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Dan Bickley

It’s on Cards’ Wilks, McCoy to develop aggressive identity with Rosen

Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, right, explains a play to rookie quarterback Josh Rosen (3) during NFL football practice Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Football demands courage. It rewards the bold. You don’t win games running scared.

The 0-4 Cardinals have no room to argue. They are the only team in the NFL without a victory. In defining moments, they lack spine, not talent.

That’s why Josh Rosen is so important. He’s fearless and audacious. He’s a gift and a life preserver, a second-string quarterback offering a second chance to a floundering staff. After four gut-wrenching losses, the Cardinals have the opportunity to reset the GPS, recalibrating everything around their new franchise player. The one who fell into our laps on draft night.

But this time, there’s a caveat. The leaders of this new regime must prove worthy of Rosen and not the other way around. If not, there might have to be sweeping changes entering the 2019 season, retooling the staff with the right kind of offensive mentors.

“I thought Josh handled himself very well in the game, gave his team belief, made some big-time throws and put his team in position to win,” former Cardinals great Kurt Warner said. “It was a solid debut displaying many things that lead me to believe he is going to have a good NFL career.”

It’s not too late for the present coaching staff to properly serve its talent. It begins with a long, hard look in the mirror and Mike McCoy’s play book. The pitfalls are obvious.

The rookie head coach is a defensive guy who is desperate for the validation of victory. The offensive coordinator is coughing up hairballs, on a 10-game losing streak that spans two teams and two seasons. The general manager yearns for the status he once enjoyed. The plays they call confirm and condemn the fear they feel.

Stakes have been raised. Rosen’s performance against the Seahawks was special in ways that history will never recognize. There were dramatic drops, a missed kick and skittish strategy that sabotaged the quarterback’s performance. Rosen was robbed of a statistical impact statement that could’ve framed his entire career. Best of all, he didn’t seem to care.

He already knew that he towered in his debut, just like a ready-made NFL quarterback. He threw outside the numbers and outside the reach of defenders. He could be the ultimate blessing to an NFL franchise, giving the Cardinals an elite quarterback in the first year of his rookie contract, allowing them to redirect $25-30 million a year to other positions.

That’s how the Seahawks built a brief dynasty after lucking into Russell Wilson. The same can happen here with Rosen.

“I saw a confident passer willing to work through a pass progression, stand in the pocket and make the tough throws that the NFL demands,” former Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer said. “All in all, his performance was worth getting excited about. But let’s not forget he’s a rookie and there will be learning experiences all young QBs must go through. So be patient, fans, and enjoy watching a young leader grow.”

Rosen’s declaration of impending greatness has fortified the franchise at a crucial time. Gone is the football team we embraced in August, when our view of the Cardinals was wildly out of sync with national perception.

At the time, outsiders saw a flawed football team. But our punch bowl was spiked with rave reviews of Steve Wilks and his staff, betting advice from Larry Fitzgerald, and how great Sam Bradford looked in practice. We were conned. Shame on us.

But the narrative mercifully changed in Sunday’s 20-17 loss to the Seahawks, giving the team something we all seem to agree on: A franchise quarterback in our midst, the kind who expects to win Super Bowls.

It’s comforting that we are finally seeing the same things, where local and national opinion of Rosen seems to be merging into the same fast lane. Analytics have shown he holds the ball for nearly a half-second longer than Sam Bradford, in a league where the fastest receivers cover nearly 10 yards per second. He has shown far more courage than the voices in his headset.

The next 11 games don’t have to yield a playoff berth. But an offensive identity is essential, and Wilks and McCoy must forge a powerful vision around their young quarterback. If not, the staff must be tweaked and infused with offensive visionaries, those who understand that Rosen wasn’t born to concede on 3rd-and-6.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier