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Hoping, wondering, knowing about McCoy and Beachum's toughness, Watt's leadership

Howard Balzer Avatar
December 21, 2022

I hope …

That everyone realizes what quarterback Colt McCoy has gone through since training camp. He missed practice time during the summer with an injury and has continued to compete during the season despite more issues that have occurred during the games he’s played.

When McCoy went down against Denver, coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “It’s tough anytime you see that. I know what type of competitor he is, and to see him go down like that is scary for all of us.”

As for his toughness, Kingsbury acknowledged, “He’s been banged up quite a bit this year and played through a lot I think that people don’t see or haven’t seen. He continues to battle (through) adverse situations, continues to stay back there and take shots and try to deliver throws, so that was obviously a tough moment to watch him go down like that.”

On the play where McCoy suffered a concussion, a third-and-1 play in which he gained the yard for a first down, Kingsbury hoped running back James Conner would get the ball.

“He’s super competitive which I appreciate, but yeah, we wanted James to hit that downhill,” Kingsbury said. “He (McCoy) saw an opportunity to try and get the first down, so he pulled it and did that, but the intention was for James to get the ball, hit it downhill and get the first down.”

Had Conner gotten the carry, it’s possible McCoy and right tackle Kelvin Beachum would not have been injured.

Kingsbury has often said that McCoy could be a coach if he wanted, so the quarterback was asked about that last week. He said, “I’m not going to close the door on that by any means. Again, I love the game. I respect the game. I feel like if you respect the game, the game will give back to you a little bit. If coaching’s in my future I’d be happy to do that.”

Speaking of McCoy’s future, I wonder …

How the team will approach the quarterback position in the offseason because of the uncertainty when Kyler Murray will be able to play especially with his need to use his legs to be productive.

Will the plan be to start McCoy until Murray is ready or will another veteran be signed? Who else will be part of the group for the offseason program, OTAs and minicamp?

So many questions, so few answers.

There’s a good chance Trace McSorley will start this week with the hope McCoy can play the final two games against Atlanta and San Francisco. That 49ers game could be a scary one with that defense, but it’s also probable the game might matter little with only the second or third seed in the conference up for grabs.

McSorley had some decent moments against the Broncos, but also had two fourth-quarter interceptions with the line of scrimmage the Cardinals 27- and 16-yard line.

Kingsbury said the key will be for McSorley to “avoid the negative plays. The last few times he’s gotten (in), it’s really (been) without any reps at all, so if he can get some reps throughout the week if he ends up being the starter then I think it’ll help. (We’ve) just got to stay away from the turnovers and first- and second-down sacks. If we can stay on schedule particularly against this Tampa front, that’ll definitely help our chances.”

McSorley and David Blough will likely each have reps with the first team this week. Blough was signed off the Vikings practice squad last week.

Kingsbury said Monday, “I think we’re going to have both guys get some work this week; there’s no doubt. I think it’s only fair to David to at least get some live-type reps during the week in our system since he just got here, but Trace I see starting the game and hopefully he can play at a high level.”

“A really smart kid” is the way Kingsbury described Blough. He added, “I remember him coming out. I was at Texas Tech and (he’s) really sharp. He had a good career there at Purdue and played well the couple of times that he got to start in Detroit, so it’s been good in the room.”

The Cardinals changed the No. 3 quarterback this week with the release of Carson Strong, who was on the practice squad for six days, and the addition of James Morgan.

Morgan was a fourth-round pick of the Jets in 2020 and last season was on practice squads in Carolina, Pittsburgh, the Jets and Indianapolis. The 6-foot-4, 229-pounder signed a future contract with the Colts after the 2021 season, but was waived on May 23 and wasn’t with another team in any capacity all year.

He had signed in September to play for the USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers, whose general manager is former Cardinals safety Lonnie Young. There is the sense that the Cardinals might have committed to Morgan that he will sign a future contract when this season ends.

Speaking of decisions and Beachum, I know …

That the Cardinals have a lot to make about their offensive line in the offseason, one of them should be re-signing Beachum even though he will turn 34 next June.

He has been a rock on a beleaguered line this season and had missed only nine snaps before suffering a knee injury Sunday on the same play that  McCoy sustained a concussion.

Despite the injury, Beachum came back in the game and missed only 16 snaps. He will probably be questionable for Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, but he surely will do everything in his power to try and play.

Asked what it says about his desire to continue playing against the Broncos, Kingsbury said, “At his age, knowing where we are in our season and knowing we have our third-string quarterback in, for him to want to go back in and compete with those guys says everything you need to know about him. That’s how’s been since he’s got here. Just a consummate team player and professional.”

For the record, Beachum will be one of 31 scheduled unrestricted free agents, not 28, when the 2023 league year begins March 15. Not included in the list published last week were quarterback David Blough, tight end Maxx Williams and linebacker Ben Niemann.

Here is the entire updated list:

Quarterbacks David Blough, Trace McSorley

Wide receiver A.J. Green (contract voids)

Tight ends Stephen Anderson, Maxx Williams

Running backs Corey Clement, Darrel Williams

Offensive linemen T Kelvin Beachum, G Rashaad Coward, G Cody Ford, G Max Garcia, C/G Sean Harlow, G Will Hernandez, T Josh Miles, C Billy Price, G Justin Pugh

Defensive linemen DE Zach Allen, DT Trysten Hill, DE J.J. Watt (contract voids)

Linebackers Kamu Grugier-Hill, Ben Niemann, Ezekiel Turner, Tanner Vallejo, Nick Vigil

Defensive backs S Chris Banjo, CB Antonio Hamilton, CB Byron Murphy Jr., S Charles Washington

Specialists LS Aaron Brewer, P Andy Lee, K Matt Prater

I hope …

Everyone reads this carefully and understands how difficult it is for coaches to devise game plans when there are so many key players questionable or out, which is compounded when the cast of players is constantly changing, even during the week of practice.

That has happened frequently and began in Week 1. The practice week started with big plans for wide receiver Rondale Moore and newcomer Cody Ford was slated to start instead of injured left guard Justin Pugh.

That all changed when Moore suffered a hamstring injury and Ford hurt his ankle during the Thursday practice, three days before the game. Adjustments were made on the fly.

Last week, cornerback Antonio Hamilton was added to the injury report on Thursday with a back injury and when Marco Wilson failed to progress enough from a neck injury, those two along with Byron Murphy Jr. were all inactive.

Rookie Christian Matthew started along with Jace Whittaker, who hadn’t been with the team since being released from the practice squad on Nov. 9.

Kingsbury said, “I thought they competed well at times. (We) just had to change up some game-plan type stuff later on in the week and move some pieces around personnel-wise. But those two guys know our system and filled in. I thought they made some plays; just late. There’s a couple we’d like to have back.”

As for the offense, I know when things aren’t working consistently, the play-caller is usually blamed, but the reality is that game plans are put together based on the available players going against the defense that week.

Through 14 games, the Cardinals have had 10 expected offensive starters miss a combined 56 starts, six defensive players miss 27 starts and kicker Matt Prater miss four games. There have also been 10 instances (eight on offense) where a starter left the game early. Sunday against Denver, for example, there were six expected starters missing on offense and four on defense, five if the extra cornerback is included.

“Each week it seems to be another challenge,” Kingsbury admitted this week. “I think in just game planning, ‘Hey, what can we do to maximize these people?’ Trying to figure it out is tough sometimes in that short of (time) span. Who to put where and how can we run plays or coverages that kind of maximize who they are and what they know even for guys that we had picked up later on in the season.”

The 10 different starting combinations on the offensive line has been repeatedly discussed and the one inescapable fact is that the Cardinals are 11-5 since the start of the 2021 season when center Rodney Hudson plays and 5-11 without him. This season it was 2-2 with him for the first four games and 2-8 since. There is no unit on the field that relies more on chemistry and consistency than the line and when the pieces are often shuffling, it shows up most on third down, in the red zone or in the second half/fourth quarter.

Kingsbury said Monday, “You just want to try and figure out what they do best and what you can kind of hang your hat on in crucial situations. When it’s changing each and every week, that’s not easy, but I’ve been proud of those guys’ effort. It’s just at times, a missed block here, a missed call there and (we) haven’t been able to consistently sustain drives like we need to, to win those games like yesterday.”

I also wonder …

If everyone realizes the key to winning, especially with the number of close games there are in the NFL, is all about players making plays and executing. I know it sounds boring, but it’s true.

After any game, a few plays here and there can be highlighted as the reason for the outcome.

Yet, I can’t remember the last time I saw someone say on Twitter or hear a caller on talk radio say, “Certain players just didn’t execute.” Instead, coaches are blamed for lack of discipline or turnovers. And there is talk about “culture.”

DeAndre Hopkins has a fumble returned for a touchdown in a tie game against the Patriots and has an illegal shift. That’s on the coaches? Or the “culture?” What does that even mean?

Many players talk about the leadership exhibited by defensive end J.J. Watt, safety Budda Baker, McCoy, tight end Zach Ertz, Beachum, Conner. That’s bad “culture?”

Guys are playing hard, which is the way it should be. Unfortunately, there are too many mistakes, which can happen when there are way too many backups playing and opponents are able to exercise their will in the second half.

It’s one reason why the Cardinals have a minus-6 turnover ratio in their current four-game losing streak and have only two takeaways in those games.

Most notably, in the last four games, the Cardinals have been outscored 70-16 in the second half: 34-3 in the third quarter and 36-13 in the fourth.

Speaking of Watt, I know …

The influence he is having on the development of young players like defensive linemen Zach Allen and Jonathan Ledbetter and linebackers Myjai Sanders and Cameron Thomas, to name a few.

Kingsbury said, “Anytime you watch J.J.; his practice habits, how cerebral he is when he lines up and knows what play is coming before they even snap it, that’s something that all young guys can watch and try to emulate.”

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com

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