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A wandering mind: Some things I hope for, some I wonder about and some I just know

Howard Balzer Avatar
September 14, 2022

I hope that Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury doesn’t really believe what he said on ArizonaSports 98.7 FM on Monday afternoon.

When asked if he was surprised by what he saw from the team against Kansas City, Kingsbury said, “I thought we were going to play at a higher level and play crisper. And it wasn’t what we anticipated at all.”

Then, when asked what the message is to the players this week in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Raiders, he said, “We gotta have a much greater sense of urgency. This league, week in and week out, you’re gonna play teams that are coming in to beat you and they’re gonna compete at a high level and if you don’t match that intensity, that focus and that level of execution, you’re gonna get embarrassed.

“That came upon us fast and our guys understand that now, so I expect our intensity and focus at practice to be much greater and should be moving forward.”

Later, co-host Ron Wolfley wondered if he was saying that the team lacked urgency and wasn’t locked in for Week 1 in the NFL, and the head coach said, “I think that they knew Week 1 was coming. But I think the level of play that the Chiefs played at was a step above probably what they anticipated. I don’t think they saw what was coming and it woke us up. There’s no doubt it showed how far we have to come in a short time to get ready to compete in this league.”

Really? Facing a team with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, led by a probable Hall-of-Fame head coach Andy Reid that has been to four consecutive AFC championship games and they were shocked by their level of play?

That’s incomprehensible. Especially when you consider Kingsbury’s comment to the media after practice on Friday when he said, “I thought we had really good focus, good energy today, one of the better practices we’ve had all camp. So guys are definitely feeling that it’s close and getting their minds right.”

Either Kingsbury has a hard time figuring out what’s going on with his players, or these are simply general observations that mask the reality that the Cardinals aren’t as good as the Chiefs and that too many players simply were outplayed.

I wonder…

Along those lines, I wonder if this whole practice debate is a waste of time when those are done mostly without pads and not anywhere close to NFL game speed. Plus, many key players aren’t practicing or are limited.

“We’ve got to practice better and there’s no doubt you can’t say you’re going to do it on game day and not do it in practice,” Kingsbury said.

His quarterback begs to differ.

“I can’t speak for everyone [but I] felt like the week was good,” Kyler Murray said after the game on Sunday. “Obviously, nothing that happens during the week matters if you don’t execute on Sunday. Everybody says what they want to say about the week, the mentality. (That) shit doesn’t matter. You come out there on Sunday, you get your ass beat.

“You can come into the game, you can wake up (with) the best feeling ever and you still get your ass beat on Sunday if you don’t execute. You got to execute. Who makes plays and who doesn’t. Teams who lose don’t make plays. That’s all it comes down to.”

I know that the Cardinals aren’t doing anything different in preseason preparation than most teams in the NFL. Kingsbury has insisted that he sees nothing wrong with the team’s approach, no matter how many times he’s asked about it.

“We did it pretty much last year and came out playing pretty well,” he said. “When you look at some of the top teams, that’s been their philosophy in this league, and it’s paid off for them as well.

“Last year, our (starting) offense maybe had two drives all preseason and came out on fire at the start of the season. So I think with the group we have, all the professionals we have in that locker room, I feel really confident in what they can do.”

When asked if he would feel the same way if the record last season were 2-5 instead of 7-0, Kingsbury said, “Yeah, I think I would. It’s hard when you look at the success the Rams have had in your division and then you’re asking your guys to go play a bunch of snaps in preseason, and they’re pointing at them, Super Bowl champions, saying, ‘Hey, it worked out for them.’ I blame (Sean) McVay for all of that.”

The truth is, McVay wasn’t the first to do it. That trend began many years ago and ramped up when the 2011 collective bargaining agreement significantly reduced practicing in pads during camp and the regular season.

Old-school coaches lament the way it is, but the current playing field is the same for everyone.

I hope…

I hope defensive coordinator Vance Joseph truly believes in the youth of his defense.

The average age of the line is 26.2 and that includes the 33-year-old JJ Watt, who was inactive Sunday. For the linebackers, it’s 25.7 and the secondary is 24.4. Aside from Watt, the oldest players are linebackers Markus Golden (31) and Nick Vigil (29).

Last week, Joseph said he is comfortable with the group, noting that nine of the 11 starters “are ours, so they know what they’re doing.”

It didn’t appear that way on Sunday, especially with too many plays where receivers ran wide open. In addition, on Kansas City’s first offensive play, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire went up the gut for nine yards. On the Chiefs’ scoring drive, three of the runs by Edwards-Helaire totaled 32 yards.

When he was stopped for no gain to set up third-and-7, Mahomes connected with wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for an 18-yard gain. Kansas City was 5-for-8 on third down in the game, while the Cardinals were 3-for-12 and at one point were 1-for-9.

Vigil, who is in his seventh NFL season, doesn’t agree with the pointed questions about practice and preparation. Like Murray did after the game, Vigil told reporters Tuesday, “It’s just execution. I think we had a good week of practice. We had a good training camp. I don’t know what happened for whatever reason, but we had some communication errors early in the game, and it cost us.

“That was the first reps we’ve got as a group together and I think it showed early on in the game. We just got to be better in communication. Just make that a point of emphasis going forward. To even have a chance in this league, everybody’s gotta be on the same page.”

Joseph will surely harp on that this week, but at the end of the day, it’s about players doing their jobs.

I wonder…

I wonder if and when Watt will be the difference-maker he was expected to be. The Cardinals were 7-0 in regular-season games Watt played in 2021 and 4-6 when he didn’t. Now, the season has started with a loss and with Watt sidelined by a calf injury.

Of 18 regular-season games, he has played seven. Since 2016, Watt has played 55 of a possible 98 games (56%). In addition to performance, the signing of Watt was for leadership. However, it’s tough to be a leader from the training room.

I know…

I know that it’s time for everyone to stop blindly repeating the initial reports that come out about player contracts.

There is always a race by national reporters to get the information on Twitter when they receive a group text from agents. That prevents the important questions from being asked. What is fully guaranteed at signing? How much of the deal is backloaded? Are there voidable years?

In the case of extensions, like the one signed last week by Cardinals linebacker Markus Golden, what is the actual new money on top of what the player was scheduled to earn in the existing contract?

The true structure of the contracts are known within a few days, but those unfortunately don’t receive as much notice as the initial reports.

That is the case with Golden’s deal after it was claimed he will make $6.5 million in 2023. Not so fast.

The two-year contract that he signed last year included a non-guaranteed $2 million base salary in 2022 along with $250,000 in per-game roster bonuses. There was also a $2 million possible incentive for sacks: $250,000 for 6.0, $250,000 for 8.0, $500,000 for 10.0 and $1 million for 13.0. With 11 sacks in 2021, Golden earned $1 million of that incentive.

The new contract lowered this year’s base salary to a guaranteed $1.5 million and included a $2 million signing bonus for a total of $3.5 million fully guaranteed. His base salary in 2023 will be $2.91 million. That’s $6.41 million in total cash for salary and signing bonus in both years plus roster bonuses at $10,000 per game that could be worth $500,000 over the two years.

The sacks level for the final $1 million was lowered to 12.0 and the $2 million total will also be in place for 2023. The salary-cap charges are $4.33 million this year and $4.16 million in 2023.

Those are the true numbers, not the misleading and incomplete information originally circulated.

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