Heading into the 2019 season, many people thought the Cleveland Browns, a franchise long notorious for horrible football teams, would finally have a great season. Not only had they closed the 2018 season 5-3 under interim head coach Freddie Kitchens and rookie QB Baker Mayfield, they had acquired a ton of talent, with names such as Oliver Vernon, Sheldon Richardson, Greedy Williams, and Odell Beckham Jr. However, the Browns disappointed, going 6-10, partially due to major setbacks from Mayfield and Kitchens, ending in Kitchens firing.
The Arizona Cardinals have had similar hype as last years Browns, as some NFL fans see the similarities between the teams damning to an inevitable disappointing finish. Both teams finished out their previous year strong, (the Cardinals went 2-1 in the last 3 weeks of the season) have young quarterbacks, (QB Kyler Murray will be entering his second NFL season, like Mayfield last year) traded for a superstar WR, (the Browns traded for Beckham from the Giants, while the Cardinals traded for Deandre Hopkins from the Texans) and a very good draft on paper (Greedy Williams was viewed as a steal at pick #46, and the Cardinals drafted Isaiah Simmons, Josh Jones, and Eno Benjamin much later than they were expected to be selected.) The differences between the teams make me believe the Cardinals will be a legitimate playoff contender, not at all like the Browns.
The Browns entered the season with former interim HC Freddie Kitchens, a former running back coach who was kept because of the success he had late in 2018. Prior to the 2019 season, Kitchens had never been the head coach of a college or NFL team, a far cry from Cardinals coach Kliff Kingbury’s now seven years of experience. Additionally, Kitchens was partially hired because of his apparent influence on Baker Mayfield after six months. Kingsbury has been connected with and influencing Kyler Murray for 7 years, dating back to 2013 when he started recruiting Murray. Kingsbury also has an established offense that plays to Murray’s strengths, so much so that he was the 2019 Offensive Rookie Of the Year.
Finally, whereas Kitchens had never even been an offensive coordinator and 2019 was his first attempt at calling plays, an experiment that proved disastrous, Kingsbury has been calling plays since 2008 and was able to have success in the NFL in his first season, with an offense that was ranked 12th after being ranked dead last in 2018.
Lack Of Holes
Anyone who watched the 2019 Browns could immediately recognize a plethora of holes, from offensive line to pass coverage to a consistent pass rush outside of Myles Garrett. The Cardinals, who admittedly had their own holes heading into the 2019 offseason, particularly a true #1 WR, (Murrays top 3 targets in 2019 were a 37 year old WR, a 3rd string RB, and a 2nd year WR who missed 4 games) and a defense (Cards defense was ranked 31st in the league). However, GM Steve Keim recognized and addressed these holes effectively, bringing in Deandre Hopkins to give Murray a top 3 WR, and brought in an additional 8 defensive players, including three who started for teams last season, (Jordan Phillips, Devon Kennard, Devondre Campbell) and four in the draft.
While there is no guarantee that these players will transfer, management has done an amazing job of putting enough talent on the team to be successful. Finally, while many people think the Cardinals have a horrible offensive line, due to the abysmal group in 2018, the group actually helped power a rushing attack that was second in the league in yards per carry, only behind the Ravens record setting rushing attack. They also invested into a potential franchise tackle in Josh Jones, who will help keep Kyler Murray clean.
Kitchens inexperience was most apparent in the 2019 when it came to discipline and culture. A huge amount of problems, ranging from being the most penalized team of 2019, to having the most ejections, to having star players publicly request to be traded, (Jarvis Landry, among other players, reportedly told the Cardinals sideline and coaches to “come get them” after a week 15 loss) to their best player being suspended for the remainder of the season for hitting another player on the head with their own helmet on prime time television.
This made it clear that the Browns did not have the ideal culture for any franchise, much less one with so many young pieces. In contrast, the Cardinals have had no problems with culture. RB Kenyan Drake, who was a free agent at the time, said he “loved” playing in Arizona. DB Patrick Peterson, who was part of a 2016 squad that went to the conference team, called the current group “the best team I’ve ever been a part of on paper.” Draft prospect Ceedee Lamb, after meeting with the Cardinals staff, said “We were vibing. It was a great energy.” And WR Larry Fitzgerald, when asked for a reason for his return to the team in 2020, said “I love playing for Kliff Kingsbury.” Clearly, the Cardinals have none of the problems the Browns did when it comes to culture.
While there is no doubt the Cardinals have been one of the most hyped up teams this offseason, there is no way that they should be compared to the 2019 Browns before the season even starts. While it’s always possible that things go wrong and there is a similar result, I believe the coaching, lack of holes, and culture the Cardinals have will make them a playoff contender in 2020, instead of the pretender the Browns were in 2019.
Photo credit: Cards Wire