Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals Have a Coaching Problem Named Kliff Kingsbury

The Arizona Cardinals, losers of three straight games, are in the worst of slumps, and it’s happening at the worst time.

The Cardinals are still at 10-5 and actually backdoored their way into the playoffs, but this is far from the team that won seven straight to start the season and was once considered the top team in the NFC.

According to quarterback Kyler Murray, the Cardinals are playing bad football right now. That is hard to argue.

The Arizona Cardinals played terrible football in their loss to the Colts

Arizona can be an explosive team; there’s no doubt about it. Any team with Kliff Kingsbury calling the shots and Murray leading the way on offense will be trouble. The Cardinals also have one of the better defensive units in the NFL, led by Budda Baker and Chandler Jones.

It made sense to see Arizona on top of the standings until just a few weeks ago. The Cardinals appear to be that team on paper. The problem for Arizona is that the paper as of late shows an incredibly undisciplined team as well.

The Cardinals committed a whopping 11 penalties against the Indianapolis Colts on Christmas Day, a tally that included three false starts from guard Josh Jones. One of those false starts came on 4th-and-1 early in the second quarter. It forced the Cardinals into a 4th-and-5 situation and, ultimately, a turnover on downs. That was the first of two times the Cardinals turned the ball over on downs in the game. The second came with 5:24 to go in the fourth quarter and the team down nine points.

Other miscues from the Cardinals included a missed field goal as well as a missed PAT from Matt Prater. There was also a bad snap on 3rd-and-7 from the Arizona 11 that led to an intentional grounding call in the end zone and two points awarded to the Colts via safety.

Kyler Murray got real about the Cardinals’ terrible three-game skid

Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals
Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals looks on prior to the game against the Indianapolis Colts | Chris Coduto/Getty Images

The loss to the Colts was indicative of the type of football the Cardinals have been playing as of late. 

They committed seven penalties in their loss to the Rams in Week 14 and seven in the shocking loss to the Lions the very next week.

For those keeping track, that’s 25 penalties committed over three games.

Kingsbury’s normally explosive offense has averaged just 17 points in the past three losses, and Murray’s struggles have been a massive reason behind that. He’s thrown just three touchdowns compared to three interceptions over the past three games, which is not the ratio you’d expect from a quarterback who was previously in the MVP conversation. He’s averaged just 295 passing yards per game during this stretch and a terrible QBR of 30.6.

“We feel it, you see it, and good teams don’t do that,” Murray said after the loss to the Colts, according to the team website. “We weren’t doing that early in the season and now you see it’s killing us in crucial moments. We’re not scoring touchdowns because of it and vice versa on the other side of the ball, as a collective group on offensively and defensively, it’s just mental mistakes you can’t keep making.

“If we want to win these games that we know we’re supposed to be winning … it’s bad football.”

A troubling trend for Kliff Kingsbury

Kliff Kingsbury
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals walks along the sidelines during a game against the Indianapolis Colts | Norm Hall/Getty Images

It should be noted that Arizona has the talent to play with the Packers, Cowboys, and Buccaneers in the NFC Playoffs. Do the Cardinals have the experience to win those big games, though? 

That question is most important at the top, where Kingsbury has a significant lack of big-game success. 

He was known as an offensive guru during his time as head coach at Texas Tech, but his teams were never known for winning big games. In fact, he was fired after going 35-40 as head coach of the Red Raiders in six seasons. His teams were bowl eligible only three times in that stretch, and he had a losing record (1-2) in the bowl games he made. Perhaps most distressing is the fact that Texas Tech finished with a sub .500 record in four of Kingsbury’s six seasons.

That wasn’t the resume Arizona was looking at when they hired Kingsbury away from his shiny new gig as offensive coordinator at USC, though. The Cardinals saw an offensive coach who could hypothetically thrive with a quarterback like Murray, and in today’s wide-open, offense-happy NFL.

On one hand, Arizona was right. Kingsbury has turned the Cardinals into one of the offensive juggernauts of the NFL.

On the other hand, Kingsbury’s lack of big-game experience is coming back to bite the Cardinals…once again. 

The Cardinals started the 2020 season 6-3 and boasted impressive wins over the Cowboys, Seahawks, and Bills. Kingsbury led his team to a 2-5 record the rest of the way, though, and the 8-8 Cardinals missed the playoffs.

It was a major disappointment.

It seems like the same thing is happening this season as well. Arizona started the 2021 season as the hottest team in the league, winning seven games in a row and getting to 10 wins by Week 13. What has happened since has been a collapse of epic proportions, though. The Cardinals once appeared to be the cream of the crop in the NFC. They now look like a team headed toward an early playoff exit, much in thanks to their sloppy play.

One has to wonder how much Kingsbury plays into that, but he ultimately must shoulder the blame either way as the head coach.

For his part, the third-year NFL head coach still appears to be searching for answers.

“We’re looking at ourselves, looking in the mirror and trying to figure out what we have to do,” Kingsbury said, via Pro Football Talk. “Because right now it’s not good enough to be the team we know we can be.”

A team that has committed 25 penalties in three games has a coaching problem, but Kingsbury is still trying to figure that part of it out.

That’s what happens when you hire a coach with no real winning experience.

Stats courtesy of ESPN and Pro Football Reference. 

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