There’s something about the Arizona Cardinals that — if we’re being honest — we haven’t been quite sure about.
Maybe it’s East Coast media bias. Maybe it’s them being outsiders to the NFL’s traditional group of elite teams.
Maybe it’s that they run an unconventional offense with an unconventional quarterback. Or perhaps its that all the other teams in the NFC West, where the Cardinals play, are indeed NFL legacy teams and the Cardinals haven’t been that since they left St. Louis.
The point is the Cardinals don’t feel like they’re a powerhouse.
Except, well, they’re a powerhouse.
They’re the NFL’s only undefeated team.
That unconventional offense and quarterback are outstanding. They’re leading all those other legacy teams in the NFC West. And, oh yes, Arizona just beat COVID-19.
Did you notice?
Because in overcoming the Cleveland Browns on the road on Sunday, the Cardinals played without their head coach and offensive play-caller, without their quarterbacks coach and without their All-Pro center.
Head coach Kliff Kingbury, fully vaccinated, missed Sunday’s game because he tested positive for COVID. So did QBs coach Cam Turner, general manager Steve Keim, and defensive tackle Zach Allen.
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who was the head coach in Denver for two seasons, took over the majority of the head coaching duties and earned the impressive 37-14 victory over Cleveland.
“It’s been a rough week with losing our head coach and a couple guys to COVID,” Joseph admitted after the win. “It’s been an up and down week, but our team leaders were great all week. No one wavered, no one blinked. The staff didn’t blink. Every day it was bad news and no one blinked – not one time.
“Even Saturday morning at practice when the players knew that Kliff was down for the game, there were no worries. There was really an excitement to go play a really good football team. The boys performed. This staff is amazing. It’s a great football staff. It’s our third year all together, and that helps, having continuity like this.
“Kliff, obviously with his offense has coaches to call as he would call it. We didn’t miss a beat offensively. It was aggressive. It was the way Kliff would have called the game. Obviously on defense, I was there and (Cardinals Asst. HC/Special Teams Coordinator) Jeff (Rodgers) was there on (special) teams. Nothing was different from the first five weeks.”
Nothing includes quarterback Kyler Murray, that unconventional quarterback who happens to lead the NFL with a 73.8 completion percentage. He was as he’s been much of this season, which is to say outstanding.
Murray led scoring drives on all five first-half possessions against Cleveland. He tied his career high with four TD passes, enjoyed his third-best career QB rating (129.0) and did not turn the football over.
This with wide receivers coach Spencer Whipple, who had never called plays on any level he’s coached, calling the plays for Arizona.
“The odds seemed kind of stacked against us,” Murray said. “For us, it was pretty much an opportunity to come out here and prove ourselves against a good team. We had to come out here and handle it the way we needed to handle it.”
Bill Belichick’s disappointing coaching tree
Add Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores and New York Giants coach Joe Judge to the expanding list of former Bill Belichick disciples who have or are failing as head coaches.
That list previously included Matt Patricia, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, and even Romeo Crennel — all fired after getting their chance to lead a team.
Judge is 7-15 in his second season, including 1-5 this season. Flores is 16-22 without a playoff appearance in his third season, including 1-5 this season.
What’s the common problem?
This: All these coaches learned and generally followed the Belichick way in the manner they handled players, set organizational priorities, and dealt with people both inside and outside their organization.
All of them ruled with an iron fist — as in, their way or the highway. All refused to stray from principles they learned under Belichick, even when those were failing. There was, at times, a feeling of paranoia, fear and even repression in locker rooms, according to multiple players.
In short, the Belichick disciples didn’t exactly make coming to work every day a fun experience.
They relied on gameday success to be everyone’s reward. Except none of them enjoyed consistent success on game days, so the formula often failed because there was no payoff for accepting the exhausting work atmosphere.
This approach typically works with young players for a while because they don’t know any better. But it often meets resistance from veterans, which is why all the teams the disciples joined had to jettison so many veteran players.
Another problem is even the young players can turn away from the Belichickian approach after a while.
All of Belichick’s disciples believed it wasn’t good to raise any individual player above the rest.
The problem is all players are different. Some need to feel empowered, and when they aren’t, they can react negatively.
That was the problem with McDaniels in Denver with Jay Cutler. That has at times been the issue in Miami with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, receiver Kenny Stills, and even sometimes cornerback Xavien Howard.
Belichick could get away with it because Tom Brady, who was clearly the reason the Patriots dominated for two decades, allowed himself to be grouped with everyone else and yelled at more than anyone, even as he was becoming arguably the best player in NFL history.
But not everyone shares Brady’s willingness to be the first in line for blame when things are rough. Also, none of the Belichick disciples enjoyed a Brady type talent on their roster.
They did, however, wear on people. With perhaps Crennel as the lone exception, all the Belichick disciples were hard to work with and for, according to past players and people within their organizations.
And after a while, some players wanted out. Some assistant coaches wanted out. Top assistant coaching talent didn’t want to join in when vacancies happened. It’s not for everyone, folks.
Brady also eventually wanted to exit, although it took two decades. One reason he was able to last so long was the reward — six Super Bowls — was so high.
None of the other Belichick disciples have been able to offer their players such a reward, even as they act like insufferable mini-me Belichicks in other areas.
And so the paranoia, the hard practices, the hard meetings, and long hours with little leeway and little reward take their toll.
“After a while, it’s hard to buy into what a guy’s preaching when what he’s preaching isn’t working,” one former Lions player told OutKick. “You’re like, ‘Whatever man, let us play, let’s go, and see if that works, ’cause your way ain’t working.'”
Dan Campbell might make Jared Goff cry
Last week, Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell cried during his press conference because he felt the pain of another heartbreaking loss amid the hard work and preparation and guts his team showed against the Minnesota Vikings.
Well, the Lions lost again this week, this time 34-11 to the Cincinnati Bengals.
And the coach whose team is the NFL’s only winless team went after his own quarterback Jared Goff in his press conference.
“I will say this, I don’t feel like, I don’t feel like we can accurately judge him one way or another. I don’t feel that way yet,” Campbell said. “Now, I will say this”
— There was a long awkward pause as Campbell collected his thoughts —
“I feel like he needs to step up more than he has. And I think he needs to help us, you know, just like everybody else. And I think he’s going to need to put a little bit of weight on his shoulders here and it’s time to step up, make some throws and do some things.”
Goff threw for 202 yards with 1 interception against the Bengals. He’s got 7 touchdowns and 4 interceptions on the season but simply hasn’t been dynamic.
One thing: While it’s great for the media that Campbell is so transparent and raw in press conferences, the expectation is that he was not speaking with Goff or any player through the press.
The expectation is Campbell was merely repeating something he’d already told Goff face-to-face. Otherwise, something’s amiss.
This and that
— The Dallas Cowboys were penalized 12 times for 115 yards in their victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday. And defensive end Randy Gregory wasn’t a big fan of the work from the officiating crew.
“I think it was a poorly called game by the refs, if I’m going to be honest,” Gregory said. “But you have to fight through it. We only worry about ourselves and that’s what we did. Luckily, we came out with the win.”
— Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw two more interceptions in his team’s victory over the Washington Football Team. It was his second consecutive game with multiple interceptions, and he has 8 interceptions this year. He had 6 interceptions all of last year.
— The Aaron Rodgers “I own you” moment after scoring on a 3-yard scramble against the Chicago Bears was classic. And he’s not wrong.
Rodgers is 22-5 during his career against the Bears, including the postseason. And he’s thrown 57 TD passes to 10 interceptions in those games. He does own them.
–The Jaguars went 399 days without a win before Sunday’s 23-20 victory over the Dolphins in London.
The Jaguars had not made a field goal before Sunday’s game. They were 0-for-4. They connected on two field goals against the Dolphins — from 54- and 53-yards out — including the game winner as time expired.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero