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Dan Bickley

Talent-deficient roster on full display in Cardinals’ lopsided defeat

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury watches play during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — NFL zombies come out in December. They’re the dull-eyed men who’ve lost all interest and hope. The ones who’d rather play dead than play football.

Stunningly, the Cardinals looked the part on Sunday.

Sleepwalking. Disinterested. A team that used their bye week to hibernate and decompress rather than get better. A team that clearly lost its edge.

The Rams won by a score of 34-7. It felt much worse than that. A better barometer is the discrepancy in total yards, where Los Angeles outgained Arizona by a disgusting margin (549-198).

This is a terrible look for the coaching staff and the players. The kind that can cost grown men their jobs.

“Just wasn’t acceptable,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “It was the first game all year I didn’t think we competed like we’re able to. I didn’t think we had the juice, coaches or players. Fans deserve better. This community deserves better than the product like that after a month off and coming back home.”

And how could possibly happen? At a time when Kingsbury was looking for just the opposite, hoping his players would seize an opportunity to finish the season with real strength and momentum.

“That’s something we have to figure out,” he said.

This game will make it increasingly difficult to retain Vance Joseph, the defensive coordinator handpicked by general manager Steve Keim. The results are almost as horrifying as what Mike McCoy brought to Arizona’s offense in 2018, another Keim specialty.

No issues have been resolved on defense. Except for a handful of performers, nothing is getting better on that side of the ball. Opposing receivers are still wide open in space, and six Rams players had chunk receptions of at least 20 yards on Sunday.

Too many Cardinals defenders are still missing assignments and putting up their hands in confusion. They still can’t cover tight ends, still can’t generate consistent pressure and still can’t make key stops on third down.

Meanwhile, the return of Patrick Peterson from a six-game suspension has done little to elevate the group.

To the contrary, Peterson found himself being blocked by Rams quarterback Jared Goff on a broken play in the second half. Peterson could’ve seized the opportunity to knock Goff into next week but chose to do nothing. It was symbolic of the lukewarm effort that marked the afternoon, and you could see a multitude of Cardinals fans streaming for the exits early in the second half. You could almost hear television sets turning off across the Valley.

This is not supposed to be happening at this point in our NFL evolution, and it once again indicts a paper-thin, talent-deficient roster put forth by the GM.

“(The Rams) came out and looked like a team that was in the Super Bowl 10 months ago, and we didn’t,” Kingsbury said. “We didn’t play like we’ve been playing, with the same intensity, effort and passion, things we’ve had all year. Even when the execution wasn’t there, we fought. We didn’t look like the same team tonight.”

The biggest question isn’t whether Joseph loses his job after yet another clunky defensive performance. It’s whether Michael Bidwill sees bigger issues and chooses to replace Keim, even though the GM seems to have made prudent choices in Kingsbury and Kyler Murray.

Truth is, the dramatic failures from recent coordinators have been amplified by substandard personnel provided by the GM. And at this point, would you trust Keim to rebuild this defense?

Me, neither.

Even more shocking was the offensive performance. Entering the game, the Cardinals hadn’t posted consecutive scoreless quarters all season long. They had moved the ball consistently against some of the NFL’s best defensive foes. They did nothing against a Rams defense that allowed 100 points combined in losses to the Ravens and Buccaneers.

I’ll give Murray a mulligan for this ragged performance. He’s been terrific for most of his rookie season. He’s earned the right to have a bad game. But the 2019 Cardinals have now lost five consecutive games, something the 2018 Cardinals never did.

And for all of his foibles and detractors in 2018, Steve Wilks actually kicked off his December with an upset win in Green Bay.

His successors coughed up a hairball.

To his credit, Kingsbury’s Cardinals had forged a reputation for tremendous effort, even in defeat. But on this awful Sunday, it looked like the Cardinals had lost sight of the fight. The whole team was suddenly playing like David Johnson. And that was the worst part of this recurring horror show against the Rams.

The Cardinals looked zombies. And that’s the last thing you expected from a new coach and a new era of football.

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