Cardinals on verge of mutiny heading into Thursday Night Football
The Cardinals are a broken record. A broken promise. A broken football team.
Their 27-17 loss to the Vikings on Sunday only confirms the obvious:
They might’ve hired the wrong head coach. They need to replace the offensive coordinator. They need a system that makes sense to David Johnson. They need to give Josh Rosen the ball and get out of his way. Let him call the plays, if you want to get radical.
Change is needed and surely coming if the Cardinals’ offense doesn’t show dramatic improvement on Thursday Night Football, following a short week of preparation. The forecast is ugly.
Mike McCoy could be fired in the middle of a season for the second consecutive year. That’s stunning, especially for a man who lasted four years as head coach in San Diego. But McCoy’s offense has been too predictable in scheme, soft candy for most NFL defenses. And the only person it seems to confuse is the team’s star running back, who is $39 million richer and a shell of the former MVP candidate.
Progress is happening at glacial pace. Christian Kirk is blossoming and the offense actually threw a scare into Minnesota in the fourth quarter, when Rosen began flinging the ball out of desperation. Maybe the team stumbled into a solution, a freewheeling offense built on better tempo and higher risk.
But the Cardinals failed to convert a third-down opportunity against the Vikings. They haven’t scored a third-quarter point in six games, a sign of poor halftime adjustments. When they get near the goal line, they have no sizzle plays and nothing good to offer.
The biggest issue is Johnson, who has now gone 13 consecutive games without rushing for 100 yards or more yards. He’s running tepid, accumulating mental errors, dropping passes. He fumbled once on Sunday, locked up between the ears. He doesn’t look right.
His brief contract hiatus didn’t endear him to the new coaching staff. They probably didn’t like how he revealed the sideline malfeasance in a loss to Chicago, where Johnson was pulled from the game at a pivotal time just so he could get chewed out by an assistant coach. The timing of his new contract seems like a colossal blunder, aligned to a coaching staff who can’t reach him or teach him.
The defense isn’t beyond reproach. The Cardinals make plays and score touchdowns and pose for celebratory pictures in the end zone. They are also plump fruit for hungry running backs, not always physical, too easily gashed up the middle.
The latest benefactor was Vikings backup Latavius Murray, who rushed for 155 yards, including runs of 21, 26, 28 and 34 yards. Minnesota was ranked 31st in rushing yards per game entering Sunday, and its big day further embarrassed a defensive-minded head coach who once preached the virtues of physicality and a 4-3 scheme he imported from Carolina.
The Arizona defense is clearly taxed by the low-octane offense. The Cardinals were forced to play 98 snaps in a victory against the 49ers, shouldering twice the load of their counterparts on offense. That kind of imbalance can tear a team apart, creating resentment and locker-room sniping.
That hasn’t happened yet. But earlier in the week, there were trade rumors involving Deone Bucannon and Haason Reddick, speculation dismissed by general manager Steve Keim. Reddick has apparently turned a corner, playing all 71 snaps in Sunday’s loss. But Bucannon can’t get on the field, a strange twist for a guy who once seemed like the future of hybrid defenders.
Then came another report, that the Cardinals were interested in hearing trade offers for star cornerback Patrick Peterson before the Oct. 30 deadline.
That’s a lot of smoke for no fire.
Peterson is in the prime of his career. The Cardinals have a franchise quarterback in Rosen and aren’t subjected to a nasty rebuilding project. There was a time when Peterson seemed thrilled with his new role in Wilks’ defensive scheme, and nothing has changed in his outward demeanor.
Still, this has happened before. In October 2017, Deion Sanders claimed that Peterson was growing frustrated with the Cardinals. He implored Arizona to trade its shutdown cornerback to a contending team like Green Bay.
This much seems certain: There’s more tension inside team headquarters than evident on the team’s exterior. Unhappy players? Unhappy agents on Lines 1, 2 and 3? A growing deterioration of belief inside the locker room?
Wilks hinted at unseen internal challenges while reflecting on his first and only victory in Arizona. He needs his second win on Thursday or mutiny might be next.
After all, he’s a rookie head coach who is all business. And right now, business is really bad.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.