FOX Sports NFL Analyst
Welcome to the Week 7 edition of the Schrager Cheat Sheet.
Each week, I take a look at several things you need to know heading into the NFL weekend. This week, we consider why the Arizona Cardinals are so good, Jared Goff's Los Angeles legacy, Derrick Henry's MVP case and more.
1. Arizona's secret sauce: The "Old" Dudes
It was Sunday, late afternoon, and I was perplexed at how to handle a peculiar situation. This was a weird predicament for me, someone whose job requires constant communication with NFL sources — in times that are good and times that are bad.
The Cardinals-Browns game was kicking off, and I reached for the phone. To text or not to text? That was the question!
See, Kliff Kingsbury and I will often exchange text messages during the week, before or after a game. Nothing elaborate, but if there's a nugget here or there that I can pick up that will help inform me or the viewers, it usually makes it on to "Good Morning Football" or FOX NFL Kickoff on Sunday morning. But I didn't know how to handle last Sunday's situation. Do you text a head coach during a game, when he's not allowed to communicate with his own coaches?
I opted to remain silent. No text. No call. Not my place. If Kliff couldn't text with his coaches, he certainly shouldn't be texting with some schlub in the media. Well, the Cardinals went out to Cleveland, without their head coach, without quarterbacks coach Cam Turner and without their general manager Steve Keim on the trip. Instead of Kingsbury or Turner, his top lieutenant, it was Spencer Whipple, a 32-year-old assistant wide receivers coach, calling plays for the first time in his career.
As for Kingsbury, once the clock hit 0:00, I had to text him.
It turns out, incredibly enough, he didn't watch a single snap of the game.
What'd he do? He went for a long walk around his neighborhood during the first half and then watched the Houston Texans game tape in the second half.
The Cardinals' Week 7 opponent is the Texans, so Kingsbury took the opportunity to get a head start and prepare. I get it. But how could he not watch the game?
Kingsbury told me he couldn't stomach watching "as a fan." Sitting at home, vaccinated and suffering no symptoms, he was sick to his stomach — not from COVID-19 but from FOMO — and the fact that he couldn't be there with his guys was crushing. So instead of driving himself nuts and suffering from that feeling we've all had when you want to control something but you just can't, he opted to stay away and trust those who'd been handed the reins.
Maybe Kingsbury knew something the rest of the football audience didn't. Maybe he knew his team would be fine because of the veteran leaders in the locker room. This past offseason, Keim took a very deliberate approach to the team's roster. When others scoffed, he paid A.J. Green $8 million. When others rolled their eyes, he paid J.J. Watt $28 million. Matt Prater, Rodney Hudson, James Conner and now Zach Ertz — the Cardinals added veteran leadership across the roster and in every position group.
The secret sauce might very well be those 30-somethings added this offseason, those same players who many thought were on the back nine of their careers.
2. Jared Goff's return to L.A.
Goff's return to Los Angeles? Not quite the same deal. But I've always been of the belief that Goff's time in L.A. should be celebrated, not trashed or dismissed. And I think, a few months removed, both his head coach and the fan base can say the same. Goff has never won a game without Sean McVay as his head coach. He lost every one of them with Jeff Fisher (0-4) and John Fassel (0-3) in his rookie year, and he has dropped every one with Dan Campbell (0-6) this season so far.
But Goff did go into New Orleans, come back from 13 points down and beat Drew Brees and the Saints in an NFC Championship Game. He also was incredible in the Monday night victory over MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs and was a huge contributor to the Rams organization's work in Inglewood. Goff's a good dude. And he was a great Los Angeles Ram.
Years from now, there might be four or five Lombardi Trophies around SoFi, and Matthew Stafford might have MVP awards and All-Pros on his mantle. But that doesn't take away from what Goff did in that 2017 season and how he helped usher football back to the market.
I think there will be a warm reception for him from Rams fans on Sunday, and knowing the Rams' organization, there will be a ton of respect and fond memories for the man as well.
3. It's Darnold's return, too!
Sorta. Sam Darnold makes his return to the building in which he spent the first three years of his career on Sunday, with a trip to Jersey to face the Giants. The national and local narrative on Darnold was a lot different three weeks ago, when he was running in touchdowns and getting his helmet knocked off his head in Houston. The Panthers were 3-0 at the time.
The highlights from those three games might as well be in black and white. That feels like forever ago.
The Panthers are 3-3 now, and Darnold is struggling. He had an impressive, 98-yard drive to get Carolina back in the game Sunday and a two-point conversion to tie it at the end of regulation, but it wasn't enough against the Cardiac Kid Vikings. Carolina has lost three straight, its quarterback isn't doing much to elevate the team, and Christian McCaffrey isn't walking through that locker room to save the day anytime soon.
The Panthers should beat the Giants. If they don't, there might be too many good teams in the NFC for Carolina to dig out of this hole and make the playoffs. Frankly, there might be too many other good quarterbacks.
4. Derrick Henry's MVP case
He's in the conversation, that's for sure. After Monday night's effort, he might very well be the lead dog. And it's not like he's going anywhere. Henry is a beast. We get that. But I love this season more than anything for what it represents in 2021.
Others will point to the statistics and the way he plays in big, prime-time games, and those are reasons Nos. 1 and 2, for sure. But I look at his current season with great reverence and with tears in my eyes. I'm a football lover and a lover of yesteryear, and I think Henry might be the last of a dying breed: the true No. 1 running back. Look at his contemporaries this season — Nick Chubb, Alvin Kamara, McCaffery, Saquon Barkley, Dalvin Cook — none of those guys would crack the top 20 of the MVP voting this season.
The most recent MVP season from a running back was Adrian Peterson in 2012. Marshall Faulk (2000), Shaun Alexander (2005) and LaDainian Tomlinson (2006) have all won it since 2000. Todd Gurley finished second in 2017. Maybe I shouldn't be so fatalistic on the running back position, but I'm just not sure, with today's offenses and the stress on the passing game around the league, if a running back other than Henry will be in the conversation again.
The NFL is quite happy with how the game is being played this year — points, passing yards, all the young QBs. How cool would it be for a big, hulking running back with a game from yesteryear to be the league MVP in 2021?
5. Hurts so ... good?
Jalen Hurts has been solid this season for the Eagles, with big fantasy football numbers, a few gutsy performances in wins and a clutch fourth-quarter effort against the Buccaneers on Thursday. But he's up against it already in Philadelphia, with the way things are shaking out around the league and what Philly's 2022 offseason is about to be.
The Eagles have not only their own first-round pick in the 2022 draft but also Miami's, which they acquired when they swapped their No. 6 for the Dolphins' No. 12 (Jaylen Waddle) back in March. On top of that, they could have Indianapolis' first-rounder if Carson Wentz takes 75% of the Colts' snaps at quarterback this season (he is currently at 98.8%). Philadelphia could very well end up having three first-round picks, and they could all be in the top 10.
If the draft were to happen today, the Eagles would own the Nos. 6, 10 and 15 picks. That sounds awfully interesting to me. In an offseason in which names such as Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson could all very well be available, those draft picks could be an enticing starting point in trade negotiations.
This is nothing against Hurts as a person or player. And maybe he rattles off a bunch of wins and takes this team deep into the playoffs. But these games matter. Win in Vegas and beat the 4-2 Raiders? That would be a nice win and statement. But if the Eagles keep losing and the Dolphins and Colts keep losing, too? Those draft picks will start looking more and more valuable than whatever Hurts is doing on the field on Sundays.
Peter Schrager is an NFL writer for FOX Sports and a host of "Good Morning Football" on NFL Network.
Source : https://www.foxsports.com/stories/nfl/peter-schragers-cheat-sheet-the-arizona-cardinals-are-good-beyond-kyler-murray2310