1st: Kyler Murray deserves the biggest piece of blame pie.
The final possession of the game summed up Kyler Murray on Monday night. The Cardinals miraculously recover an onside kick, get the ball with 36 second left needing a TD to tie. Kyler scrambles for a big gain, only to have it wiped out on a holding penalty. The next time the Cardinals took a snap, there were :26 second on the clock and Kyler inexplicably dumps it off to James Conner in the middle of the field. On the very last play of the game, Kyler seemingly surprises half his team by not spiking the ball and gets smothered for a sack. What started so promising ended up in a disorganized mess. Kyler had some brilliant moments in the game but too often didn’t get the routine right. The standard in the NFC is Brady and Rodgers; for the Cardinals to advance deep into the playoffs, Kyler Murray will need to meet that standard. Monday Night, despite racking up over 400 yards of offense, Kyler Murray let his team down.
1. Kliff Kingsbury also gets a decent size of blame.
The late game sloppiness of Kingsbury's first two years reared its ugly head. Botched clock and timeout management, a very questionable late game call on 4th down and a general lack of fire from the Cardinals in a big game all point back to the head coach. While Kingsbury has made obvious strides as a coach in year three, Monday Night was a reminder that the team still faces a leadership deficit against the best teams in football. Crashing the NFL's party will take more than looking good, the Cardinals will need to be better when things get ugly. That's never been Kingsbury's strength.
2. Does Kyler Murray have a big game problem?
Kyler has not been very good in his few opportunities on the big stage in the NFL. However, typically stage fright is something that can be traced back to all levels of competition and you will find no evidence in Kyler's pre-NFL career. He lead Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff and won the Heisman in his only year as a starter at Oklahoma and went undefeated and won three state titles as as Texas high schooler. For now, we'll chalk this up to a small sample size for the Cardinals young, franchise QB but the next time he has a chance to shine on the stage, he'll want to avoid any awkwardness and just go ahead and win.
3. The offensive line was a problem on Monday Night but shouldn't be an issue going forward.
This game was more about Aaron Donald's singular greatness than the Cardinals issues on the line. In hindsight, the matchup of Donald vs. Sean Harlow and Max Garcia went about as well as you'd expect. The Cardinals tackles held up well, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd were both held without a sack and the team should get its best interior blocker, Justin Pugh, back this week. For a change, the offensive line can't be blamed - its still more of the quarterback.
4. The race for the #1 seed is effectively over for the Cardinals.
With tie breakers factored in, the Cardinals would likely need to win out with tough road games against the Colts and Cowboys still to come and get major help from Tampa Bay and Green Bay. Tampa particularly has an easy course, facing the Carolina Panthers twice, New Orleans and the Jets in their final four games. If you can find a loss or two on the schedule, I'm all ears. Green Bay is an even tougher team to overcome because of their head to head win over the Cardinals. The Packers path isn't easy with games still at Baltimore, at home against the Rams but they finish with games against the Vikings and Lions. The Cardinals had their chance but expecting both Tampa Bay and Green Bay to lose and the Cardinals to win out before the end of the season means the battle for the #2 seed is officially on in Phoenix.
5. There were a select few bright spots from the Cardinals on Monday Night.
Matt Prater was nails and for a team with playoff aspirations, that's very important. We always forget how many big games come down to a kicker but if that happens for Arizona this year, they will be in very good shape. I also thought the run defense was decent. Sony Michel did not punish the Cardinals, Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp had that honor. If the Cardinals can get a minimum of a C+ effort from their run defense to finish the year, things should be alright defensively.
6. Robert Alford could be a huge story for the Cardinals down the stretch.
Alford was terrible on Monday night, along with the rest of the secondary but it was Alford particularly who was picked on. Its easy to forget this is his first taste of playing football in December in three years, thanks to injuries. He also wasn't very good in 2018. To this point, Alford has been sensational, rewarding the Cardinals for their patience and his professionalism. But December football doesn't care about your feel good stories from earlier in the year, it will chew you up and spit you out if you aren't on top of your game. The Cardinals need their entire trio of corners to hold the line down the stretch but Alford is the best candidate to be the first to break.
7. James Conner was great but that's not ideal.
The Cardinals offense is at its absolute best when the running game punishes a defense for forgetting about it. The Cardinals are not designed to have James Conner do an Alvin Kamara impression. Having Conner nearly double the catches of DeAndre Hopkins against a depleted secondary is not necessarily a good thing for everyone involved. Conner's nose for the end zone is hugely important for the team but Chase Edmonds will be a welcome sight once he's able to return.
8. An NFC West rematch feels like the Cardinals destiny for the playoffs.
Right now, it would be a third tango with an improving San Francisco 49ers. Another dance with the Rams is also a very real possibility and even a Seahawks team finishing 9-8 and making it four for four out of the NFC West can't be written off just yet. Oddly, this feels appropriate for a team that started as the team everyone expected to finish fourth in the division. The challenge is obviously the familiarity in the playoffs is not ideal for a Cardinals team at its best when Kyler and Co can shock and awe a defense into submission. For the Cardinals to make a real statement, they'll have to do it the old fashioned way and beat up on some neighbors.
9. Under the Radar Stars:
There's not many but lets go with Matt Prater, DJ Humphries, AJ Green and Jalen Thompson.
10.What's Next? @ Detroit.
The best news Cardinals fans woke up to on Tuesday morning was a reminder that the Lions are next on the Cardinals schedule. While Jared Goff and Co have continued to fight, they're mostly bringing pillows to a knife fight in Detroit. Its as much of a "Get Right" game as you could have hoped for.