Arizona Cardinals: Losing When It Actually Matters Is a Feature, Not a Bug, for Kliff Kingsbury

Anyone surprised by the Arizona Cardinals no-showing in the Monday night finale to Super Wildcard Weekend hasn’t been paying attention to Kliff Kingsbury over the years. Collapsing is what he does. Not winning anything of consequence is just as much of his modus operandi as his high-flying offensive scheme.

Kingsbury is not the right coach to take Arizona to the promised land. He proved it once again against the Los Angeles Rams.

The Los Angeles Rams beat up Kliff Kingsbury and the Arizona Cardinals

Calling Kingsbury’s offense high-flying is generous considering its showing in the Wild Card. Kyler Murray and the Cardinals looked anything but high-flying in the loss.

The Rams have a great defense, yes. Any unit that features Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey is going to be tough to beat, so let’s give them some credit. With that said, Kingsbury is a supposed offensive genius, and his side of the ball didn’t even bother showing up on Monday night.

The Cardinals managed just 183 total yards of offense.

How is that even possible?

Several high school teams could have moved the ball more at SoFi Stadium in that situation.

Murray, who at one point this season was considered an MVP candidate, completed just 19-of-34 passes for 137 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. One of his interceptions was a brutal pick-six where he responded to being pressured in his own end zone by underhand flipping the ball into the flat like he was tossing a bean bag at a tailgate party.

“It’s disappointing that we didn’t make it a game and come out and play the football we know we’re capable of playing, that’s really the most disappointing part,” Murray said, according to “Losing is one thing, but when you don’t even make it competitive, it’s another thing.”

The Cardinals were able to notch just 61 total yards on the ground, averaging 3.4 yards per carry. They were shockingly bad on third down, going 0-9, which is something you barely ever see in the pros. They also got pulverized in the time-of-possession battle, 35:46 to 24:14.

“I put a lot on my shoulders, put a lot on myself and to dream of this moment and then be in the playoffs, the first game of the playoffs and then to play the way I did, to play the way we did, it’s, like I said, disappointing,” Murray went on to say.

The Kingsbury special: Winning nothing of consequence

Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury
Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals looks on during warmups before the game against the Los Angeles Rams | Harry How/Getty Images

Kingsbury is flashy. He’s a stylish and young coach with a mind for offense. That’s been all the rage in the NFL ever since Sean McVay burst onto the scene in 2017.

McVay’s success as a young, energetic head coach with offensive aptitude led to multiple like-minded hires the year after he took the Rams to the Super Bowl. Coaches like Matt LaFleur and Zac Taylor were both hired in 2019 because of their affiliations with McVay, and one would imagine both the Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals are happy with those decisions.

Kingsbury was another one of those trendy hires, though it’s worth noting that he had never coached with McVay. Still, the Cardinals asked the Rams head coach to provide a quote endorsing their hire in the press release.

“I think he’s been a very good head coach,” said McVay. “I think he’s demonstrated the ability to do a lot of different things at a high level, and he’s got a great offensive mind.”

McVay was clearly shilling for a friend with that statement because even a cursory glance at Kingsbury’s coaching resume would rule out the phrase “very good head coach.”

He spent six seasons middling around at Texas Tech before the Red Raiders fired him at the end of the 2018 season.

He went 35-40 at Tech and was bowl eligible only three times. Of the bowl games he made, he won only once.

Kingsbury always had a high-flying and exciting offense at Texas Tech, but he never won anything of consequence. It was all window dressing.

Does that sound familiar?

Kingsbury has a long history of late-season collapses

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals looks on during the second half against the Seattle Seahawks | Steph Chambers/Getty Images

If you were to look at the season-by-season record, Kingsbury would appear to be doing a great job in Arizona.

The Cardinals went 3-13 under Steve Wilks the year before Kingsbury was hired and ended up with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. They quickly ditched Josh Rosen and picked up Murray, which at the time seemed like a brutal decision but it was ultimately the right one.

When he’s on and healthy, Murray is one of the top five quarterbacks in the league, and to his credit, Kingsbury does know how to push the right buttons. He and Murray have found success together so far. The Cardinals went 5-10-1 in 2019, 8-8 in 2020, and were 11-6 this season with a playoff berth.

Things seem to be trending in the right direction on paper, but those records don’t tell the whole story.

The Cardinals started the 2020 season 6-3 with wins over the San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks, and Buffalo Bills. They appeared to be a team trending up in a big way, but then finished the season winning just two of their final seven games.

Arizona suffered a similar collapse this season. Heading into mid-December, they were 10-2 and seemed to be a Super Bowl contender. They finished the season losing four of their last five games and five of their last six if you were to count the no-show against the Rams.

Looking back at Kingsbury’s days at Texas Tech, this trend of second-half slumps becomes even more troubling.

  • 2013: Texas Tech lost its last five games of the regular season before notching Kingsbury’s only bowl game win.
  • 2014: Texas Tech lost four of its last five, including a bowl game.
  • 2015: Texas Tech lost four of its last six, including a bowl game.
  • 2016: Texas Tech lost three of its last four.
  • 2017: Texas Tech lost six of its last eight.
  • 2018: Texas Tech finished the season on a five-game losing streak.

After the five-game losing skid to end 2018, Kingsbury was fired. The next time he walked a sideline was as an NFL head coach for the Cardinals. It was quite a rags-to-riches story, but it didn’t seem wise then for Arizona, and it doesn’t seem so smart now, either.

The sooner the Cardinals figure that out, the better off they’ll be. All the trends suggest they’ll be heading for yet another late-season collapse next season.

Kingsbury losing when it matters isn’t a bug. It’s a feature.

Stats courtesy of ESPN and Pro Football Reference. 

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