And as big as most pundits talk, they’re not really willing to go out on a limb for these types of things. So, now we wait to see if the Cardinals are right or if the pundits are not just afraid, but correct. […]

  • Bird Droppings: Arizona Cardinals getting used to Kyler Murray’s scrambling ability, Kevin White’s journey to the desert and more
    by Seth Cox on May 24, 2019 at 12:00 pm

    Happy Friday one and all... We have made it. The Arizona Cardinals are wrapped up with OTA’s and it is time for the long weekend. That means a nice little break for most of us as we enjoy Memorial Day. What will you be up to? We are... Moving. Fun times. For those of you heading out of town, have a great one and be safe. Let’s get to all the news from around the web on the Arizona Cardinals. Kyler Murray’s Scrambling Ability Changes Offensive MindsetTeammates know plays will often be extended Andy Isabella And The 89 Reasons For His Jersey Number Cover 2 Clips - Kevin White's Fresh StartWR Kevin White joins Craig Grialou and Mike Jurecki on the set of Cover 2 to discuss his fresh start in Arizona. Flight Plan 7.0 Teaser - 'Follow The Leader'Catch the trailer for the next Flight Plan episode, 'Follow The Leader.' Pressure is on Cardinals front 7 to improve after disappointing 2018As much as the Arizona Cardinals hope a scheme change helps their front seven, personnel improvements will be required to take a step forward in 2019. Cardinals LB Haason Reddick’s football smarts improving entering Year 3"His football IQ has gotten so much better in the last three or four months," said DC Vance Joseph. 5 players, 6 defensive coaches have previous connection to Vance JosephThe Cardinals have made sure he has people he knows and has worked with before. History says rookie HC-QB combo usually leads to improvementBased on one trend, the Cardinals should win at least 6 games in 2019. Vance Joseph breaks down 4 CBs behind Patrick PetersonHe speaks about Robert Alford, Tramaine Brock, David Amerson and Byron Murphy. Kliff Kingsbury is giving us the future stat nerds want for the NFLHave you wondered what stat nerds would do if they could design an NFL offense? Kliff Kingsbury is unintentionally giving us an answer. […]

  • Nick Bosa to miss some time for San Francisco 49ers due to hamstring strain
    by Seth Cox on May 23, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    It is not Arizona Cardinals news, but it is something to watch. One of the main criticisms of the Cardinals drafting Kyler Murray was who they were not drafting. That person for many, myself included, was Nick Bosa. Well, those that were concerned about Bosa’s health are already being proven correct. Bosa came up limping at 49ers OTAs with a hamstring issue. Today, that issue was reported by Adam Schefter to be a bit more serious. 49ers’ first-round pick Nick Bosa has a grade-1 hamstring strain that will sideline him a few weeks, or likely to training camp.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 23, 2019 Grade one strains are the least concerning, but those who were worried about the health of Bosa and his brother’s history of lingering injuries have, for the time being, been proven right. While no one wants Bosa to be injured over his career, maybe those concerns should have been taken a bit more seriously. When it’s all said and done though, it won’t matter a lick if he plays all 16 games. Yet, it was what the Bosa detractors were most concerned about. […]

  • Kingsbury, like Coryell, to Build on Innovation and Pride
    by Walter Mitchell on May 23, 2019 at 6:39 pm

    When Kliff Kingsbury was hired as the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals many NFL pundits opined that the Cardinals were copycatting the Rams by trying to hire the next Sean McVay. The comparison of Kingsbury to McVay carries some weight in the respect that they are both young, highly dedicated offensive-minded savants who need to be paired with veteran defensive coordinators with NFL head coaching experience so that they can concentrate on what they do best---which is find creative ways to put points on the scoreboard. But, when one looks more closely at Kingsbury’s and McVay’s career paths and their coaching backgrounds and influences, one can perceive tangible differences. Kingsbury cut his coaching teeth in college, whereas McVay cut his in the NFL. Kingsbury’s K-Raid offense is most heavily influenced by Mike Leach, while McVay’s offense is an amalgamation of traditional NFL West Coast type concepts (in the Bill Walsh mold) with a sprinkling of modern college RPO concepts (in the Chip Kelly type mold). In terms of coaching styles, Sean McVay reminds me a lot of former Eagles and Rams coach, Dick Vermeil. Vermeil was a tireless worker who was legendary for sleeping for nights on end in his office. He was constantly searching for new offensive wrinkles and always tried to stray ahead of the current offensive trends in the NFL. Strategically, his teams, like the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf,” were diligently prepared. But, Vermeil’s greatest asset as a coach was his ability to create a family atmosphere in the clubhouse---and to create emotional bonds with his players. Sean McVay in all of those ways is very Dick Vemeil-esque. As for Kliff Kingsbury, his coaching style appears to be very reminiscent of Don Coryell’s. While Kingsbury’s offensive concepts were derived in the Air Raid philosophy, Kingsbury loves to innovate. All coaches are borrowers to various degrees. But not all coaches have the knack for innovation. Don Coryell was one of the most innovative offensive minds and head coaches in the history of the NFL. But, his innovations weren’t just for x’s and o’s---Coryell entered the NFL at a time when most NFL head coaches were still trying to emulate Vince Lombardi---not only in trying to run the ball down people’s throats, but in being total ass whippers. When Don Coryell came into the NFL, he didn’t just bring his unconventional, high passing San Diego St. offense with him, he brought a fresh philosophy of “putting our players in positions to succeed” (which so many coaches continue to say to this day) and “treating our players like men and with all of the respect they deserve.” He said, “I don’t think you have to be a son-of-a-bitch coach to get the most out of players.” What Vermeil and Coryell had very much in common, as do McVay and Kingsbury, is the running of upbeat, spirited, highly detail-oriented practices, the kinds of which players very much enjoy. The object is to teach and encourage while all the while keeping the fun of the game very much alive and well. A few players told Josh Weinfuss of ESPN after the first couple of OTA practices this week that Kingsbury’s practices are “much more mellow and laid back” than BA’s or Steve Wilks’. The players said that Wilks would scream a lot and his practices were tense. And we all know that BA’s and his staff were a unified coalition of f-bombers. Kingsbury has even gone to the extreme of giving the players’ “cellphone breaks” every half hour or so during the meetings. An old school coach would scoff at such a liberal approach. But, anyone who works with teenagers and young adults these days knows that players and students are more apt to learn and grow in respectful, creative and supportive environments. In the past, if a coach or teacher was described as “chill” or “laid back,” the assumption was the coach or teacher was a slacker who let the kids have whatever they want. The irony is that the best teaching occurs when the players are highly engaged and take ownership of the stratagems. Learning actually is easiest when the environment is conducive to it. Thus---it comes down to a very important and significant question: Today, what is the best way for coaches to motivate? In the old days, one would might be apt to say through FEAR. You know, BA’s “cuss em out now and hug em later” philosophy might work for a little while until the players figure it out and then start resenting it. Certainly, iconic pro athletes like Michael Jordan often claim that they were highly motivated by “the fear of failure.” And that’s a good thing when that comes naturally from within. But, that’s why the worst thing for Michael Jordan would have been having a hardass coach who exacerbated Jordan’s own fears. Phil Jackson had a “chill,” zen-like coaching philosophy which was just as good for Michael Jordan as it was for Scottie Pippin and Dennis Rodman. So, if the best way for coaches to motivate today is not through fear---what is then?” Have any of you read the old Civil War classic, Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage? It’s the story of a young soldier’s ever-growing fear that in the face of battle he is going to run. The soldier’s name is Henry Fleming. What’s brilliant about Crane’s novel is in the learning of what emotion motivated Henry Fleming more than any other in his determination to conquer his own fears so that he could do his part for his regiment. As it turned out---that emotion was PRIDE. While fetching some water down at the brook with one of his fellow soldiers, Henry hears the colonel call his regiment a bunch of “mule drivers” as in the kind of regiment that colonels would deem the most expendable. What Henry realized at that moment was how proud he had become of his regiment and of his fellow soldiers. Thus when Henry and his friend, Wilson, suddenly found themselves and their regiment on the front line being served up as likely casualties, they rallied their fellow soldiers and made such a fierce charge that the once overly frightened young soldiers wound up being the first to capture the confederate flag. It strikes me very profoundly, that generating PRIDE is a a key component of Kliff Kingsbury’s coaching philosophy. Now---it’s not that Kingsbury is ever going to preach it. He won’t. Like Don Coryell, he wants his players to feel it and to act on it for themselves. If you have noticed, even though Kingsbury got fired by Texas Tech, his beloved alma mater, you will never hear Kingsbury utter an negative word about his Red Raiders. No one has more Red Raider pride than he does. But life has its quirky little twists of fate. If we were to go back to this year’s Oklahoma at Texas Tech game---Texas Tech was playing a great game versus Kyler Murray, capitalizing on two early interceptions to make it 14-0 Red Raiders. Texas Tech was 5-3 at the time and promising young freshman QB Alan Bowman had returned from injury and was outscoring Kyler Murray in the first half, only to get re-injured right before half-time with the Red Raiders in the lead. As it was, Texas Tech still almost won the game and it took some very cool and precise passing and running from Murray to seal the win. Had Bowman not been injured and if Texas Tech had won that game---the Red Raiders would have already been bowl eligible and still very much in the top 25-35 rankings in the country---chances are they would have won a couple more games and possibly their bowl game. Just the same, what would have happened to Kyler Murray and Oklahoma? A loss at Lubbock might have dashed Murray’s Heisman hopes and Oklahoma’s Big 12 Championship and BCS Final Four aspirations. Who knows? Right now Kliff Kingsbury could still be the head coach at Texas Tech and Kyler Murray could be back in Texas playing baseball for the A’s AA affiliate at Midland. As fate would have it, we Cardinals fans can now hope Kliff Kingsbury is meant to be for Kyler Murray what Don Coryell was for Jim Hart and Dan Fouts. This is a brand new era of Cardinals football---an era that hopefully the coaches, players and fans can take a great and newfound pride in. […]


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