Cardinals OC swap to Leftwich comes with Rosen, Johnson in mind
TEMPE, Ariz. — Pitiful offense from the air to the ground, from first down to third, led the Arizona Cardinals down this path.
Head coach Steve Wilks said it was his decision Friday to fire offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and replace him with quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich as the Cardinals ranked last or second-to-last in most key offensive categories through their seventh game of the year.
“As the head coach it’s my responsibility to make these tough decisions and try to do everything I can to make sure that I have the right personnel — most importantly the right coaches — in the right positions,” Wilks said. “I felt we needed a change.
“We wasn’t productive enough. Let’s just say that. That may be an understatement.”
But in considering the production, the offensive coordinator swap comes down to the individual players, too.
Star running back David Johnson is averaging 3.2 yards per carry seven games after inking a long-term contract extension. Rookie quarterback Josh Rosen was sacked six times Thursday and turned the ball over five times in a 45-10 loss to the Denver Broncos, a game that the team hopes ends the crescendo of what looks like a threat to both his literal health and developmental health.
Rosen’s quarterback rating was the second-worst of any game played across the NFL so far this season, behind only a performance from the Bills’ Nathan Peterman in Week 1.
For the season, he is completing 55 percent of his passes, has thrown three touchdowns to go with five interceptions and has lost three fumbles.
Leftwich, Wilks hopes, can use his 10 years of NFL quarterbacking experience to connect with the 10th overall draft pick.
It starts with protecting Rosen.
Wilks admitted a banged up offensive line that was already struggling to protect the rookie may need to give more max-protection looks with help from tight ends and fullbacks. Arizona will consider using Rosen’s athleticism to run boot-legs and take pressure off the offensive line.
Due to protection issues, Wilks cited the inability of Rosen to go through his progressions as a key part in making the coordinator switch.
The head coach, who said he left play-calling duties to McCoy and will do the same for Leftwich, has already talked to his new OC about taking the thinking away from Rosen.
It’s not that McCoy put too much on Rosen, an intellectual player who Wilks again praised for being able to digest a lot.
It’s that Wilks doesn’t want things to get lost in translation.
Because overhauling the playbook at this point is out of the question, Leftwich will calls plays out of the same playbook that was constructed by McCoy heading into 2018. But Wilks wants to put Rosen — and his teammates — in better positions to succeed.
“It’s not the mere fact of making it easier,” he said when asked if the team will pull back things to help Rosen. “And I told Byron this this morning. Josh is a very smart and intelligent guy. He can handle a lot.
“I think it’s clarity. That’s what we need, and we didn’t have that.”
Meanwhile, Arizona will continue searching for the production from Johnson that saw him chase the 1,000-1,000 rushing and receiving yard marks in 2016. Leftwich, a holdover from former coach Bruce Arians’ staff, saw first-hand how the Cardinals utilized the running back in both the run and pass games under the previous regime.
Johnson has accumulated 335 rushing yards to this point, but even more flummoxing has been his disappearance in the passing game, something Arians openly criticized on the TD Fantasy Podcast a month ago. Targeted just 30 times in seven weeks of play, Johnson has 20 catches and 133 receiving yards.
“With Byron being here before and being a part of that and understanding some of the success he’s had in the past, hopefully we can tap back on to some of the things David was doing in the past,” Wilks said.
And with that, Wilks made his most difficult head coaching decision after Arizona’s 1-6 start. He didn’t shy away from a question about whether the McCoy firing was the first of many changes to come.
Wilks will continue to evaluate coaches and players every week, he said.
Asked if Leftwich’s title as the new offensive coordinator was permanent or if it came with an interim tag, the head coach had this to say:
“Right now it’s hard to say anybody is going to be permanent.”