With the trade deadline looming, NFC West arms race heats up
The Los Angeles Rams acquired Von Miller in a blockbuster trade on Monday. Their defense is now loaded with superstar talent. Their social media team was so elated they posted a GIF from “Rounders,” the one where John Malkovich’s character throws his chips to the center of the table.
“We’re all in,” the post read.
Hours later, Russell Wilson posted a picture of the pin that was removed from his surgically repaired finger.
“No More Pin. Time to Win,” the post read.
Welcome to a dizzying arms race in the NFC West. The Arizona Cardinals recently acquired Zach Ertz, a Pro Bowl tight end. After snapping a four-game losing streak on Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers are feeling instantly rejuvenated, the ninth seed in a conference where seven teams will make the playoffs.
So, will General Manager Steve Keim make additional moves before Tuesday’s deadline, shoring up a defensive line stricken by the loss of J.J. Watt? Or does their body of work scream for patience?
The Cardinals have three impact victories on the road. Skeptics can nitpick that the Tennessee Titans weren’t paying attention in Week 1, the Rams were coming off a huge win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4 and the Cleveland Browns were decimated by injuries in Week 5. But collectively, they represent three blowout victories on the road. In the NFL, that can’t be discounted.
The Cardinals played poorly for long stretches against two bad teams, the Jaguars and the Texans. They won those games by 12 and 26 points, respectively.
Their worst performance came in a loss to Green Bay on a short week of preparation when their sideline was listless and the field was littered with mental errors. And if A.J. Green turns around, they win that game, as well.
It is also smart to add another piece upfront, if possible. Because, technically, we’re still not at the halfway point of the season. The 17th game will take a toll on everybody, and so will the schedule makers.
Of the five NFC teams likely vying for the No. 1 seed, the Cowboys and Buccaneers seem to have the easiest schedules. The Cardinals and Rams face tougher divisional opponents while Los Angeles has three marquee opponents remaining outside the NFC West (Titans, Packers, Ravens). The Packers also have two very difficult AFC opponents on their schedule (Chiefs, Ravens).
Point is, there will be much jostling and attrition ahead. And we’re just getting started.
The Cardinals might face a tough decision with Kyler Murray and his tender ankle later this week. He is a high-speed quarterback who needs fresh tires to operate. If he is more than slightly compromised in the pocket, Murray should take a week to recuperate. It’s not what I want to see, but Colt McCoy is capable of playing well enough to beat the 49ers.
Regardless, head coach Kliff Kingsbury should shelve all designed quarterback runs with his star quarterback until the playoffs near. He has plenty of other weapons at his disposal, and protecting Murray over the final nine weeks should be the top priority.
The Cardinals also need to regain the physicality that was on display in the first month of the season, notably against the Titans and Rams. They need to regain the mental edge that was missing against the Packers. They need the return of Rodney Hudson to elevate the offensive line. They need Watt to remain their spirit animal and their internal leader even though he’s about to undergo surgery and no longer a functioning asset on the field. In the end, they need to be the rare Kingsbury team that actually shines in the second half of the season, winning when it matters most.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.