Topics include Alford's play, Chandler Jones' contract, and opener optimism Darren Urban
The Cardinals opened with an impressive performance in Nashville and are 1-0. Now comes the home opener, against a Vikings team that lost in overtime to the Bengals -- and which has as its top cornerback a player Cardinals fans will remember. But first? The mailbag. Send in a question for a future mailbag here.
From Mike in Gilbert:
"I may have missed it, and haven't gone back to rewatch the game. What was the take on Robert Alford's play Sunday? What'd the snap count look like for our various options at CB alongside Murphy? No numbers, but who was out there most - Wilson? I think Alford's statline was 3 tackles, which is ballpark average for his last couple of seasons on the field. I thought the receivers looked solid -- how many drops were there among them? I hate to say this -- and yes, it's way too early -- but not sure where Fitz would fit in. I think Kirk's benefitted the most from his absence, and Kirk was so solid yesterday. Feels like one of his best games as a pro. Thoughts? Also, please stick around for a long time, not a big fan of change, and love your work."
I appreciate that, and will be including your comments in my next request for a raise. I thought Alford played solidly and his Pro Football Focus grade reflected that. Murphy and Marco Wilson played the most CB snaps -- 58 -- but Alford played only nine less and that makes sense in a league where you are using three corners most of the time. As for Kirk, I agree he makes more sense in the slot. The receivers looked good, and I thought Rondale Moore, despite playing only 20 snaps, had an impact on the offense.
From Maddy O:
"Hi Darren! Looking at the snap count breakdowns, things stood out.
Marco Wilson is evidently the No. 2 CB because he matched Murphy on snaps, more than any other CB including Alford. Considering he had island snaps vs Julio, man this kid is looking special. Why the needless lip service that's been going on the last three months, only to go out the window Week 1? Hicks is the starter and Zaven is the backup. WHY ALL THE DRAMA? My only guess is this - last-second panic. I think the plan was for Zaven to start (and struggle), but Vance/Kliff/Keim lost their nerve at the 11th hour and rang up Hicks, made him starter and sat Zaven. And hey, can't blame them. Hicks played good. But all the drama now looks so ridiculous in hindsight. Why so few snaps for Lawrence and Peters? Are they coming back slow from injuries? I thought Peters played great. Didn't I say he was important! (I did). I was on you all offseason Darren to re-sign Peters, remember? Ninety-one percent of the snaps for Simmons! The kid is good too. Keim can take a breath now. I made this comment during the game, was it just me or was Budda super-quiet? From a Budda standpoint. He had a great pass breakup in the end zone. But otherwise didn't it feel like a non-Budda type game?"
Lots to address here. Let's see what I can do.
They definitely have faith in him right now. You are right -- he played the same amount of snaps as Murphy. I got a chuckle out of the "panic" idea. So they went through all of camp planning on Collins, practicing with Collins and then bailed at the end -- and yet the defense played like that? Hicks is a solid pro but that's not how it works. First of all, Collins did start. I don't know if he struggled, but I can tell you from watching practice all of camp Hicks was always going to play a lot. As for the "drama," it played out the way it did. If, because of matchups and game plans, Hicks plays a lot less a month from now, there would've been "drama" then. At least this way, Hicks knows where he stands. I mean, there are only so many snaps to go around for six defensive linemen. In passing situations, only two are on the field and neither are a nose tackle (which is the role Lawrence and Peters play.) Lawrence is healthy. I wouldn't be surprise if Peters is still rounding into form, but I don't see him playing mega-snaps if everyone is healthy. Yes, he was good. I thought Baker was active. But it's good if your safety isn't having to make a ton of plays. It means the front seven is doing its job.
From Joy Brooks:
"I think we've definitely answered the question about Chandler Jones' health so don't you think it's time to give him a new contract? Certainly don't want to fool around and risk him leaving in free agency."
We will see how the Jones contract situation plays out. There is a lot to consider for both Jones and the Cards. Coming to a deal both are good with isn't necessarily simple. I would surmise it isn't locking up Jones for 2022 or 2023 that is the issue, it's the years beyond that -- and the amount of money Jones seeks, that's how long the deal needs to go. Obviously this is a topic that isn't going to go away. I don't think it's going to play out publicly. But Jones certainly made a statement on the field Sunday.
From Robert Malicki:
"Hi, Darren. Wouldn't you agree with me that confidence and sure and willing tackling ability are paramount assets a cornerback must exhibit? I see Marco Wilson coming thru for himself and the team. Our starting cornerbacks will surely be tested and will need Marco supporting them. His development will have to be accelerated, for sure, and the many scary good offenses we will face will challenge even the best units. But, I put my money on the longtime Cardinal reputation of developing quality backend defenders. Look at the draftees who started as rookies. There's Larry Wilson, Roger Wehrli, Benny Perrin. Roy Green, Tim McDonald, Aeneas Williams and Adrian Wilson. That's three HOF'ers and maybe someday a fourth? That's some great history there."
Marco I thought was solid Sunday (although per PFF, interestingly enough, he had a very low tackling grade.) I think I'm going to hold off on the parallels to Larry Wilson or Dub or Roger Werhli. The Cards have used other rookies as cornerbacks before with not nearly the results. Let's see how the season unfolds.
From Blaine Pierce:
"Darren, I have a prediction. At the end of this season Kyler Murray will still have an overall losing record as QB. J.J. Watt (who I admire on and off the field), Corey Peters, A.J. Green, Robert Alford and we can now add Dennis Gardeck will not play a full season. Steve Keim has built this roster to win now, not for the long term. If he doesn't go to the playoffs this season he should step down. His drafting, by any measure, has been far below average."
Well, given that Murray would have to go 11-6 just to have an overall .500 record in his career and 12-5 to be over .500. you have set a high bar and frankly, the odds are with you, right? We will see where you land on everyone else. It's good to see that pessimism is alive and kicking, however.
From James Savage:
"Hey Darren! What a week! After an offseason of media outlets and so-called fans underselling or straight up dismissing the Cards, I had been very pessimistic about the opener. But man, didn't that seem like the most decisive win the Cards have had since Kyler arrived? Last season it felt like their big wins came either in clutch moments (Bills, Seahawks, 49ers) or if they dominated it was against atrocious teams (Andy Dalton Cowboys, Jets), and still had some wild inconsistencies and penalties. I'm not going to overreact in Week 1 but it was just really nice to see them put together an elite performance on both sides of the ball and look more polished than I think they've looked in a long time."
Yes, that was the best overall performance they've had with Kliff and Kyler. And yes, overreaction is part of the deal every Monday. Both wins and losses. I'm hoping the way they cleaned up the penalties after the first quarter sticks.
From Steve Drumm:
"Hi Darren. Why do the Cardinals at times when a player is injured choose to make the nature of the players injury public and at other times refuse to divulge that information? Take the cases this preseason of J.J Watt and Jordan Philips, J.J was hurt during the training run and the team announced that he had injured his hamstring. Jordan apparently was hurt early on as well and subsequently missed just about all of training camp but the Cards have refused to reveal any details about his injury. I realize that it was preseason and that the rules regarding reporting injuries are probably a bit different than during the regular season when all injuries must be reported but why the transparency with Watt and the 'cloak and dagger' with Jordan?"
Let's make this very clear -- when Watt's injury was disclosed in camp, it was J.J. who disclosed it. It wasn't the team. If Kliff Kingsbury had his choice, we wouldn't know anything. You are right, the reporting rules are totally different in the preseason. But unless a player decides to talk about his issue -- and the way the Covid rules are now where the team provides the players talking and they would never bring in an injured player -- we won't know.
From Dhruvraj Parmar:
"Hey Darren, hope you are doing well. Couple of questions. As much as I am hurt by this tweet, it makes me think while Larry will be rooting for Cardinals he doesn't genuinely believe we can be Super Bowl contenders. At his age he probably doesn't want to play for a team that's not a contender. It makes me sad that we will probably not see Larry again. Also, what's the rule around releasing a draft pick? I saw we let OL Michael Menet go. I know he might not have looked good in practice but he was up against veterans like Rodney Hudson. I feel for this kid out of college who got drafted and then cut without a single rep in an actual game. Now he might not be ready to go but I think the practice squad should have specially allocated positions for rookies."
I'll start with the second question first. The rule about releasing a draft pick is there are no rules. Once you are on a team, drafted or not, it's about how you play. There are always rookies who end up on the practice squad -- heck, Menet was on it, albeit briefly, before someone better came along. That's the cold reality of the NFL. Now, as for Fitz's pick of the Packers and Bucs in the NFC championship game, it's not like he was picking teams that aren't the favorites. If the Cards get there, it'll be as an underdog. (And as for you probably not seeing him again, I have something I need to tell you ...)
From Mackay Breovik:
"Darren, glad you appreciated my slight at you -- or didn't. Either way, I appreciate your work. Word on the street is that Marco Wilson beat out Butler and he didn't want to be fourth on the depth chart and that is the reason he retired/left. Do you agree? It is an opinion, so entertain us with yours! Years ago a competitive website would post a positional strengths/weakness for each matchup along with a outcome prediction for each game. I love reading that stuff. Maybe someone on the staff could take a stab at it? Thanks again for the work and go Cards!"
I don't know specifics about why Butler retired. Although you do realize that with a question like that, it's not an opinion? It's not something you agree with -- either that is what happened or it didn't (which I don't know.) As for the position-by-position breakdowns, I will take it into consideration.
From Saul Villa:
"Hi Darren. Do you think Kyler has really take it to the next level as far of leadership skills, Is he a true leader based on what you already know and also what you hear so far? I believe this need to happen in order to have a good season which is going to the playoff, championship and Super Bowl."
Another high bar. Good season = Super Bowl. Lose in playoffs after division championship would be ... a waste of time? Nevertheless, I am going by what I hear, and yes, I guess his leadership is fine. Adversity is where that area really shows up, but right now, if he is accounting for five touchdowns in a game, that tends to lead a team pretty well. I'm not trying to discount your question. But he can be the greatest leader in the world and if he plays poorly, it doesn't matter.
From Wardell H:
"Hi Darren. Sending this prior to the Titans game. Great episode of Folktales by the way. You've got an outstanding production team. The Titans are projected to have one of the worst defenses in the NFL this season. Meaning, irrelevant if we win or lose, if the Cardinals offense is not red hot, then we will see a coaching change by Week 4. That's my prediction. I hope I'm wrong. But I just wanted to put it on the books so that I can say it was my 'called it' moment later on. Thanks."
Noted, Wardell. I guess all bets are off.
From Scott H:
"Hello, Darren. As the season starts, are the Cardinals putting any restrictions on fan attendance at home games? Are masks required? Is proof of being vaccinated (or at least one shot given) required? Is distancing being employed? Or is it just gonna be a full house, packed to the rafters? Which, by the way, I would love to see. I miss normalcy."
As of now, there are no rules like that. Wearing masks is strongly encouraged. But at this point, vaccines are not mandatory, and regular crowds are expected. Hopefully, everyone stays as safe as possible.
From Blaine S.
"Hey Darren. Thanks for getting us through another offseason with the weekly mailbag. Next, can you please pass on my thanks to Dave K for his great tips as a season ticket holder in the most recent mailbag. I appreciate the suggestions and Pizza Box Nachos sound like something I can really get into. Also, as a parent of a young child, I appreciate the insight on the small children suggestion. Thanks again and here's to a hopeful great season!"
Consider thanks to Dave K sent.
From Jesse L:
"I don't really understand the Super Bowl-contender hype of the Rams and 49ers. Vegas has the Rams with the second-best odds in the NFC, and the 49ers with the third best odds, tied with the Packers. While many analysts have chosen them (especially LA) as the NFC representative. I know Stafford's situation is markedly better in LA than it was in Detroit, but to suddenly get vaulted into the MVP discussion and contender status seems like a bit much. Arizona is regularly picked to finish last in the division. Do you think there's that big of a gap between all of the NFC West teams? (Obviously if this gets posted it'll be after week 1, and if Stafford throws for 500+ yards and they pitch a 50-0 shutout you can just ban me from all future mailbags.)"
Well Jesse, you sent this in prior to Week 1, and while the Rams didn't dominate quite like that, it does look like Stafford is quite the fit -- and that the NFC West is the brutal gauntlet everyone predicted. The Cardinals could be a very good team and still finish fourth. But we will see how it plays out, how injuries impact the race, and if the Cards make every week look like Tennessee. In the meantime, you, Jesse, are most certainly not banned from the 'bag.
From Bill McVeigh:
"Is Larry Fitzgerald returning or is he retiring?"
Well, he's not returning, at least at this point. But if you hear something concrete, lemme know.
From Landon Paige:
"Hey Darren, I just read your article about Hicks and the 10 heart to hearts he had with Vance. Beating a dead horse here but the no competition comment was staggeringly ill-advised. Even if that's what the plan is you don't say it out loud. And by virtue of the team voting him captain that would suggest it didn't sit well in the locker room either. Here's a guy they respect and the powers that be take his job and hand it to the rookie and announce no competition."
Here's my issue there -- so they "quietly" make the plan for Collins to start and don't say anything to Hicks. And Hicks doesn't get the job, and he's now like, WTF. Either way, people are mad. It's funny because this fan base would have gone ballistic if the Cards had drafted a guy in the first round and then said, welp, he's playing behind Hicks. (I know because you all did that last year with Simmons.) So the Cards decide from jump they want their No. 1 pick to play, and everyone is upset about that.
From BDUB Wooten:
"Darren, Larry Fitzgerald did an interview with a California newspaper about Trent Sherfield as a receiver and his exact quote was 'I can't wait for the rest of the NFL to see Trent Sherfield.' My question is last year with Kirk struggling the last half of the season, Larry aging and struggling last year, not much contribution from Johnson or Isabella, basically a one-man show with Hop. Why couldn't the Cards see in Sherfield what apparently the 49ers have seen? Thx for the mailbag."
You are assuming he would/is filling the same role for the Cards that he has with the Niners. I'm not saying he couldn't have had a greater role in Arizona, but they didn't see him that way and wanted to upgrade at the position. I'm thrilled for Trent, you won't find a better dude. And I would expect Fitz, who is close to Sherfield, for having an optimistic view of his play. The Cardinals saw Sherfield every day for three years. They had an idea what he would do in their scheme.
From Abbo Bibs:
"FYI the Carolina Panthers mailbag is called 'Ask the Old Guy.' I like it. Its time to freshen up the mailbag, Darren. Time to rebrand. You got any ideas? I got one. And I spent an inordinate amount of time brainstorming. Ready? Urban Scrawl."
First of all, please don't ask me to act as old as Darin Gantt. He's been shooing people off his lawn for a while now. (Although he did have a beautiful wedding this summer.) But I appreciate your suggestion and have to say, it's inspired. I'm disappointed you don't like my current ages-old nod to AOL, but I'll talk to my team and see what the thoughts are on a rebrand.