1st: Kyler Murray creates an alternate reality for the Cardinals.
At no point during Sunday afternoon's game did I think the Cardinals were going to lose. Did you watch Kyler Murray? It was Kevin McCallister versus the Wet Bandits. It was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles versus the Foot Clan. It was Hulk Hogan versus the Brooklyn Brawler. At one point in the game I was considering whether there was any team in the NFC that could stop a fully realized Kyler Murray, who played the best game of his season. But as the Seahawks have proven this year, you can't just expect a dazzling QB performance to cover up everything else. Kyler was spectacular; the defense was not. The running backs were not. DeAndre Hopkins wasn't. Kliff Kingsbury wasn't. Zane Gonzalez wasn't. But Kyler was and it felt like that should've been good enough but it was not.
I know this loss stung but this isn't a flamethrower loss where you torch everyone responsible for squandering an opportunity to leap into first place in the NFC; its more of a hat tip game where you tip your cap to the Dolphins for just making more plays. Oddly enough, this game was a lot like the Cardinals Week 7 win over the Seahawks but with the Cardinals being in the role of Seattle and Tua and the Dolphins doing their best Kyler-On-SNF impression.
This isn't a blanket defense of Kliff Kingsbury who possesses the confidence on the sideline of me in a powerlifting competition but I don't think this was anywhere close to his worst coached game. Prior to the ill fated 4th and 1 call to Chase Edmonds, Kliff and the Cardinals had been 8 of their previous 9 on 4th down conversions on the season. Despite Edmonds getting stuffed, they still have the highest 4th down conversion percentage in the league (80%) of any team with 10 or more attempts. They just got beat on that play, there is no 4th down play calling crisis.
Kingsbury's decision to attempt a 49 yard field goal has also been ridiculously over-criticized. THE CARDINALS WERE TRAILING BY 3 AT HOME WITH UNDER 2 MINUTES TO GO. If it was a 59 yard field goal, roast away. If it was a tie game or the Cardinals were leading, roast away. There's a difference between being aggressive and irrational. The Cardinals made a sound football decision to attempt to tie the game and their kicker kicked the 49 yard attempt 48 yards. Thats not on Kliff.
While we're here defending unpopular coaches, two weeks after Cardinals fans wanted a statue erected of Vance Joseph for limiting the Seahawks to one score in the second half and overtime and flustering Russell Wilson into three picks, those same fans want him gone. A common refrain was "Make some adjustments, Vance!" What kind of adjustments can you make without your top two pass rushers, without three of your top four cornerbacks and against a rookie QB who has not played anywhere near this level in his very brief NFL career? Blitz! And bring who, exactly? The Cardinals don't have pass rushers who really win outside of Budda Baker who was needed more in the secondary late in this game. Vance Joseph is far from perfect but this game was more about the Cardinals lack of defensive depth than his play calling acumen.
So who was to blame? We have to carve up this blame pie somehow. A big heaping slice of blame pie goes to Kyler Murray for his first quarter carelessness with the football that led to a Dolphins defensive touchdown. Kyler was awesome but his first priority has to be protecting the ball over everything. Another sizable slice of blame pie goes to Andy Isabella. Sweet Andy ran a route on third and seven to the sticks, made the catch and then went backwards by a yard to cost the Cardinals a shot at a half ending scoring drive. It was a critical mistake that came after one of only two Dolphins punts on the day and then the Dolphins took advantage of Isabella's competitive immaturity by kicking a FG to close out the half. And the third piece of blame pie goes to Tua, who was simply masterful in his second career start.
Let's go back to the missed field goal by Zane Gonzalez. It's one of the weirdest kicks ever. The kick was 1000% going through the uprights until it fell short. It would have been easier to process had he just yanked it 15 yards to the left. It was like being on the tee box and hitting your drive straight into the air but only 100 yards. I'd rather put one into the houses and tee up a breakfast ball than pop it up just past the ladies tees. Gonzalez's job is safe for now because no one wants to play kicker roulette but his long term future with the team is very, very uncertain.
The Cardinals missed Chase Edmonds in the passing game and by extension, missed Kenyan Drake. It was funny to see so many Cardinals fans bemoan not being able to give Drake the ball on 4th and 1 after cursing his name for weeks. But Drake was missed because Chase Edmonds has been a really good pass catching option for Kyler Murray all season.
Narratives change quickly in the NFL. Had the Cardinals won, Kyler would be a co-favorite for NFL MVP in mid November, Kliff Kingsbury would've been the favorite for Coach of the Year and the Cardinals would've rightfully merited serious conversation as a Super Bowl contender. But they didn't win. They lost. And now they are staring at a stretch of the next four games being against Buffalo, at Seattle on a short week, at New England and home against the Rams. If they can go 2-2 in their next four, it would be a major success. I think its more likely they go 1-3 but thats why they play the games.
Under the Radar Stars: Maxx Williams, Jalen Thompson, Isaiah Simmons for making two plays, Kevin Peterson for somehow going from afterthought in the secondary to someone media members were calling "KP" in the post game presser and Kliff Kingsbury for avoiding any difficult post game questions and in fact was asked if he thought the Cardinals played well coming out of the bye AFTER LOSING TO THE DOLPHINS.
What's Next: Buffalo, who looked bigger, stronger and faster than the Dolphins in their trouncing of the Seahawks. The Cardinals need to get right in the secondary because Stefon Diggs, John Brown and Cole Beasley are making plays on dimes from The Stallion Josh Allen.