DAN BICKLEY

Cardinals HC Steve Wilks seemed in control a month ago. What happened?

Sep 16, 2018, 9:27 PM | Updated: Sep 17, 2018, 1:18 pm
AP Photo...
AP Photo

Overreaction is the currency of football. We expect victory or unleash vitriol. We all speak the same language.

The Cardinals are advised to wear earplugs in the coming days.

Their 0-2 start is beyond feeble. It’s dividing a dysfunctional sports town. The rookie head coach is hitting a reset button two games into his new gig. The offense is unwatchable. They are one of the worst teams in the NFL, just like the wise guys predicted.

But are they really this pathetic?

There are plenty of caveats available. The Rams are loaded, and will make a lot of teams look stupid in the coming months. The 2017 Cardinals were also blasted in a road game against Los Angeles, losing 33-0 in London. Clearly, things were much easier when Jeff Fisher was coaching on the other sideline.

But there are no excuses for what we’ve seen.

You could say the game turned when the Rams scored on fourth down, on the last play of the first half. It was a moment of great heft, where one defensive stop could’ve lifted the morale and changed the tone of the final 30 minutes.

Except there are no defining moments or turning points in these kind of lopsided affairs. And, predictably, Todd Gurley practically walked into the end zone.

Head coach Steve Wilks is authoring one of the worst starts in NFL coaching history. He’s lost two games by a combined score of 58-6. After Sunday’s 34-0 defeat, he said that everything is on the table, from starting jobs to coaching schemes. It was a stunning admission for a man who seemed in total control less than a month ago.

And that’s what makes Wilks’ opening act so surprising and so appalling.

Yes, there are times when the local media is badly fooled, believing in mirages and miracles that will never happen. That is also a function of our fragmented market, where our Big Four teams have combined for one championship in over 120 seasons combined. We are gullible because we are starving, and the lack of real success only exacerbates our transient problem.

But remember this: The growing optimism that oozed from training camp was not a media creation. It flowed from the players. Wilks’ seemed to grow in voice and authority during the suspension of the team’s general manager. Everyone could see a big difference in energy and attention to detail. The level-headed Dave Pasch called Wilks’ staff the best he’s seen in Arizona. Even Larry Fitzgerald mocked the odds makers, scoffing at those who believed the Cardinals were going to win five or fewer games in the 2018 season.

Keep in mind, Fitzgerald has been around for 15 years. He remembers the lean years and the team that drafted Levi Brown instead of Adrian Peterson. He doesn’t get fooled that often.

So what happened? Just another con job? Or were the Cardinals deceived by practicing so diligently against the Cardinals, an illusion that didn’t go bust until the games started to count?

In the future, we can provide a valuable public service by ignoring everything that happens in training camp. After all, it’s the one sport where watching practice requires a highly-trained eye, where you have to rely on the opinion of others. And if we turn our backs on training camp, maybe the whole scam will disappear forever.

But that’s not going to happen. And it’s becoming evident that the Cardinals did no favors for the rhythm of their regular-season offense by rarely deploying starters during their four exhibition games. I championed the move at the time, like I always do, because I can’t bear to watch football players get injured in meaningless competition.

But there are so many other questions. The design of this offense looks thin and frail. The defensive front is too often manhandled. A rash of poor drafting might be taking its toll, placing general manager Steve Keim on the warmest seat of his professional life. An incompetent offense can tear a team apart, pitting one side of the room against the other. And following two embarrassing performances and a broken promise that the team would play better against the Rams, a rookie head coach must navigate and lead a team out of a terrible mess.

During the glory days of August, the endless testimonials to Wilks almost made his predecessor seem derelict in duty. The juxtaposition was uncomfortable. If we all loved Bruce Arians that much, why is his successor hailed for being so different?

It was all nonsense, the stuff people say and really believe. Until the other team punches you in the face.

I believe Carson Palmer was right. The 2018 Cardinals need a little time to settle in. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and in retrospect, attempts to baby a brittle quarterback through training camp are backfiring badly. The team can’t be this bad.

Except Sam Bradford hasn’t been so accurate with his passes. The team seems way too comfortable with their paltry crew of wide receivers. The offense is predictable and docile, in desperate need of balance. And I’m already ready to see what Josh Rosen can do, trusting he’ll be an early-season rarity in 2018:

A pleasant surprise on a team stuck in quicksand.

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

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