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Dan Bickley

Problems persist for Cardinals despite positive signs against 49ers

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals looks on from the sidelines during the second half of a game against the San Francisco 49ers at State Farm Stadium on October 31, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The 49ers won 28-25. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

The NFL is a rough place for rookie head coaches. Kliff Kingsbury is learning the hard way.

His team battled. His team never quit. But the Cardinals have now lost twice in five days.

His defense is fatally flawed. His best player on Thursday was a running back who has been in Arizona for less than a week. And midway through a 28-25 loss to the 49ers on Thursday, Kingsbury made another decision that backfired badly, baffling a national audience.

Adversity has arrived. Just like it has for most of his rookie colleagues in the NFL.

“I think the effort is continuing to stand out week in and week out,” Kingsbury said. “Execution wasn’t where it needed to be tonight.”

We’ll begin with Kingsbury’s second gaffe in as many weeks. He iced his own defense with a panicky timeout at the end of the first half, nullifying a glorious goal-line stand that could’ve changed everything. Fourth down has not been his friend as of late.

The 49ers took their reprieve, scored a touchdown and happily headed off for the locker room. Meanwhile, Cardinals fans were left with a nagging question:

Huh?

“I wanted to get a Kodak timeout, one of those looks at it,” Kingsbury said. “I wanted them to hopefully burn their best play … obviously, looking back on it, I would’ve rather gotten the stop. Just didn’t work out for us this time.”

The ill-timed timeout cost the Cardinals seven points. They lost by a field goal. But even though he effectively iced his own defense, Kingsbury claimed the decision had little effect on the team.

“I don’t think it did,” he said. “We came out and played pretty well in the second half.”

The offense received an unlikely boost from newly-acquired Kenyan Drake, who was outstanding in his debut, leading the team in rushing (110 yards) and receiving. Andy Isabella finally made an impact statement with his speed. Kyler Murray continued to protect the football, posting a quarterback rating of 130.7.

Except the time for moral victories has passed. And this game lands square only the shoulders of the defense, a unit that fared well enough against the run but allowed the 49ers to go 11-for-17 on third-down conversion.

Here are the troubling trends:

Larry Fitzgerald isn’t being maximized. He was targeted only four times on Thursday. That’s derelict execution when Fitzgerald receptions always elicit incredible energy from the home crowd. He has just 46 receiving yards in the past two games combined.

Terrell Suggs continues to amass neutral zone infractions, a sure sign that he doesn’t trust his diminishing skills. Even worse, former teammate Bart Scott said Suggs chose to play in Arizona because he didn’t want to “steal from” the Ravens. Scott is a close friend of Suggs, and this is what he said on WFAN radio:

“He said, ‘I’m going to go to Arizona and steal,’” Scott said. “Yes, swear to God … And he’s still a good player. But he’s not worth the $7 million that he’s getting paid. He’s probably worth $4 million. So he said, ‘I’m not going to make you pay me $7 million, because that’s what the market says. I’m going to get it from Arizona.’ This is a fact.”

Scott’s claims sound preposterous. It just can’t be true. But it’s a bad look. So is a defense that continues to be gashed by tight ends and wide-open receivers. A defense that has allowed the last two quarterbacks to complete 62-of-80 passes for 690 yards and seven touchdowns. A defense that just received one of the worst performances in Patrick Peterson’s career.

Peterson was frequently burned by San Francisco’s Emmanuel Sanders, who is very good but not elite. The 49ers attacked the contact-shy cornerback, taking the fight to him. Their strategy prevailed.

General manager Steve Keim was adamant on not dealing Peterson before the trade deadline, which is positively bizarre given the rebuilding stage of their current evolution. Even former cornerback Charles Woodson criticized the lack of effort Peterson displayed on Thursday night.

Kingsbury’s attempt to cover for Peterson was somewhat painful, although better than Peterson’s attempt to cover the 49ers.

“I’ll have to see the film,” Kingsbury said. “He’s still getting back into playing shape and understanding our scheme. It’s the first time he’s ever played in this scheme, full-speed, in live game reps.

“There was no preseason. There was no training camp. It was limited because we had other guys taking those reps.

“You know, he’s a very good football player. A dominant football player. And I’ll have to watch the film.”

In the end, this wasn’t a bad loss. It wasn’t a funeral, even though the Cardinals were dressed in black. They played an undefeated team on Halloween and didn’t hear a boo.

But the losses are mounting. The road is calling. And the honeymoon is over for the most unlikely rookie head coach of them all.

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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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier