DAN BICKLEY

Kliff Kingsbury has entire NFL circling Cardinals on the calendar

Aug 16, 2019, 4:29 PM | Updated: 4:31 pm

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals leads his team onto the field during the NFL pr...

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals leads his team onto the field during the NFL preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers at State Farm Stadium on August 08, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Chargers 17-13. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Oh snap. The Cardinals have an image problem.

The rest of the NFL thinks our football team is made of tissue paper. The officials don’t appreciate their clap-clap college cuteness. Rex Ryan warns us that a storm is coming. Some think Arizona is a scourge to be driven from the game, like Oakland’s Lamarcus Joyner, who just branded the 2019 Cardinals in the most disrespectful way possible:

Pretty Boy Football.

Welcome to the NFL, Kliff.

“Yeah, he’s a really good player. I have a ton of respect for him. And I’m very confident in our offense,” Kingsbury responded.

The head coach better be right about his pet project because here’s what we have learned after eight quarters of preseason football: The Cardinals are not a physical team. Their defense is apparently wasting time practicing against a top-secret Kingsbury offense, getting thrashed and gashed by two real opponents in two embarrassing displays.

That defense is also down three starters for the first six weeks: Patrick Peterson (suspended), Robert Alford (injured) and Darius Philon (released). And they show no inclination to stop the run, a necessary foundation for every good football team.

I believe Murray will be better for this debacle against the Raiders. Too much had come too easy for the young quarterback, from Indianapolis (scouting combine) to Nashville (NFL draft) to his debut against the Chargers (rave reviews). This will bring some humility and fear back into the equation. He was chased by bloodthirsty Raiders twice his size and nearly as fast. This was his reality check.

But the defense is a mess, in need of reinforcements. So is the collective attitude, according to general manager Steve Keim, who said some players are too comfortable. He threatened to replace up to 15 current Cardinals on Aug. 31, when the market is flooded with talent released by other teams.

There will be a few good players available. But there’s not much time to learn or assimilate. And building a chunk of your roster on leftovers is not the way to inspire confidence in the community, the locker room or usher in a new era of football.

The target on their backs only compounds their problems.

The Cardinals have their critics, indignant, old-school and inflexible. They believe Keim mocked the position by hiring a failed college coach. In a desperate attempt to find the next Sean McVay unicorn. By thinking they can reinvent the sport, a violent world and the real Game of Thrones.

That has made the Cardinals a date to circle on the calendar. If Jon Gruden can get that worked up about Murray’s clapping, imagine what Sean Payton is cooking up in New Orleans. And every team Arizona faces from this point forward will represent another bully on the way to school, ready to challenge the Cardinals’ fortitude and toughness.

Worried?

“I’m not,” Kingsbury said. “Obviously we’d like to start faster and not have those penalties and make some of those plays. But that’s football.”

The Pretty Boy Football moniker is not going away until the Cardinals prove otherwise, and Joyner’s nickname surely carried a double meaning, a reference to Kingsbury’s persona as a celebrity bachelor. The guy who dazzled recruit’s mothers and spoke to sororities at Texas Tech. The guy who complained that his appearance on Madden 20 needed some more Ryan Gosling effects. We know he’s more than a pretty face. But to the rest of the league, he’s a guy that got the job after three consecutive losing seasons in college.

That’s a heavy burden of proof facing this football team. But like any other form of bullying, it will not stop until the Cardinals stand up for themselves. Until the offensive line pushes the pile or David Johnson rushes for a first down. Until the Cardinals show a little bit of the old school, the physicality born from conviction and inspiration.

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.

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