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Kliff Kingsbury and Matthew Stafford both facing pressure for poor finish

The Heat is uh uh uh uh ON!

The Heat is uh uh uh uh ON!
Illustration: Getty Images

If the Cardinals had beaten the Lions, Arizona would be NFC West champs right now. Let me repeat that…IF THE CARDS HAD BEATEN THE 1-11-1 LIONS, THEY WOULD BE NFC WEST CHAMPS!

If the Cards had beaten the Panthers (albeit they would’ve had to do so without Kyler Murray), they’d be NFC West Champs right now.

If the Cards had beaten the Seahawks, they’d be NFC West Champs right now.

What do all of these games have in common? These were all second-half contests against lowly teams who have next to nothing to play for that saw the Cardinals soundly defeated by three possessions in each. That’s the kind of stuff that costs head coaches their jobs.

When the Rams defeated the Cardinals in Week 14, the Cardinals still held a lead in the division. With four games left, the combined records of the Cards’ last four opponents was 31-36-1. The Rams’ opponents combined for a record of 33-35. The Cardinals went 1-3. The Rams went 3-1. Ironically, the Cardinals’ only win in that stretch was against the Dallas Cowboys, the only playoff team they faced in the final stretch.

And now, just because it’s the team’s first playoff appearance since 2015, fans are supposed to be thankful to Kliff Kingsbury for making it happen?

I ain’t buying it.

Kingsbury’s lackluster gameplans and ill-preparedness in the final month of the regular season cost the Cardinals a division title, and fans have every right to be upset about it.

Ever since Kingsbury became the head coach at Texas Tech, he has floundered at the end of seasons. In 2013, after starting the year 7-0, Kingsbury’s Red Raiders lost five in a row before beating No. 16 Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl.

In 2014, they lost four of their last five after starting 3-4.

In 2015, they lost four of their last six after starting 5-2.

In 2016, they lost six of their last eight after starting 3-1.

In 2017, the lost six of their last eight after starting 4-1.

In 2018, they lost five straight after starting 5-2.

In 2019, after becoming the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, Kingsbury lost seven of his last nine after starting 3-3-1.

In 2020, he lost five of his last seven after starting 6-3.

Now, in 2021, why is it a surprise that he lost four of his last five after starting 10-2?

This pattern has defined Kingsbury’s head coaching career everywhere he’s gone. He starts hot, then fades faster than a Falcon fan’s smile after you mention “28-3.”

Now, Kingsbury has an opportunity to regain his fanbase’s trust with a win over Sean McVay, whom Kingsbury has a career 1-5 record against, lest Kingsbury feel his seat get warmer. That’s some immense pressure, but it’s not as much pressure as Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford will face.

Just think about what is on the line for Stafford here. The Rams won a playoff game with Jared Goff last season. They reached a Super Bowl with Jared Goff three years ago. Now, the Rams’ Super Bowl hopes lie on the man whose inability to win in the playoffs has defined his career up to this point. After everything the Rams gave up to get Stafford, if he can’t win them a playoff game, it would be as though the Rams moved backwards by trading for him. The team expected to be back in Super Bowl contention with Stafford at the helm, and if they can’t manage to go as far as they did a season ago? That’s a bad look for the Rams quarterback.

When Kelly Stafford is making public pleas asking Rams fans not to sell their tickets to Cardinals fans for fear of Rams players not being able to hear her husband’s count, you know there’s a problem. She, much like her husband, is probably nervous as hell going into this game. Stafford has everything he ever wanted when in Detroit at his fingertips now: a great head coach, a solid defense, a more than capable O-line, and a star receiving corps, so he’s likely looking for every advantage he can to prove that he was worth the king’s ransom the Rams gave up for him. A loss would suggest the opposite though.

Kingsbury should feel some pressure, yes, but the epic collapse the Cardinals experienced this year wasn’t entirely his fault. For one, star receiver DeAndre Hopkins missed the team’s last four games of the regular season due to a toen MCL. With Hopkins playing this year, the Cardinals rank first in the NFL in yards per pass attempt (8.8) and third in EPA per play (0.21). Without Hopkins, the team is 16th in yards per attempt (7.0) and 24th in EPA (0.0).

Not to mention, the team’s offensive line had been a serious concern all season long with Kingsbury and OC Vance Joseph having to roll out nine different starting O-line combinations throughout the season due to COVID concerns and other injuries. It wasn’t until Weeks 15-17 when the projected starters from before the start of the season actually saw the field. At the same time, starting left tackle D.J. Humphries allowed 23 pressures in his final four games this year after allowing just 19 in all the prior games he played this season. While part of that poor protection can be placed on Kingsbury and Joseph for not gameplanning better, Humphries definitely needs to be better.

There are lots of areas where Kingsbury is worthy of criticism. For example, first-round selection Zaven Collins was projected to be an immediate impact player for the Cardinals defense. In reality, he played just 20.6 percent of the defensive snaps. Kingsbury plays a large role in determining who the Cardinals select in the draft, and after one season that seems like a very poor decision (but hey, it happens; ask any Giants fan and they’ll tell you). However, based on the number of injuries and COVID problems Arizona suffered in the regular season, the Cardinals’ collapse at the end of the year seems more flukey than anything.

Even if the Cardinals lose, Kingsbury likely deserves one more shot to prove he can finish a season strong. As for Stafford, the Rams are in win-now mode, and they can’t afford to be one-and-done with zero draft picks in the two rounds of the upcoming draft. This is a must-win for Stafford if there’s ever been one.

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