DAN BICKLEY

Arizona Cardinals schedule offers early comfort zone for Kliff Kingsbury

Apr 17, 2019, 7:04 PM
Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury discusses the upcoming NFL football draft during a new...

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury discusses the upcoming NFL football draft during a news conference, Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Kliff Kingsbury has never coached in a NFL game. He has never commanded a locker room full of men. He does not have the chips or chops to scream at professional football players and failures in progress, like Bruce Arians once did with great regularity.

He lacks authority, bandwidth and experience. He is too smart to fake it. His public appearances are frequently spent “deferring” to general manager Steve Keim. And all of this pales to the expectations Kingsbury has inherited, a man who must produce a revolutionary offense in his rookie season, something that puts the NFL on its heels.

Yeah. He’s under a lot of unseen pressure. But the schedule works in his favor. At least at the beginning.

Week 1: Home against the Lions. The perfect benign opponent to begin a new era. The Lions are never good enough to embarrass you, and always trusted to self-destruct when you need it most.

Week 2: At Baltimore. All attention will be on Terrell Suggs, and his unexpected, mysterious departure from the Ravens.

The Cardinals will play three homes games in September, offering an early comfort zone for the rookie head coach. They will also face Matthew Stafford, Lamar Jackson, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson. It could be worse.

Kingsbury comes to the NFL under a microscope. He also has tools. He’s well-spoken, good-looking and legitimately cool, at least by my standards. He’s considered an elite play-caller at a time when the art has never meant more. He’s got the celebrity face and the celebrity girlfriend. That will go a long way with bandwagon sports towns and impressionable young football players.

But can he keep a team on the hook? Will his spoon-fed assistants serve him well in hard times? If Kingsbury is exposed, will lieutenants be the first to bail?

Remember, even Chip Kelly couldn’t beat the NFL with schematics and innovation. You need a surplus of blood and guts and trench leadership.

Week 8: At New Orleans. Sean Payton said, “we’re excited to play those teams” that reached badly for head coaches, and this was the game he’s talking about. If Kingsbury is in over his head, this is the game where you’ll be hiding behind the furniture.

Week 9: Home against 49ers on Thursday Night Football, the only scheduled primetime appearance of the season.

Week 10: At Tampa. Arians and his loyal crew of assistants will be facing the team that celebrates his career but didn’t exactly weep over his retirement and the changes on staff. If given the chance, they will run up the score. It would be wise to avoid Ruthless Uncle Bruce in this scenario, and this will surely be the Cardinals’ Super Bowl in 2019.

Expected point differential for these three games: Minus 90.

The Cardinals hired Kingsbury to be the next Sean McVay. Even though he had just been fired for posting a losing record at Texas Tech. And that’s what makes the old-guard so angry.

McVay was 32 when he was hired. Former Rams coach Mike Martz asked to us “wait a minute while I puke.” But McVay is special. That’s become obvious. What are the odds that Kingsbury is another McVay? That genius is in such abundance?

Either way, the Cardinals won’t have to face the real thing until December, when they play the Rams twice in the final five games. In between, their home games will be a scalper’s delight, when disinterested fans cut their losses.

Week 14: Home against the Steelers. Think Sundays at Harold’s in Cave Creek. Enough said.

Week 15: Home against the Browns. Baker Mayfield and the hottest bad brand in professional sports. This game will increase in value exponentially if Kyler Murray is playing for the Cardinals.

Week 16: At Seattle. Is it officially a law that the Cardinals must visit the Pacific Northwest in late December, when it’s wet, dark, depressing and among the worst ways to close out a football season?

It’s up to Keim and Kingsbury to change the narrative. If they know what they’re doing.

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

Dan Bickley

Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz sits on the bench during the first half of a preseason NFL ...
Dan Bickley

Zach Ertz trade is proof the Cardinals are all in for 2021

Zach Ertz has pedigree. He has a Super Bowl ring. His presence is a declaration. He is proof the Cardinals are all in to win in 2021.
5 days ago
Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt (99) celebrates a defensive stop against the San Francisc...
Dan Bickley

Cardinals earn forgettable win over 49ers to stay atop NFC West

Victories last forever. Even when they’re instantly forgettable. The Cardinals played one of those games on Sunday.
10 days ago
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals looks on during the second quarter in the game ...
Dan Bickley

Kingsbury’s turnaround with Cardinals starting to silence some doubters

Six weeks ago, Kliff Kingsbury’s seat was the hottest in professional football. Now he is among the early favorites to win Coach of the Year.
11 days ago
Owner Robert Sarver stands with the Western Conference Championship trophy after the Suns beat the ...
Dan Bickley

Sarver’s past makes stalled Deandre Ayton contract talks alarming

The Suns are playing a dangerous game. They are perilously close to contaminating elite team chemistry. They might kill the vibe entirely.
15 days ago
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, left, avoids the rush from Los Angeles Rams outside lin...
Dan Bickley

Cardinals leave Los Angeles with something bigger than a win

Dan Bickley says the Arizona Cardinals left Los Angeles with a big ‘L’ on Sunday: legitimacy.
16 days ago
Head coaches Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams and Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals shake ...
Dan Bickley

Cardinals win over unbeaten Rams could lead to next big NFC West rivalry

Sunday could mark a fundamental shift in Valley fandom, the moment when the Rams replace the Seahawks as our most heated divisional rivalry.
20 days ago
Arizona Cardinals schedule offers early comfort zone for Kliff Kingsbury