DAN BICKLEY

Cardinals trending in wrong direction after another concerning loss

Dec 6, 2020, 7:44 PM | Updated: Dec 7, 2020, 11:25 am
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) heads to his sidelines after a three and out against...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) heads to his sidelines after a three and out against the Los Angeles Rams during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Their record is mediocre. Their body language is brutal.

A team with Super Bowl aspirations should be likable and unbeatable. The Cardinals are beatable and suddenly unlikeable. They are frequently unwatchable.

It’s proving time in the NFL, and they are heading in the wrong direction.

Following another TKO against the Rams, the Cardinals are also 6-6 with an anchor. They are a Hail Mary away from a five-game losing streak. They have lost their grip on a playoff berth and are sinking fast, a football team in disbelief and disarray.

“We’re 6-6 and we have a month left, guaranteed,” Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “And anything can happen.”

The Cardinals never quit on Sunday. They posted three second-half touchdowns on the Rams, something no other team has accomplished in 2020. But each time the Cardinals barked in the second half, the Rams bit back.

Arizona’s defense was mostly toast by then, gassed from serious overuse in the first 30 minutes of action. Kyler Murray’s flickering MVP candidacy was officially extinguished with a key fumble and a pick-six in the second half. But here’s what is unforgivable:

Their second-half resurgence seemed to center on actually throwing passes to the best offensive player on the field.

I’m sorry, but getting the ball to DeAndre Hopkins shouldn’t be a halftime adjustment. It should be a death sentence for opposing defense, from start to finish.

Murray is obviously struggling. He made some beautiful throws against the Rams. He made some throws that were deflected at the line of scrimmage. Only rarely did he throw the ball deep. Once again, his legs were not a factor.

“Honestly, I think we kind of hit a wall, as far as offensively,” Murray said. “I think (the) first half of the season, it was kind of effortless. We were moving the ball, having fun, playing fast, stuff like that.”

There are issues with Kingsbury that aren’t that surprising: penalties, discipline and the attention to detail are all exacerbated in a user-friendly program where the head coach is embedded on one side of the football. But you expected his offense to be next-level elite.

Except his offense has no real identity. It looks nothing like the Rams offense, and Kingsbury had the better quarterback on Sunday. His offense is rarely in rhythm and rarely stacks impressive, coherent drives on top of one another.

In the end, Kingsbury has left the success of this team at the mercy of Murray’s wild scrambles, and that’s not fair to the quarterback.

Kingsbury originally sold himself to the Cardinals on his detailed plan to elevate Josh Rosen, the No. 10 pick in the 2018 NFL draft. Can you imagine what that would’ve looked like?

It’s fair to expect much more from this offense after 28 games. The Giants beat the Seahawks with Colt McCoy on Sunday. The Jaguars almost upset the Vikings with Mike Glennon. And Kingsbury should be doing a lot more to grow the talents of Murray, rolling him out, creating both throwing lanes for his quarterback and separation for his receivers.

Instead, the only time Kingsbury surprises the audience is on fourth down. He did it on Sunday, when a gutsy 4th-and-12 conversion seemed to light a temporary fire under his team. But this offense is still mostly garbage. An offense that had zero receptions from the receiver trio of Hopkins, Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella in the first half.

“Just not on the same page as a unit,” Cardinals offensive lineman D.J. Humphries said. “For the most part, it seemed like we were all off-kilter as a unit.”

After the game, Kingsbury told his players they still had time to achieve all their goals. He told the media that the leadership in the room was good. The latter is highly debatable, given on the on-field demeanor of both Murray and Hopkins, and the lack of camaraderie that jumps from the screen.

This should mark the beginning of a great long-term partnership between the two of them. Instead, there are a lot of mad-dogging and hairy eyeballs going on. It’s not a winning vibe. And it’s no longer a winning team.

It is awful what’s become of this season and this NFC West rivalry. Remember when Bruce Arians mocked the Rams and beat the Rams with regularity? Sean McVay is now 7-0 against the Cardinals, and most of the games have been non-competitive. As if the Dodgers and the Lakers weren’t enough of a thorn in our backside.

“We do not feel like a 6-6 ball club,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “But we are.”

As if 2020 hasn’t been hard enough.

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