DAN BICKLEY

Lessons the Cardinals need to learn from 49ers-Rams NFC title matchup

Jan 25, 2022, 7:47 AM

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals watches from the sidelines during the NFL game ...

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals watches from the sidelines during the NFL game against the Los Angeles Rams at State Farm Stadium on December 13, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. The Rams defeated the Cardinals 30-23. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Football taught Arizona valuable lessons over the weekend.

We witnessed what elite NFL quarterbacks look like, the fortitude they display and the excellence they inspire. Kyler Murray has a long way to go. Let us hope he is paying attention and nodding his head in agreement.

We have learned that Kliff Kingsbury remains a giant reach for a franchise at the crossroads. If Michael Bidwill is truly on a righteous warpath, the coming months will be an uncomfortable time for the Arizona Cardinals head coach, where the hot seat has seemingly returned and his contract leverage has evaporated.

To the Valley’s dismay, the NFC Championship game will be a showcase for two NFC West teams. Neither of them are the Cardinals, who were once 10-2 and the best team in football. And the biggest fear is that the Cardinals are wasting the developmental years of Murray and his affordable contract because they are simultaneously committed to an unconventional, unproven head coach.

This is the NFL. Somewhere down the line, someone has to know what they’re doing.

That’s not a problem in San Francisco, where 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has reclaimed star status in the coaching industry. He is winning on the biggest platforms with a wounded Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback, beating the Los Angeles Rams, Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers in succession.

There was a point this season when the 49ers were 3-5, and Shanahan was technically Kingsbury’s inferior, at least in terms of their overall NFL winning percentage.

Obviously, that is no longer the case. Shanahan commands maximum effort and intensity because he gives his players a winning plan and they know it. He can be a jerk and obtuse but he can get his team out of the ditch. His game plans are excellent and his halftime adjustments even better. He gets the ball to his key players in key moments.

When Shanahan finally finds a real franchise quarterback, he will be more dangerous than Los Angeles with head coach Sean McVay and quarterback Matthew Stafford. That is saying something.

If not for a cavalcade of costly turnovers, McVay’s Rams would’ve annihilated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. Loud performances from Stafford, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and edge rusher Von Miller endorse a hyper-aggressive organizational strategy of trading off draft picks and assets and building with win-now veteran stars. They understand their star-obsessed fan base and their city’s culture.

The ugly truth: Down the stretch, both the Rams and the 49ers left the Cardinals in their dust. Their respective abilities to peak at the right time makes it seem like amateur hour in the Valley. And at some point, the Cardinals should really explain why Kingsbury’s teams stink at home and fall apart down the stretch every year. Just so we know what we’re dealing with. Just so we know they know.

During a press conference on Monday, Bidwill refused to address rumors of an intense confrontation between himself, Kingsbury and General Manager Steve Keim. But the Cardinals owner seems to be properly embarrassed by his fading football teams and their peculiar brand of stage fright.

He knows if the Rams beat the 49ers at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, they will become the second consecutive NFL franchise to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium. That’s how you create synergy in a saturated, high-end sports market.

By the way, the Super Bowl after next is at State Farm Stadium in Glendale. Kingsbury should know that is no time to be getting fired, further embarrassing the Bidwill family business.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

Dan Bickley

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