Cardinals learn very different bye week lessons in 2019, 2020

Nov 2, 2020, 2:37 PM | Updated: 4:47 pm

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury watches play against the Dallas Cowboys in the second ...

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury watches play against the Dallas Cowboys in the second half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Wouldn’t it be nice if it was all about football?

The Arizona Cardinals learned valuable lessons in 2019 after Kliff Kingsbury’s first bye week as an NFL coach. And they learned an unrelated, very 2020 lesson after this past weekend.

Last year, the Cardinals wanted to rest and reset during their Week 12 bye after having suffered four straight losses. Suffering a blowout in the first game after it, they realized they’d detached from football too much.

So the 2020 version exited their weekend off on Monday by remembering 2019’s bye week — and with a fresh reminder to remain cautious amid a pandemic.

“When we leave the building, we got to do a better job of trying to be safe as possible,” defensive tackle Corey Peters said after two teammates, including linebacker Devon Kennard, tested positive for coronavirus this week.

In Week 13 last year, the Cardinals put forth their worst performance in 23 games of the Kingsbury era.

A 34-7 defeat to the Los Angeles Rams was Kyler Murray’s worst performance in his career by QBR and passer rating, put defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s job stability in question and even heated up the seat of general manager Steve Keim, at least in outside perception.

Kingsbury’s staff didn’t forget it.

“I think just addressing it and understanding last year coming off the bye was the one game since I’ve been here that I felt we were just non-competitive,” Kingsbury said. “I thought we had a bad week of practice. It rolled right into Thanksgiving. It was kind of a combination of things, and we were awful against the Rams.

“They kind of embarrassed us, so just addressing it, and making sure guys understand we’ve got to stay more locked in this year. We have to individually take it upon ourselves to keep the focus and stay dialed in and stay on this energy that we’re on right now.”

The loss to Los Angeles marked an evolutionary marker in Kingsbury still young tenure.

The Cardinals purged veterans like Tramaine Brock (and a week later Terrell Suggs), turning to youth and looking to the future. They moved Haason Reddick from inside to outside linebacker and what followed was a relatively successful 2-2 finish.

Coronavirus testing protocols this year kept Arizona players in town during the bye. They had morning blocks of testing times at the Tempe practice facility.

Because of those protocols, players were more apt to spend time in the weight room, on the field or in film rooms during the week off.

“I was just surprised,” Peters said Monday. “I’ve never seen so many guys using the weight room, out on the field during a bye week when it’s not mandatory.”

Kingsbury said the first week of the bye let him get ahead on film before Arizona hosts the Miami Dolphins on Sunday and the Buffalo Bills next week. The head coach did, however, shut it down to relax over Halloween weekend.

“I bought a bunch of candy and nobody showed up,” he said.

“I actually got to the point in the night where I went and set the candy outside in case there were stragglers, but zero Halloween people.”

Offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum’s only football-related interactions over the weekend came in conversations with family in Texas, whose concerns over the Dallas Cowboys mounted.

“I cut it all off, honestly,” Beachum said. “It’s a time I can call all my aunties, uncles and grandparents and actually spend quality time with family. Down in Texas, everybody is a Cowboys fan, so I got to hear their woes about what’s going on in Texas.”

The time off gave running back Kenyan Drake, safety Jalen Thompson and Maxx Williams a free week to rest and rehab ankle injuries. Thompson and Williams appear ahead of Drake, who injured himself in the Seattle win before the bye.

Kingsbury called all three “day-to-day.”

Spiking coronavirus numbers across the United States perhaps correlated with several positive COVID-19 tests on other teams and the two new cases on Arizona’s roster. Concerns about the virus hitting Arizona hard seem minimal inside the locker room.

“Luckily, the contact tracing was limited and yesterday’s test results were all negative,” Kingsbury said.

For the Cardinals, who are looking to ride the momentum of three wins in a row, there’s still optimism to grasp at after the unusual week off.

Even if it’s not related to the football field at all.

“Honestly, I’m surprised we haven’t seen more positive tests across the league,” Peters said.

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