The 2021 roadmap of the cardinals to success strewn with uncertainties

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The Cardinals are volatile stock in 2021. Some predict disaster. Others see potential for greatness.

Pro Football Talk ranked them 25th in their Week 1 power ranking, predicting that head coach Kliff Kingsbury will be sacked by the end of the season. CBS Sports placed them ninth overall, ahead of the mighty Titans, their Week 1 opponent.

The Cardinals could lead the NFL in the space between the ceiling and the floor.

The truth is, after a preseason full of “minor” issues, bizarre developments and extremely limited turnout, no one knows what to expect when the curtain rises in Nashville on Sunday.

It seems certain:

If the Cardinals are tied for the playoffs, they must score more than 30 points per game. They will have to compensate for a defense grappling with a terrifying share of uncertainty and inexperience, a unit that will launch a rookie center linebacker; a rookie cornerback; and a second-year linebacker who stays green and hasn’t proven himself.

The NFL is a successful league with rules that tilt the playing field in favor of the offense. The Cardinals aren’t going to beat elite quarterbacks with their diminished and ultra-thin secondary. They have to beat them with their own elite quarterback.

Obviously, Kyler Murray has the skills and showmanship to knock your jaw off. But he needs to show better leadership. No longer looking like Grumpy Cat as he sits alone on the sidelines, brooding over the circumstances and the dash. His body language should inspire.

It must show a great mastery of the mundane, such as taking pictures under the center; reading progressions, keeping your eyes on the ground; stay mechanically healthy; and take correct readings that lead to on-time pocket throws.

During the great collapse of 2020, the Cardinals surely ranked among the worst teams in football in the easy completions category.

Murray also needs to show greater tenacity. To earn respect in the NFL, you have to play fearlessly, sometimes laughing in the face of pain. You don’t have to play when you’re injured. But you have to play when you’re hurt, just to show how much you care.

If AJ Green is still in the same zip code in his prime, the Cardinals may eclipse the 500-point plateau, which has been done 19 times in the 21st century. By comparison, the 2015 Cardinals scored 489 points, often jumping their opponents early in games and limiting the stress on their defense.

The 2015 team represented Carson Palmer’s third year in the Bruce Arians system, like Murray and Kingsbury in 2021. And the Palmer Cardinals exploded from the start, scoring 20 or more points in four of their first five games.

If this team is to fight for something remarkable, the reshuffled Cardinals will do the same. They will break down doors like the Secretariat. And that will mean Kingsbury has done a masterful job of hiding the storm ahead, showing very little and saying even less throughout training camp.

Kingsbury must also evolve. His teams have a troubling history of falling apart in the second half of football seasons. His offenses become too predictable and easy to solve, the equivalent of basic math for the most astute defensive coordinators. It’s time to put away the pawns and take out the chessboard, as we were promised.

The Cardinals have a lot of weakness. They are playing in a brutally difficult NFC West. They also have a surplus of big name players with a history of making high-profile games into high-profile games. It can make all the difference in the world.

The 2008 Cardinals have once been described as the worst Super Bowl team in history. They lost by 40 points to the Patriots under Matt Cassel in late December and then went undefeated in January. They were carried out of obscurity by a small group of superstars with a habit of making things happen under pressure: Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Adrian Wilson, Edgerrin James, Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett.

This team has the same imperfect roster. Their aging stars could go wrong at any time, like Malcolm Butler or milk on a shelf. But they also have the same constellation of stars, young and old.

They must all shine brightly in 2021 to avoid a debilitating stock market crash. Starting with the quarterback.



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