Our NFL team starts by drawing inspiration from Arizona State’s football program. The Sun Devils used their bye week to magically transform a laughingstock defense. The same thing must happen with the Cardinals, a team that should be fielding a Top 10 defense.
Instead, they rank 31st in points allowed. Patrick Peterson is clearly frustrated, so much that Deion Sanders implored the Cardinals to trade him to a contender. This is the defining moment for James Bettcher, whose appointment as a first-time defensive coordinator might go down as one of Bruce Arians’ biggest mistakes.
Bettcher’s unit has been hamstrung by the loss of Calais Campbell (free agency) and Markus Golden (injury). But the scheme isn’t working. They fail to produce turnovers. Only Chandler Jones generates consistent pressure on the quarterback. And they can’t get off the field, allowing the Rams to convert 13-of-19 third-down attempts in a 33-0 loss last week.
Arians once apologized for interfering with Bettcher’s game plan in a 2016 loss to the Patriots, but the head coach did it again in a lopsided loss to Philadelphia, ordering a blitz on 3rd-and-19. That didn’t work, either.
It’s fairly obvious that the defense doesn’t rally around Bettcher the way they did with former defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, a sure sign that the system is not in alignment with the available talent.
The defense must ascend to keep any hope alive, which means Bettcher must concoct something to lift morale. With Drew Stanton at quarterback, the Cardinals will struggle to score points. They will become more conservative, limiting risky throws and refocusing on the running game.
They must feed Adrian Peterson in hopes that he’ll be the player that tore apart Tampa’s defense in his Arizona debut.
They will likely need to win six of their final nine games to earn a wildcard berth. Along the way, the team can activate two of three players on injured reserve. Rookie T.J. Logan would be a big addition to special teams but is probably the odd man out. David Johnson would be an obvious boon to the offense, but he isn’t sure of his timetable. And if Stanton can finally validate Arians’ loyalty and string together a few wins, he could hand the reins back to Palmer, who could return for the final two games of the regular season.
But if Stanton struggles and the losses mount, the Cardinals need to turn the page quickly. Arians must change his narrow-minded vow and play Blaine Gabbert, if only to gauge his progress and potential.
The Cardinals could be facing an inglorious end to a great run of success. Arians, Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald could all retire after the season, thrusting the Cardinals into a massive rebuild. With no franchise quarterback in sight, there is little reason for optimism.
Alex Smith might be available in a trade, depending on how the Chiefs finish their season. They could attempt to pry backup Jimmy Garoppolo out of New England, possibly luring Josh McDaniels in the process, should they need to replace Arians.
And if the Jets fade and eventually fire Bowles, the Cardinals need to hire him immediately, as defensive coordinator or head coach.
Nothing is worse than seeing a transcendent team diminish before our eyes. We wistfully witnessed the ringless run of Steve Nash’s Suns and how it ended in angst and turmoil. These Cardinals have meant just as much to the Valley, a franchise that once ranked among the most entertaining and charismatic teams in the NFL. And it all reached a crescendo during the first minute of “All or Nothing,” when a defiant Arians told his team their goal wasn’t a Super Bowl apperance, but a Super Bowl ring.
The team hasn’t been the same since winning an Emmy. Arians’ swagger has turned to stubbornness, a man too loyal to certain players and his friendly crew of handpicked coaches. General Manager Steve Keim can’t find the right blend of offensive linemen, continually drafting players who don’t live for a fistfight or thrive on the taste of blood. They were gifted five exhibition games and a marathon training camp to get things right and were outscored 27-7 in the fourth quarter of their only impressive victory of the season.
They have gone soft. Their fire no longer crackles. Their reign over the Valley is in jeopardy. The bye week represents a new beginning, but this feels like the beginning of the end. And if these Cardinals never find their championship ring, it’s about time they show a champion’s heart.