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NFL Draft

Blame Game: Who Is To Blame For 2020 Arizona Cardinals?

  • The Draft Network
  • January 14, 2021
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The Arizona Cardinals needed one win; that one win in Week 17, against NFC West rivals, the Los Angeles Rams, would have resulted in their first winning season in five years and a return to the playoffs. The Cardinals, who have struggled at different points this season, weren’t able to put it way against the depleted Rams. 

Arizona’s season is over, and now a greater look at the anomaly of what was once a mildly successful year must take place. There are a number of culprits for the Cardinals missing out on the postseason again, but none are as evident as the team’s problems on offense. 

The Cardinals are far from a complete team. They had a top-10 pass defense but a middling run defense. This, however, was a huge improvement from being one of the NFL’s worst defensive units in 2019. The ascending stars, including well-paid safety Budda Baker and cornerback Byron Murphy, can help revamp Arizona’s secondary with further improvements. The Cardinals need to add more talent to their backfield to help combat a pass-happy league and divisional foes, like Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. The blame doesn’t lie here, though. It falls, almost entirely, on the offense.

Kyler Murray Can’t Do It All

Kyler Murray is a dynamic quarterback; that’s undeniable. But Arizona’s offense cannot run its offense solely on one aspect of Murray’s dual-threat abilities. He’s not the perfect passer and needs better pass-catchers, aside from wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, to effectively push the ball down the field. Murray was close to becoming the first quarterback to throw for at least 4,000 yards and rush for at least 1,000; he finished the season with 3,971 passing yards and 819 rushing yards with 37 total touchdowns. 

It was an incredible feat despite another missed postseason and a slight fall from grace after entering the season with high hopes and expectations. It was very reminiscent of his first year when he won Offensive Rookie of the Year while the Cardinals went 5-10-1. Now, after his second season, there’s even more proof that this offense can’t be carried by Murray alone. If the Cardinals will only go as far as Murray’s rushing ability will allow, they’ll continue to put up meger records and miss the playoffs altogether. 

HC Kliff Kingsbury’s Losing His Shine 

Murray’s deficiencies as a passer—mainly exhibited in his uncomfortableness in the pocket and inability to attack the middle of the field—are exacerbated by head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s ineffective play calling. There’s a reason why the key factors of Arizona’s struggles are directly tied to its offense. Kingsbury was billed as Sean McVay 2.0. He was the young offensive stud that would come into the league and take it by storm. Now, after his second season, there’s even more proof that this line of thinking (and hiring) doesn’t always work out—sound familiar? 

Kingsbury is a coach that was bred from NCAA’s Air Raid offense. The Cardinals acquired Hopkins during the offseason to add to their passing attack; it perfectly set up a high-octane passing attack. Kingsbury should have wowed us all with creative play-calling, but Arizona struggled on third down and could have used Hopkins better. There were areas the Cardinals did improve under Kingsbury, specifically in the red zone, which should give fans hope that they’ll see continued improvements in the areas that hurt the offense in 2020. If Kingsbury puts up another lackluster season, though, it will leave everyone with more questions than answers.

Offensive Depth

Nothing is more frustrating than seeing an elite quarterback wasting a season in an offense lacking support. It’s been following Wilson in Seattle with a bad offensive line and issues in the backfield. It plagued the Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson, who, without Hopkins, was sorely lacking weapons. The same can be said for the Cardinals. 

Arizona needs a deeper running back room and receiver corps. Veteran Larry Fitzgerald could have played his last snap; his looming retirement decision could “be a while.” Besides Hopkins and Fitzgerald—who served more as a leader than a top receiver—there was Christian Kirk (who finished the season with 621 receiving yards) and tight end Dan Arnold (who ended the year with 438 yards). One can’t criticize Murray as a passer without also addressing the fact he has no secondary options to pass to. The lack of depth extends to the backfield as well.

This iteration of the blame game builds upon one another, but it was intended to do just that. Part of what made the Cardinals so frustrating was their extensive issues on offense. Once these are addressed, with the continued effort of a budding defense, Arizona could be contenders.

Final verdict

Each of the Cardinals’ biggest culprits have been outlined, but who (or what) owns the greatest claim of credit for Arizona’s disappointing 2020 season? In order of most to least blame:

  • Kingsbury’s play-calling has been underwhelming.
  • The offense needs depth.
  • The Cardinals can’t solely rely on Murray.

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