Suddenly, the Valley’s bright sports future feels like its pathetic past
Our NFL team stands trial this Sunday. So does Arizona’s rookie head coach. So does the entire organization.
So does our status as a rising sports town.
The Cardinals are 0-2 and rank among the worst teams in the NFL. This is not opinion. This is fact spawned from statistics, scoreboards and viewers swearing off an offense that struggles to reach midfield.
The Diamondbacks can’t score, either, and don’t seem to care. Their September tank job is nearly complete. Before plummeting to new depths on Tuesday, they had posted a 4-12 record in their first 16 games of the stretch run.
The Cardinals are staring at the same kind of numbers, a team that will be lucky to go 4-12. Our collective faith has been shaken.
The Diamondbacks are looking at an inglorious end. The legend of Archie Bradley has been derailed. Paul Goldschmidt recently heard MVP chants from the crowd at Chase Field, except they were directed at Cubs star Javy Baez.
Just before that awful moment, Baez took a baseball bat to the dugout bathroom, causing significant damage in frustration. It was more emotion than the Diamondbacks have shown all season.
So what in the world went wrong?
On Aug. 17, the Diamondbacks held a 1.5-game lead in the National League West. The Cardinals smothered the Saints in New Orleans, a meaningless but dominant preseason display that filled our tanks with false optimism. The Suns won the draft lottery earlier in the summer. Devin Booker had his contract. The Valley was lifting off to a new kind of future, anchored to a pair of draft-day coups in Josh Rosen and Deandre Ayton.
Look at us now. The Diamondbacks might finish with a losing record. The Dodgers could clinch the division at Chase Field once again. Mounted police could be forced to defend the sanctity of our pool, enduring another round of national ridicule.
The Cardinals are facing a similar crisis. Head coach Steve Wilks said the team will scale back its offense. He also said it will get more creative with its play calling. If that sounds like a contradiction, it’s because the new head coach is scrambling.
Two games into his tenure, Wilks is already on a hot seat. Not with team president Michael Bidwill. With football fans in Arizona who properly wonder how an NFL team can look this bad, who wonder if the former defensive coordinator is in over his head.
Same with general manager Steve Keim. His draft record has been increasingly spotty. The team defended its subpar group of wide receivers against all evidence to the contrary, until the problem became too obvious to ignore. His best defenders keep ending up elsewhere, and he still hasn’t solved the offensive line or the cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson.
Meanwhile, Josh Gordon was snapped up by the Patriots, a team that has reportedly made 28 transactions involving a wide receiver since league business commenced in March.
The heat is also on offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who was fired as offensive coordinator in Denver midway through the 2017 season. I thought McCoy was a perfect fit in Arizona, a seasoned wingman who could ease the burden on a rookie head coach, a flexible sort known to play to his strengths.
But the early results are indefensible. Former kicker Jay Feely said McCoy was partially to blame for not having a philosophy or identity to lean on in tough times like this. And on Wednesday, a popular website offered this advice to all fantasy football players:
“Find someone other than David Johnson.”
It’s too late for the Diamondbacks, a team that faces a major overhaul in the offseason, a franchise that squandered a division title and a chance at rare civic momentum. Arizona hasn’t posted successive postseason berths since 2002 — one-hit wonders once again.
It’s getting late for the Cardinals. They face the ascending Bears on Sunday, offering another serious challenge for Arizona’s anemic offense. Through two weeks, NFL quarterbacks have posted 114 touchdown passes, the most in 17 years. The Cardinals have none, the only team incapable of exploiting handcuffed defenses in 2018.
They get another chance to change the narrative on Sunday. They will be playing before an audience that will be cheering loudly for the opponent. Just like that, our bright future feels suspiciously like our pathetic past.
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.