The 5: Most pivotal moments in the Cardinals’ 2018 season
The 2018 season is officially in the books for the Arizona Cardinals.
This year was not Arizona’s as the team dealt with injuries, personnel changes and a dismal 3-13 record.
While this season is surely one to forget for many in the desert, here are the five biggest moments of the Cardinals’ season:
O-Line Injury Woes
Before the regular season even began, the Cardinals were already behind the eight ball.
During the team’s Red & White practice at State Farm Stadium, starting center A.Q. Shipley went down with a torn ACL and headed to the injured reserve, ending his season before even playing a regular season game. Pegged as the most durable of the offensive lineman, Shipley started all 16 games the previous two seasons and was the lone lineman to remain healthy throughout, the injury would foreshadow what was to come.
In addition to Shipley, six other Cardinals offensive lineman — D.J. Humphries, Justin Pugh, Mike Iupati, John Wetzel, Jeremy Vujnovich and Korey Cunningham — made their way to the IR, while Andre Smith, who signed a two-year deal in March, was waived after playing just eight games. He missed three due to injury as well.
The one constant? Rookie center Mason Cole, who filled in for Shipley to start the season. He was the only lineman to make all 16 starts for Arizona.
And with a continuous revolving door of injured lineman, the play on the field suffered greatly.
Offensively, Arizona ranked last in total offense (241.6 yards per game), total points (225), rushing yards per attempt (3.8) and rushing yards per game (83.9). The line also allowed 52 sacks, tied with Oakland and Miami as the fifth most in the league. Rookie quarterback Josh Rosen accounted for 45 of the 52.
And with an offense constantly spurting, the lack of scoring was evident as the Cardinals managed just 15 touchdowns.
Josh Rosen Named Starter, Sam Bradford Benched
Three starts, two touchdowns, four interceptions and three fumbles. That was the summary of Sam Bradford’s tenure as a starter for the Cardinals.
After signing a one-year deal with the team in the offseason to the tune of $20 million with $15 million guaranteed, the veteran quarterback underwhelmed in his three starts. He threw for just 400 yards, completing 62.5 percent of his throws. He ended with a 62.5 passer rating and was sacked six times.
After scoring only 20 points through three games, the Cardinals had seen enough.
Enter, rookie QB Rosen.
Not wasting any more time on the veteran, Arizona made the change in Week 3 during the fourth quarter against the Bears. Rosen completed three of his six passes for 27 yards in his first NFL action before tossing an interception.
On Sept. 24, it was official. Rosen was the new starter.
He was thrown to the fire early on, as his first test was the Seattle Seahawks. In his first career start, the rookie completed 15-of-27 (55.6 percent) for 180 yards and a touchdown in the team’s 20-17 loss.
Rosen wouldn’t have to wait long to taste the fruits of victory. Playing the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5, the QB got off to fast start, finding fellow rookie Christian Kirk for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. He finished with 170 yards and the score in the 28-18 win.
With Rosen showing signs of being able to take over signal-calling duties, there was no need longer a need for Bradford, who was released on Nov. 3.
In 13 games, Rosen completed 217 of his 393 passes (55.2 percent) for 2,278 yards and 11 touchdowns. Turnovers were a constant for the young quarterback all year as he threw 14 interceptions and finished with a 26.6 QBR.
OC Mike McCoy Fired
Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was another name that didn’t make it a full season with the team after he was fired following a blowout loss in which Arizona GM Steve Keim called “embarrassing.”
After beginning the season 1-5, the Cardinals had a Thursday Night Football matchup with the Denver Broncos, a former team of the OC.
Denver’s Von Miller, whose team entered the contest losing their last four games, called the Cardinals’ game a get-right-game of sorts.
And it was as Denver pummeled the Cardinals 45-10, tied for their worst loss of the season (Week 12 against the Chargers). Offensively, the team turned the ball over five times and averaged just 3.3 yards per carry against a team who had allowed a league-worst 5.6.
That was the final straw for the Cardinals’ brass as McCoy was gone the following Friday. It was the second time in two years that the coordinator had been fired from the position midway through the season. He was let go by the Broncos during the 2017 campaign.
In his place, the Cardinals promoted quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich to the coordinator position.
One of the biggest knocks on McCoy was his usage, or lack thereof, of running back David Johnson.
Through seven games, Johnson was limited to just 47.9 yards per game on the ground (335). He was even more non-existent in the passing game, something he was well-known for in 2016.
Under McCoy, the running back caught just 2.9 receptions per game for a pedestrian 23.7 yards per game. He scored just once through the air.
Patrick Peterson Trade Request
With a losing record staring the Cardinals in the face and an offensive coordinator sent packing already, the team was met with another issue internally.
Growing more and more frustrated, All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson reportedly requested a trade just over a week before the NFL trade deadline.
“It’s been extremely tough. Obviously you want to win. I don’t care how you cut it — there’s nothing like winning. Especially when you have a new head coach, have so much going against you, you already have the outside world counting you out,” Peterson said two weeks prior to the trade request. “It’s a rebuilding stage. But at the end of the day, we’re professionals. We want to go out there and prepare to win each and every Sunday.”
At the time, the defense ranked 11th in the NFL in total yards allowed per game (233.9) and 23rd in points per game (26.3).
Following a few days of unrest from Cardinals fans and a barrage of questions for Keim and head coach Steve Wilks, the cornerback broke his silence on the matter.
“I’ve been incredibly frustrated with how the season has gone,” he wrote on the trade talk. “But my energy is 100% focused on being part of the solution and helping us turn this around. I’ve never shied away from a challenge before and I’m not starting now.
“I have always given my all to the Cardinals organization, my teammates and fans. That is what I intend to do for the years to come. I am an Arizona Cardinal, and my focus is on this week’s game.”
Steve Wilks Relieved of Head-Coaching Duties
With the Cardinals ending the season at 3-13, more changes were in store for the team in the desert.
After replacing former head coach Bruce Arians with Wilks, Arizona made the decision to move on for the first-year head coach.
In 16 games under Wilks, the Cardinals suffered nine double-digit losses.
With the firing, Wilks joins 10 other first-year head coaches, including Pete Carroll (Jets) and Chip Kelly (49ers), who were let go following just one season with the team since 2000.
Statistically, the Cardinals were one of the worst teams on both sides of the ball under Wilks.
Noted for his defensive prowess, the head coach bolstered one of the worst defensive units in the league, allowing 154.9 yards per game on the ground. Offensively, the ground game was stagnant and the passing game seemed to have few wrinkles to confuse the opposition.
With NFL lows in both categories, it was a swift departure for the coach.
“The fact we went backwards on both offense and defense,” determined Wilks’ fate, according to Bidwill.
“Looking at his plan for 2019, I just didn’t feel like it was a plan I wanted to get behind, that would turn us around and get us back to the type of football that we expect and our fans deserve.”