As the Cardinals pick up the pieces of a season that was, in the opinion of J.J. Watt, a “massive failure,” the latter stages of the campaign featured a similar outcome for coach Kliff Kingsbury.
For the ninth straight year, first at Texas Tech and now at Arizona, Kingsbury has had a solid start followed by a flailing finish.
In 2013 with the Red Raiders, 7-0 yielded to 1-5. The next year, a 2-0 beginning was followed by 2-8. In 2015, 5-2 became 2-4. Then, 3-1 turned into 2-6. In 2017, he started 4-1 before ending 2-6. During his final year in Lubbock, Kingsbury began 5-2 and went 0-5.
His three years in Arizona have been no different. In 2019, 3-3-1 was chased by 2-7. In 2019, the Hail Murray play vaulted the Cardinals to 6-3. Thereafter, they went 2-5.
This year, an incredible 10-2 start disintegrated, with a 1-5 record the rest of the way.
At some point, it’s not bad luck or coincidence or anything other than a reflection of coaching. The best coaches constantly self-scout their own tendencies and tells, avoiding the creation of patterns that can be deciphered by opponents who aggressively and creatively study film. Those same coaches also are constantly probing for ways to crack the code of each foe’s offense and/or defense.
It’s fair to ask whether Kingsbury and his staff are properly doing that, particularly on offense. Is Kingsbury working to spot his own flaws and to address them? If he figuring out the opportunities presented by opposing defenses?
Last night’s game, the third meeting between the Cardinals and Rams in 2021, showed that one team was ready — and one team was not. How much of that traces to a lack of detail when it comes to mixing things up, finding flaws in the opposing defense, and/or identifying and plugging any openings in their offense?
Here’s one thing (and possibly the only thing) I’ve learned after 20 years of covering the NFL. There are two kinds of coaches in pro football. A small handful of great ones, and everyone else.
The great ones live, eat, and breathe the game, constantly looking for any edge against the opponent and/or any way to keep the opponent from getting an edge. Everyone else does not.
In which category does Kingsbury fall? His team’s performances in every season since 2013 show that the right answer is “everyone else.”