Cardinals’ Steve Wilks experiencing a learning curve in first year as HC
During an era in which high-powered offenses dominate the top of the standings, the landscape of coaching has become difficult for those with a defensive mindset. In his first season as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, Steve Wilks has been put in an uncomfortable situation.
Tied for the worst record in the NFL at 2-9, Arizona is averaging a league-worst 232.5 yards per game with rookie quarterback Josh Rosen under center. After starting off the year with Mike McCoy as offensive coordinator, Leftwich was appointed interim OC after a 1-6 start.
During a period of time in which consistent scoring is so crucial to creating a winning product, Wilks hasn’t been able to adapt to the shifting tides of the modern NFL.
Wilks and his staff can’t figure out how to stop teams on defense or keep up with them on offense, so where does this leave the struggling organization?
Two-time Pro-Bowler and current NFL analyst Mark Schlereth believes that Wilks needs time to adjust to his job in the same way a rookie player needs to adapt to the league. He discussed the matter on Wednesday during an interview with Bickley & Marotta on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.
“There’s a learning curve for a young coach,” Schlereth said. “There is a reason that most first time coaches fail. Our willingness to let a young player develop but not a coach is mind boggling to me.”
The Cardinals are giving up 26.6 points per game for the No. 27 rank in opponent points per game this season.
With invaluable defensive assets such as cornerback Patrick Peterson, safety Budda Baker and defensive end Chandler Jones at his disposal, Wilks still hasn’t been able to put together a cohesive strategy to stop the booming offenses of the league.
Like most great coaches have in the past, Wilks will need time to come into his own. A devastatingly underwhelming season like this will teach him what works and what doesn’t from a strategic perspective.
Arizona is last in the NFL in average time of possession at 25:40 minutes per game. It’s hard to run an efficient defense when your offense can’t stay on the field, so many of the Cardinals’ struggles are rooted in the team’s inability to string together scoring drives.
Schlereth commented on the importance of having a great defensive coach.
“A good defensive coach can be an incredible asset,” Schlereth said. “It’s interesting, Bill Belichick is a defensive guy who has had great offensive coordinators. Ultimately the thing that sets good offensive coaches apart is that they understand the rules of defense.”
For reference, Belichick spent five years as a defensive coordinator before his first head coaching position in Cleveland, where he finished his first season with a 6-10 record. Like Schlereth alluded to, it takes time for a coach to reach his full potential.
With just five games left in their schedule, Wilks and the Cardinals are playing for experience and pride. Still, the lessons learned in his first losing season as a head coach will carry into the future and serve as a building block for the rest of his career.