ARIZONA CARDINALS

SI’s Breer: Kliff Kingsbury was on to Houston as Cardinals closed out Browns

Oct 18, 2021, 8:00 PM

It looked like the Arizona Cardinals knew what they were doing Sunday.

A 37-14 win against the Cleveland Browns didn’t come without a frenzy on Friday, when the team learned head coach Kliff Kingsbury was among those who would miss the game due to a positive COVID-19 test.

But the game plan was in place.

It just came down to handing off Kingsbury’s duties. Defensive coordinator and acting head coach Vance Joseph said the staff regrouped Friday night to divvy up duties.

“It was more about the group effort than one guy,” Joseph told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke. “Most of our work is done during the week. The beauty of coach not being positive until Friday was most of the work was done. The entire game plan was in, it was vetted … Saturday morning all he missed was a quick walk-through Saturday morning and a quick walk-through Saturday night.

“For the players it was very normal. … He had the sheet organized where the guys could call it easily.”

According to follow-up reporting from Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer and NBC’s Peter King, the thought process was about keeping things as close to normal as possible.

With quarterbacks coach Cam Turner also out with COVID-19, Kingsbury gave assistant receivers coach Spencer Whipple the play-calling headset. Why?

That helped keep run game coordinator Sean Kugler in his usual role as the first person in the play-caller’s ear with run game decisions. Whipple, however, called pass plays from the already completed game plan.

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph took on the head-coaching duties, while special teams coach Jeff Rodgers took the challenge flag that Kingsbury usually carries. But for the 32-year-old Whipple and the rest of the staff, the Cardinals wanted to keep the rules simple: Call things as Kingsbury would.

That included a 4th-and-2 with 2:20 left. With the backups in, Arizona went for it and converted with a Jonathan Ward rush.

According to Breer, Kingsbury accepted he would be unable to contribute and from home for most of the game was already planning for next week’s matchup against the Houston Texans.

The funny thing about that drive is Kingsbury missed all of that. Back home in Arizona, he actually decided to use the three-hour block the game was played in to work ahead on the Texans, the Cardinals’ opponent next week, while keeping track of the score of his team’s game on his phone.

Finally, with about three minutes left, he decided to tune in, most because he was happy for the guys and wanted to see them celebrate a win they’d so richly earned.

Aside from a few needed timeouts, the offense flowed well with the system put in place late Friday.

Rodgers, according to King, had calming advice for Whipple, who had only called plays prior as an assistant coach at UMass against South Florida.

Plus, as special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers told Whipple: “It’s not like you’re going to be driving a minivan. You’re taking the keys to a Ferrari in this game.”

Quarterback Kyler Murray — the Ferrari — went 20-of-30 for 229 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions while running Whipple’s plays from Kingsbury play-sheet. Whipple told King that he gained comfort on the first drive of the day.

The play he recalled fondly after the game was the first touchdown. Arizona had a third-and-19 at the Cleveland 21 on the opening drive. Murray’s favorite play on third-and-long was a corner route to Christian Kirk; if the Cards ran it right, Kirk should have single-coverage. “I just thought, ‘Kyler loves it, so let’s call it,’“ said Whipple.

The completion put the Cardinals up, 7-0.

Arizona rolled from there.

Toward the end of the game, with the Cardinals up big, they went heavily to the run behind the play-calls of Kugler. On their second-to-last drive, they burned 7:18 off the clock and scored a touchdown.

Kingsbury may not have been completely attentive to the game, but he made sure to send a message to his emergency play-caller afterword, per King.

The text: “Congrats! Hard work pays off!”

Arizona Cardinals

(HBO Photo)...
Tyler Drake

HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks In Season’ to feature Cardinals

The Cardinals will be featured on HBO's 'Hard Knocks In Season' for 2022, becoming the second NFL team to do so for the midseason series.
11 hours ago
Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals looks on before the game against the Los Angeles Rams in t...
Arizona Sports

Kyler Murray reportedly will not be at Cardinals OTAs that begin Monday

ESPN's Adam Schefter added there is no news on the contract front regarding Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals.
11 hours ago
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) is congratulated by tight end Maxx Williams (87) aft...
Arizona Sports

NFL Network’s Frelund leaves Cardinals off list of top NFL offenses

The Arizona Cardinals have not had a top-10 scoring offense since head coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray arrived in 2019.
1 day ago
New Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Marquise Brown answers a question at a news conference at the C...
Tom Kuebel

Arizona Cardinals’ Hollywood Brown could be next in line for big contract

The Cardinals made one of the most surprising moves on draft day by trading out of the first round for receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown.
2 days ago
Keaontay Ingram #28 of the USC Trojans runs as he is chased by Ricky Miezan #45 of the Stanford Car...
Arizona Sports

NFL.com’s Reuter: Cardinals’ Ingram among late picks with chance to start

NFL Network draft analyst Chad Reuter placed Cardinals RB Keaontay Ingram on a list of Day 3 picks with a chance to start games in 2022.
2 days ago
J.J. Watt #99 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates in the second quarter against the Houston Texans ...
Arizona Sports

Seven words or less: The Arizona Cardinals’ 2022 schedule

Cardinals Corner co-hosts Tyler Drake and Erik Ruby took a look at each of Arizona's matchups in -- you guessed it -- seven words or less.
3 days ago
SI’s Breer: Kliff Kingsbury was on to Houston as Cardinals closed out Browns