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Dan Bickley

Cardinals’ decision at OC more important than anything on Thursday

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)

Jobs are on the line. So is dignity, pride and the reputation of our grounded NFL franchise.

Von Miller made sure of that.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a must-win, we’re going to kick their [expletive], though,” the Broncos star told the Denver media on Tuesday. “Make sure you put that up there. We’re going to kick their [expletive]. They’re going to get our best this week.”

Miller’s classic playground taunt needlessly raised the volume of Thursday night’s Pink Slip Bowl. The prediction amounted to fighting words, out of character for a player who usually praises the upcoming opponent. Hence, the big question:

Why?

Maybe it’s a sign of desperation in Denver, where the Broncos have lost four consecutive games; allowed 593 rushing yards in the past two weeks; and recently became the first team in history to allow successive running backs to gain 200 or more yards in a single game.

Denver is obsessed with football. One of their sports radio stations switched to an all-Broncos format in 2017, shutting out an entertaining baseball franchise that has made the playoffs the past two seasons. Their fan base has three Super Bowl victories and eight overall appearances. They haven’t witnessed consecutive losing seasons since 1972. They don’t always think clearly at high altitude.

They also had over 9,000 no-shows during last week’s home loss against the Rams. Their head coach is under more pressure than our offensive coordinator, and anger is turning to apathy. That could explain Miller’s inexplicable outburst.

Or maybe he’s just like us, wholly unimpressed with the Cardinals’ offense. And maybe he carries no fear that Denver’s former offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, can change the narrative Thursday night at State Farm Stadium.

The Cardinals face a stiff challenge in Week 7. Their offensive line is wounded. Their belief is waning. They have corrected none of the problems that have persisted following a Week 1 loss to the Redskins. They fit the archetype of teams that get usually blown out on a short week of preparation, with the notable exception of playing at home.

But will it even feel like a home game?

Head coach Steve Wilks conceded that all jobs are in jeopardy if his team doesn’t win, an abrupt departure from his previous support of McCoy. Contrast his shifting mindset to Bruce Arians, who never wavered in defense of Amos Jones, despite all evidence to the contrary.

That’s because the former head coach never worried about getting fired. His stubborn conviction was the bedrock of stability.

McCoy could be subjected to one of the NFL’s cruelest twists, fired midseason in successive years, with just one victory in his past 12 games. Or maybe he saves his job by getting out of David Johnson’s head, allowing the former MVP candidate to launch his season against a malleable Denver defense. Or stops running Neanderthal plays up the back of a rookie center. Or empowers Josh Rosen to shoulder some of the intellectual load, making quick decisions and throwing the ball downfield.

But what kind of strategy is that?

By now, the Cardinals should know exactly what they have in McCoy, for better and worse. They also have a rookie quarterback with all the skills and charisma to carry a franchise for the next decade. They have a running back who once wrecked the NFL, receiving a $39 million contract on the eve of the 2018 season, nearly $32 million guaranteed.

They must have the right teacher and vision in place. Anything less would be lunacy.

The Cardinals also know a lot more about Wilks, and his role in an offense built to succeed in the 1970s. The modern game features dynamic schemes that spin the ball downfield, capitalizing on rules designed to marginalize defenders, built to target and exploit individual mismatches.

That’s not what we’re watching in Arizona, and nothing will shake your faith like the absurd preponderance of unsuccessful running plays up the gut, into blitzing defenders, a team on the road to nowhere.

If this is a McCoy problem, Thursday’s game is essentially meaningless. His job is too important to be lost on a single outcome. The Cardinals must find the right mentor for Rosen, reversing the course of history as soon as possible.

The situation is surely more nuanced and complicated. McCoy might’ve been instructed to build an offense steeped in fear, based on an offensive line that Wilks overestimated, designed to nurse a fragile veteran quarterback through a 16-game season.

It felt like Wilks soared in status following Steve Keim’s suspension, discovering and wielding influence he did not deserve, power that McCoy innately understood as a former head coach. And when Sam Bradford failed to produce, acting like a quarterback waiting to be replaced, it changed the dynamics for everyone.

Let’s be real. McCoy beat the Steelers in the playoffs with Tim Tebow. That doesn’t happen by accident. But is he the right fit for Rosen, Johnson and the future Cardinals? That decision is more important than anything that happens on Thursday, even with the inflammatory words of Miller.

The Cardinals should already know the answer. If they don’t, the problem is far worse than we thought.

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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