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Dan Bickley

Arizona Cardinals schedule offers early comfort zone for Kliff Kingsbury

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury discusses the upcoming NFL football draft during a news conference, Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Kliff Kingsbury has never coached in a NFL game. He has never commanded a locker room full of men. He does not have the chips or chops to scream at professional football players and failures in progress, like Bruce Arians once did with great regularity.

He lacks authority, bandwidth and experience. He is too smart to fake it. His public appearances are frequently spent “deferring” to general manager Steve Keim. And all of this pales to the expectations Kingsbury has inherited, a man who must produce a revolutionary offense in his rookie season, something that puts the NFL on its heels.

Yeah. He’s under a lot of unseen pressure. But the schedule works in his favor. At least at the beginning.

Week 1: Home against the Lions. The perfect benign opponent to begin a new era. The Lions are never good enough to embarrass you, and always trusted to self-destruct when you need it most.

Week 2: At Baltimore. All attention will be on Terrell Suggs, and his unexpected, mysterious departure from the Ravens.

The Cardinals will play three homes games in September, offering an early comfort zone for the rookie head coach. They will also face Matthew Stafford, Lamar Jackson, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson. It could be worse.

Kingsbury comes to the NFL under a microscope. He also has tools. He’s well-spoken, good-looking and legitimately cool, at least by my standards. He’s considered an elite play-caller at a time when the art has never meant more. He’s got the celebrity face and the celebrity girlfriend. That will go a long way with bandwagon sports towns and impressionable young football players.

But can he keep a team on the hook? Will his spoon-fed assistants serve him well in hard times? If Kingsbury is exposed, will lieutenants be the first to bail?

Remember, even Chip Kelly couldn’t beat the NFL with schematics and innovation. You need a surplus of blood and guts and trench leadership.

Week 8: At New Orleans. Sean Payton said, “we’re excited to play those teams” that reached badly for head coaches, and this was the game he’s talking about. If Kingsbury is in over his head, this is the game where you’ll be hiding behind the furniture.

Week 9: Home against 49ers on Thursday Night Football, the only scheduled primetime appearance of the season.

Week 10: At Tampa. Arians and his loyal crew of assistants will be facing the team that celebrates his career but didn’t exactly weep over his retirement and the changes on staff. If given the chance, they will run up the score. It would be wise to avoid Ruthless Uncle Bruce in this scenario, and this will surely be the Cardinals’ Super Bowl in 2019.

Expected point differential for these three games: Minus 90.

The Cardinals hired Kingsbury to be the next Sean McVay. Even though he had just been fired for posting a losing record at Texas Tech. And that’s what makes the old-guard so angry.

McVay was 32 when he was hired. Former Rams coach Mike Martz asked to us “wait a minute while I puke.” But McVay is special. That’s become obvious. What are the odds that Kingsbury is another McVay? That genius is in such abundance?

Either way, the Cardinals won’t have to face the real thing until December, when they play the Rams twice in the final five games. In between, their home games will be a scalper’s delight, when disinterested fans cut their losses.

Week 14: Home against the Steelers. Think Sundays at Harold’s in Cave Creek. Enough said.

Week 15: Home against the Browns. Baker Mayfield and the hottest bad brand in professional sports. This game will increase in value exponentially if Kyler Murray is playing for the Cardinals.

Week 16: At Seattle. Is it officially a law that the Cardinals must visit the Pacific Northwest in late December, when it’s wet, dark, depressing and among the worst ways to close out a football season?

It’s up to Keim and Kingsbury to change the narrative. If they know what they’re doing.

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