A lot of things need to change for the 2021 Arizona Cardinals to avoid wholesale changes.
The biggest change that needs to take place is for Michael Bidwill and the Cardinals organization to prioritize results over relationships.
For far too long, the Cardinals have chosen to stay comfortable instead of demanding excellence.
That has to change in 2021.
It's a playoffs or bust mentality that even Steve Keim accepts but along with accepting the goal, he also needs to accept his fate should the Cardinals fall short of it.
The changes the Cardinals need to make to save their season all start in Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans.
- Here are a few specific changes I'll be anxiously waiting to see happen on the field:
A more sophisticated offense - Cosplaying head coach Kliff Kingsbury needs to add pre-snap motion (Cardinals were near the bottom of the NFL in that category in 2020) and verticality to maximize the abundance of offensive talent at Kyler Murray's disposal. Additionally, I'd like to see more creative deployment of the talented backfield with Chase Edmonds and James Conner lining up on the field at the same time.
- A more disciplined approach - Kingsbury seems to be a subscriber to the "free range" approach of leading a team. This might work great with toddlers but an NFL team needs accountability and even intimidation to avoid costly mistakes. After admitting last season he doesn't chew on players who screw up on the sideline because he feels bad for them, Kliff needs to get out of his feelings and into dude's ears.
- More urgency - This team, including Kyler Murray, have accomplished absolutely nothing in the NFL to feel comfortable. Yet, there was Kyler lecturing the world on the uselessness of the preseason while Tom Brady raved about the opposite. Here were the Cardinals once again handing out starting jobs and captain honors like they were free bets at Draft Kings. It was the continuation of a troubling cultural bug in the Cardinals organization over the years that has to change for the team to snap its NFC long playoff drought. The Cardinals needs to play with their hair on fire, which is maybe why it makes Kliff so uncomfortable.
If the Cardinals can do all three, they can save their season and their jobs even while playing in a slightly overrated NFC West.
So will the Cardinals begin shedding their old skin in Nashville or slide back into the old familiar failures of years past?
I expect this season to be a mirror image of the 2020 season for Arizona - fast start, exciting heights before their leadership deficit costs them everything late. We can talk about all of that later, let's get back to the opening week.
Here's what I think will happen in Week 1 against the Titans:
Much has been made about the Cardinals secondary woes and for good reason but this feels like a bigger long term problem than a one game problem, even against the WR monsters of Julio Jones and AJ Brown. The Cardinals pass rush should feast on the right side of the Titans line and I'd expect Chandler Jones to eclipse his 2020 sack total of 1 in Week 1 of 2021.
The Titans secondary is also a huge problem but lacks the pass rush to offset it. Jadeveon Clowney is gone and free agent replacement Bud Dupree is coming off a torn ACL in December of last season. Oddly, the Cardinals have a major defensive advantage in this game.
Meanwhile Zaven Collins is about to be baptized by fire against Derrick Henry. Henry is the two time defending NFL rushing champ attempting to make it three in a row. Only three running backs in NFL history have accomplished that feat (Emmitt Smith, Earl Campbell and Jim Brown) and all three did it before they turned 27, Henry's age for this season. Oddly enough, I think its a good matchup for Collins to start his career, while Henry is a beast he's not the kind of multi-dimensional running back that can wreak havoc with a LB unit. Collins will be battered and bruised but still standing at the end of the game.
I'd expect Kyler and the Cardinals offense to come out firing and much like we saw on Thursday night in the NFL opener, Kyler should put up 40+ pass attempts in the first week after only attempting that many passes or more in three games all of last season.
Take the over on Kyler's passing yards AND Ryan Tannehill's passing yards. Take the over on AJ Green's receptions. Take the over on points scored.
And take the Cardinals to win.
I've got the final score: Arizona 41 Tennessee 29