Somers: Cardinals running out of wiggle room. Coach Kliff Kingsbury should be, too

Kent Somers
Arizona Republic

The Arizona Cardinals’ loss to the Vikings last Sunday provided more evidence that three maxims of life in the NFL remain true:

1. It’s hard to beat a good team, or even a bad one, with five offensive starters out with injuries.

2. No one cares about No. 1. Just win.

3.  And accomplishing No. 2 often comes down to coaching. A creative, commanding head coach motivates in that moment, and more importantly, provides his players something in the game plan that’s going to help them win.

Kliff Kingsbury failed at that.


And it’s why Kingsbury is entering a defining moment in his four-year tenure with the Cardinals.

Beginning Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, the Cardinals play NFC West opponents the next three weeks. It could be the point at which the Cardinals (3-5) pivot toward success or drop anchor at the bottom of the division.

Kingsbury’s competence as a head coach will be tested. Sure, he’s not the guy missing blocks, kicks, tackles, catches and throws, but he is responsible for the consistently disheveled look of the offense and for the failure to provide players a lifeline via changes in scheme or other elements of game planning.

Kingsbury’s tried, but most of the moves have made the Cardinals look worse, not better.

Last Sunday, the Cardinals tried huddling, which Kingsbury usually hates as much as wearing socks. But with five backups starting, Kingsbury figured huddling and having quarterback Kyler Murray calling plays off a wristband would make the Cardinals function more efficiently.

It didn’t.

On several occasions, it appeared Kingsbury was calling plays up until communications with Murray were shut down at the 15-second mark on the play clock. Then it took Murray time to repeat the play in the huddle and the Cardinals too often were beginning to line up with just seconds left.

Against the Vikings, the Cardinals called four timeouts outside the last 3 minutes of each half. Overall, they’ve done that 18 times this season, including 12 times in the second half.

If the time frame is expanded to above 5 minutes in the second half, the Cardinals have called timeouts on 25% of their possessions this season, the most of any Cardinals team in the last 23 years.

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Kingsbury said there was some “over-communicating” with the play-calling. “So we’ve just got to keep working through that and kind of find what fits us best.”

Probably the first move should be to dump what Murray called the “big-ass” wristband and return to the system used previously.

It would also be wise to pass the ball down the field more, instead of laterally. That is where the end zone is, after all.

Against Minnesota, the Cardinals attempted 13 passes at or behind the line of scrimmage. Twenty-four of Murray's 44 passes were thrown no more than five yards down the field.

The route trees of Cardinals receivers looked more like shrubs as time and again Murray threw screen passes to the sidelines.

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals looks on against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half at Lumen Field on October 16, 2022, in Seattle, Washington.

With three backup offensive linemen starting, Kingsbury obviously was worried about protecting Murray and tried to manufacture offense through catch-and-runs from tight end Zach Ertz and receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Rondale Moore. And it appears opponents are playing conservative pass coverage against the Cardinals, concentrating on not giving up big plays, counting on the Cardinals to make mistakes that end possessions.

The plan isn't working and it’s something that needs to change if the Cardinals are going to have a chance over the next three weeks against Seattle at home, the Rams in Inglewood, Calif., and the 49ers in Mexico City.

“Obviously, there’s not a lot of wiggle room left with three division games and where we’re at record-wise,” Kingsbury said.

My guess is Kingsbury doesn’t have much wiggle room, either, even with the contract extension gifted him last March by owner Michael Bidwill.

Hopkins’ six-game suspension to start the season and the rash of injuries throughout have made Kingsbury’s job more difficult. So far, he hasn’t handled those difficulties well. Good coaches find ways to wiggle their teams out of tight spots and tough times.

Over the last half of the season, and especially the next three weeks, Kingsbury has another chance to prove he can do that. If he can’t, it could be his last one.

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Reach Kent Somers at Follow him on Twitter @kentsomers. Hear Somers every Monday and Friday at 7:30 a.m. on The Drive with Jody Oehler on Fox Sports 910 AM.

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