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When describing the 2021 Arizona Cardinals, one word in particular comes to mind.
After starting the season 10-2, the Cardinals completed their season-end collapse at the hands of divisional foe L.A. by the final score of 34-11. The team was dominated in nearly every facet by a Rams squad that has now won nine of their last 10 matchups against the hapless Cardinals. Monday’s nationally televised blowout was, unfortunately, par for the course in this lifeless NFC West “rivalry”.
“We put up an embarrassing performance. There’s no other way to put it,” defensive end J.J. Watt said.
The word “embarrassing” was the common theme of the evening for the Cardinals and their fans. The loss, coupled with the team’s 1-4 collapse down the stretch of the regular season, calls into question the job security of both coach Kliff Kingsbury and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. It’s one thing to lose a game, but to be deemed a joke by all who watched is something else entirely.
“That game wasn’t competitive at all,” QB Kyler Murray said.
Murray had a miserable playoff debut, providing fuel for the fire of his many critics that deem the undersized quarterback a liability late in seasons. While consistently under duress and plagued by too many dropped passess, Murray was erratic with the football while accounting for multiple turnovers on the day. This culminated in an errant pick-6 late in the second quarter thanks to a desperate end-zone heave. As an offense, the Cardinals were a putrid 0 for 9 on third-down attempts, garnering a season low in both yardage and points.
“When you have negative play after negative play, it’s just hard to come back from that,” receiver Christian Kirk said. “You’re not gonna win playoff games like that.”
Even with the absence of receiver DeAndre Hopkins, this Cardinal offense has no excuse for one of the worst playoff showings in recent history. Per ESPN, the Cardinals averaged just 1.5 yards per play, which is the second-fewest in the first half of a playoff game over the past 20 seasons. A Kyler Murray-led unit that boasts the likes of James Conner, Christian Kirk and Zach Ertz should not be making history for offensive incompetence.
“Overall as an offense, we were just out of sync,” Kingsbury said. “Never got in a rhythm and they made some big plays.”
While the Cardinals offense was historically bad, the defense wasn’t much better. For a unit that was so promising to begin the year, Joseph’s defense spectacularly crashed and burned when it mattered most. In the team’s final seven outings of the season, Joseph’s unit surrendered nearly 30 points per game while continually allowing opposing quarterbacks to benefit in the form of career days. Rams’ quarterback Matthew Stafford, who had been a turnover machine this season, was especially efficient Monday night against the Cardinals.
As were most of his L.A. teammates.
If you’re owner Michael Bidwill, now is the time to question whether Kingsbury and Joseph have taken this Cardinals team as far as it will go. For the better part of the last six weeks, the Cardinals have looked completely dejected and overwhelmed when it mattered most. Any goodwill this coaching staff built during its 7-0 start has been completely wiped away thanks to this most recent collapse (4-7). Time and time again, when poised with the question as to why these late season collapses continue to happen, Kingsbury is routinely left speechless.
“I wish I knew,” he said.
The Cardinals have now finished the last three season with losses against the Rams. In what would have been nearly unthinkable six weeks ago, there are two NFC West teams in the divisional round, neither of which is the Cardinals.
“It was a massive failure,” Watt said when asked how he views the season. “We started the season great and we finished the season terrible. It is what it is.”
Now Bidwill must decide if what it is is in fact good enough to earn back the good gracious the Red Sea.
- Murray is likely to enter this offseason in contract limbo, with the Cardinals almost certainly picking up his fifth-year option. However, that generational contract that seemed all but assured two months ago will likely be tabled until 2023. Murray will need to put together a complete season next year or questions will only grow louder.
- Watt’s return, while admirable, was largely overshadowed by an L.A. rushing attack that was punishing on the ground. Cam Aker’s long awaited return left the Cardinals struggling to bring down the 22-year old as the Rams finished the day with 140 yards rushing.
- Despite the lopsided outcome, Conner was running tough late into the fourth quarter. Of all the pending free agents, Conner should be heavily prioritized by Keim and the Cardinals front office come March.
- Outside of Rodney Hudson, no player should be safe on the Arizona offensive line. Both starting guards were huge liabilities Monday night against L.A., while D.J. Humphries capped a historically average 2021 campaign. The Cardinals remain a finesse team in large part because of their average lines of scrimmage.
- Linebacker Isaiah Simmons platooned the large majority of the game with journeymen Tanner Vallejo. Combine that with yet another defensive no-show for Zaven Collins, and the development of Arizona’s last two first-round picks has been nothing short of a disaster. A coordinator and scheme change should not be out of the question, even if it means pivoting off Joseph.
- After a solid but not spectacular season, it’s fair to wonder if this was Chandler Jones’s last game in Arizona. In yet another matchup with the ageless Andrew Whitworth, Jones was mostly quiet. The former All-Pro turns 32 in February and will command significant dollars as a free agent.
- After this performance, it’s difficult seeing either A.J. Green or Christian Kirk back in a Cardinals uniform next season. With the absence of DeAndre Hopkins, neither were reliable down the stretch for Murray. Green in particular was especially frustrating, dropping what would have been a sure first-down catch that eventually led to an interception.
- Perhaps the end of the 2021-22 season was also the end for the Cardinals’ current uniforms?
- With the loss, the Cardinals will select 23rd in April’s NFL Draft.
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