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After what could only be described as one of the best weekend’s of playoff football in recent memory, the 2021-22 NFL Divisional Round left many feeling both exhausted and exfiltrated. For the first time in league history, all four contests were decided on the final play. While no game was perfect, each team demonstrated an innate ability to battle through adversity no matter how ugly the situation became. From San Francisco’s triumph at Lambeau Field despite scoring no offensive touchdowns, to the LA Rams surviving Tom Brady, this past weekend was a showcase of mental toughness.
In other words, it was a display of “dogs”.
In football terms, a “dog” is player who consistently demonstrates a mentality to endure while dishing out punishment. A dog is someone whom teammates can feel confident entering the foxhole with knowing they’ll come out the other side. A dog is an ass kicker, a tone-setter, an accountability holder, a leader.
Deebo Samuel is a dog. Chris Jones is a dog. Joe Burrow is a dog. Aaron Donald is a dog.
Which begs the question, as it relates to the Arizona Cardinals, who on this team qualifies as a dog?
One could certainly include the likes of Budda Baker and J.J. Watt. Outside of that, however, it appears to be slim pickings for the lone NFC West playoff team that will not be on display during this weekend’s NFC Championship Game. That’s because, in the season’s most important stretch, the Arizona Cardinals were unceremoniously disrobed week after week by far more physical teams. This of course culminating a mere seven days ago in which Sean McVay’s LA Rams took Kliff Kingsbury’s mostly dog-less team to the woodshed for all to see on Monday Night Football.
The 34-11 defeat was a hearken back to what many have always labled the Kingsbury-led Cardinals as.
“It’s pretty boy football,” former Raider safety Lamarcus Joyner famously said back in 2019. “It don’t allow the defense to play the game physical like the game was meant to be. When you go against an offense like that, you have to introduce that physicality to them because they don’t want to do that.”
Three years later and much of what Joyner proclaimed still rings true. In fact, it remains the opinion of the Cardinals by many around the NFL.
To end the season, the Cardinals were miserable at generating a push at either line of scrimmage. Their pass rush was non-existent, as was a once prominent running game. Without DeAndre Hopkins, the team’s receiving core was all finesse while their defensive back seven routinely allowed big plays thanks to a slew of missed tackles. Most importantly, unlike both the 49ers and the Rams, the Cardinals finished the season like a team that would rather lay down rather than fight for their wins.
There was no greater example of this than the team’s horrific 30-12 loss at the then 1-11-1 Lions.
Fair or not, the labels of “pretty boy” and “soft” now encompass an Arizona Cardinal culture that desperately needs an infusion of dogs. Assuming both return, Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim will have an opportunity to once again attempt to reshape this roster for what is assumed to be a make-or-break 2022 campaign. Pivoting off overpaid veterans, ala Devon Kennard and Jordan Phillips, and bringing in alpha talents similiar to their NFC West counterparts would go a long way in remedying this ongoing issues.
It should be the organizations upmost priority to find the next Anquan Boldin, Darnell Dockett and Adrian Wilson.
Regardless of position, it’s time the find the next generation of dogs in the desert.
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