Now The Fun Really Begins

By Jeff Munn

No matter how close or distant you are to Steve Keim and Bruce Arians, you can tell both have earned a level of respect seldom given in the past to the general manager and the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

Both have earned it. In three-plus years, they have transformed the Cardinals’ attitude from “we hope we can win” to “we know we can win” and they’ve done it with hard work, good football savvy and a boss that generally stays out of their way.

Only now are we about to find out about their collective ability to stem the tide of panic.

It has not been the smoothest of starts for the 2016 Cardinals. A preseason dominated by lackluster performances and Arians’ illness led to a game last Sunday night that was high on drama but low on results.

In fact, if you go back to last season’s playoffs, they came within inches of not even getting to Carolina…and we don’t need to remind anyone how much fun that trip was.

One thing’s for sure – whatever is ailing the Cardinals, Keim and Arians are working diligently to find the problem and fix it. However, as they head into Week 2 of the NFL season, the team picked by many to, at the very least, appear in Super Bowl 51, now has a two-word phrase attached to their upcoming matchup with Tampa Bay:

Must win.

The loss to New England has led to stories of a team that’s miscommunicating on offense and a defense whose lack of discipline led to their overall demise. Now, here comes Tampa Bay. A game that looked like a sure win when the schedule came out in April doesn’t look like such a given now.

That’s the bad news. Is there good news? Oh sure, if you love storylines.

On one sideline, we have the presumed NFC favorite looking to regain its mojo. On the other sideline, may we introduce to you someone some of you already know.

Dirk Koetter didn’t win a lot of friends in the media during his tenure as Head Coach at Arizona State and it proved to be too big an obstacle for him to overcome when his Sun Devils couldn’t win road games in California and never made a BCS Bowl. An offensive mastermind to be sure, but his less than cordial relationship with writers and talk show hosts left him open to criticism, and ultimately sent him out of Tempe and into an NFL coordinator’s position in Jacksonville.

Now as the Head Coach of the Bucs, Koetter returns to Arizona as the man in charge of a football team for the first time, and at the moment, life is pretty good. Jameis Winston threw for four touchdowns on the road last week in Atlanta and the overall confidence of the Bucs has to be soaring.

Knowing the local media’s love for Keim and Arians, there is absolutely no doubt Koetter would relish the chance to come in and prove a few things to those same writers and talk show hosts that waved goodbye as he left.

There’s also the added pressure of knowing that a Cardinal loss is painful on two levels – it would put the Big Red at 0-2, and 0-2 at home, where Arians’ goal every year has been to be unbeaten.

If it wasn’t happening to the local team, it would make for an entertaining Sunday.

Before we close the book on last week, can we all agree that Bill Belechick can coach? What was it they said about Bear Bryant? He could take his and beat yours, then he could take yours and beat his. Sounds like the guy roaming the sidelines in New England.

So has anyone in town lost faith in the Cardinals’ brain trust? Absolutely not. Steve Keim has proven himself as a solid roster manager and talent evaluator. Bruce Arians’ “no risk it, no biscuit” approach has earned him praise in a league that too often is afraid to take chances. His roll the dice mentality could have knocked the Cardinals out of the playoffs in last year’s Divisional Round game with Green Bay. He didn’t back down then, he won’t now.

Still, Sunday in Glendale seems a little more than just Buccaneers vs. Cardinals. It seems like put up or shut up.