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Keim Time: The challenges ahead are going to separate the men from the boys

Arizona Cardinals' David Johnson, center, is tackled by Carolina Panthers players in the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
LISTEN: Steve Keim, Cardinals general manager

The Arizona Cardinals made a return trip to Charlotte, and left with the same result as last time, losing to the Carolina Panthers 30-20.

The Cardinals’ struggles started from the first drive of the game, as Carson Palmer was strip-sacked and the ball was returned 46 yards by Thomas Davis for a touchdown. The offensive line struggled mightily, as the Panthers got to Palmer eight times, tying the most sacks in one game this season.

Going into the bye week, the Cardinals sit at 3-4-1. Despite their struggles, the Cards are just a game-and-a-half back of the Seattle Seahawks in the division and within a game for a wild card spot with eight games remaining.

General manager Steve Keim joined Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM to discuss what went wrong with the Cardinals and what the team will do heading into the bye.

What did you see while watching the game film?

“I think the one thing that stood out was really just to me, yesterday’s game was a microcosm of the season as a whole. I mean you start slow, you continue to make mistakes, unacceptable mistakes. Ten penalties for 88 yards, particularly in situations where you’re converting first downs, the protection was poor as most everybody saw, particularly at both of our guard spots; very disappointed with their play. On the bright side, if we would’ve protected better, we had opportunities all day in the passing game. And again, when you lose, and you lose like that, it’s hard to say, but I thought Carson Palmer threw the ball exceptionally well.

What production are you not getting this year that you got last year?

“Probably on both sides of the ball, just playing smart. Minimizing the little mistakes, the attention to detail. Last year again, we won a lot of the close games because we made the plays, and generally why do you make or not make plays, and it’s a lot of times the mental side of it. I mean it’s one thing to get beat physically, but to not be prepared mentally, or prepared through your game study, or the preparation off the field, that’s tough to swallow. But you know yesterday we did some things again in the passing game that was encouraging. Again, I thought Carson was on point with his throws when he could get the ball off; continued to be excited about the progress of J.J. Nelson who has stepped up and made some plays for us. But defensively, didn’t see the same type of energy and edge rush that we created the last several weeks, and then quite frankly I thought the tackling was poor. Leaking yards after contact and the ability to finish and wrap up are areas where again, yesterday I was very disappointed.”

Are you seeing an organizational problem with mental preparation or are you seeing a limited problem that’s having dramatic effects?

“I think it’s a limited problem that has dramatic effects because we have a core of veteran leaders in the locker room that know how to prepare and play like a pro, but there are still some younger guys or guys that (have) a level of inconsistency. And again, those are things that coach and I will continue to talk through about this roster and about this depth chart, and moving forward, I think the bye couldn’t come at a better time. Not only to get healthy, but to reassess where we’re at, you know, to be able to look yourself in the mirror, self evaluate and try and get some answers for why some of the mistakes have taken place. And whether it’s a personnel decision that I made or whether it’s something again, organizationally, on the roster that we may need to make a change, which we won’t hesitate to do if we think we can get better.”

What is your level of optimism going into the bye week?

“Well the silver lining is, is the NFC West. It’s not like anybody’s running away with it, and we’re certainly in a position to challenge still at that spot. But you know the great news for us is it’s all on us, and it’s time for us to step up and do the little things right, and when you look back to 2008 and it just is an example. I’m not saying this is that team, but it’s an example of, I walked away from a stadium in New England, and a stadium on Thanksgiving in Philadelphia, and wondered even if we had a below average football team, and that football team somehow gelled, came together and got hot at the right time and went to the Super Bowl. Now again, is this team that team? I’m not saying that, but you know in this league you have to get hot at the right time, and you have to make the plays when you can, and at least that opportunity is ahead of us.”

Do you think it’s fair to question the mental toughness of the team right now?

“Well I mean that’s your job, for sure, the media, to question a lot of things. But at the end of the day, I see how hard these guys are working, I see the things that they do in practice. Now again, I think that there’s a difference between physical toughness and the mental toughness. There’s no doubt about that, and we’ll certainly find out the second half of the season how many guys we have that are mentally tough because the challenges ahead (are) going to separate the men from the boys. The little things that happen in a game, whether it’s the fumble for a touchdown or all those things, we’ve talked about week after week, this team hasn’t faced a lot of adversity the last few years. Well now we have, and we’re going to see who can step up and answer the bell.”

Do you anticipate any roster changes heading into the bye week?

“Yeah, I would say there will be a few. I mean there’s certainly going to be the next couple of days before I get out and leave town to go do some scouting. We’ll take a look at some different players and see if there are some areas where we think we can improve, but there should probably be a change or two.”

Have you heard anything from the NFL about Palmer’s fumble returned for a touchdown and what will you say to the NFL regarding that play?

“Well Bruce (Arians) generally has those conversations, and the only thing that I’ll say about the officiating is that we can only do what’s under our control. To me, if there’s any complaints on our side, it’s frustration and it’s excuses, because we certainly had the opportunity to overcome whatever poor calls we thought there were, if in case that was the fact. That’s on us, we needed to bounce back and we didn’t make the plays that were necessary. So, regardless of whatever happens in these games guys, you have four quarters to play and we didn’t play four quarters.”

What is the status of Jared Veldheer?

“I know he had a triceps injury. Again, I’ll find out after the MRI what’s the extent of it and we’ll go from there.”

What concerns you the most right now about the 2016 Arizona Cardinals?

“I would say probably playing together as a team, you know I think it started all the way back in training camp where on paper we felt very, very excited about this group, but it needed to come together and gel in all three phases: offensively, defensively and special teams. And too often to me, you see one, two or three of the areas underachieve or play inconsistently. I still think if all three are hitting on all cylinders, we have a hell of a team, but again, until they do that, we’re 3-4-1, and we’ll find out again the next eight weeks what we’re made of.”

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