In today’s Niner Nate-tion Podcast, Nate Nelson and Leo Luna kicked off their NFC West preview by looking at the team that always seems to be a thorn in San Francisco’s side - the Arizona Cardinals. Joined by Revenge of the Birds’ Johnny Venerable, the guys took a look at how the Cards have tried to improve since last year, why they play the 49ers so tough, and more.
What has changed since last year?
Arizona made some splashy additions in JJ Watt and AJ Green, which Venerable says add to a roster that is already pretty strong.
“I think objectively they have a top 12-ish roster in the NFL. The roster was good enough to make the postseason in 2020. They’re better than last year, but I think that their record will be worse.”
Many 49ers fans have given the side-eye to the Cardinals for their veteran signings, but Venerable is realistic about what Watt brings at this point in his career.
“I don’t think he is what he once was, but their five techniques on their defensive line since Calais Campbell left have been below average at best. Watt’s going to be an improvement for them. And for the people that look at that as a cash grab, the Cardinals were desperate for an upgrade before they even signed JJ Watt at that position. Watt has been, so far, the ideal teammate.”
He also made sure to praise the addition of three-time Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson, who the team acquired from the Raiders in exchange for a third-round pick. Hudson strengthens a sneaky-good unit for the Cardinals. Kyler Murray was the second-least hit quarterback in 2020.
Where are they vulnerable?
While the secondary is a weakness, for sure, Johnny actually thinks Arizona’s offense is more to blame for their struggles last year than the defense.
“The Cardinals were a relatively healthy team last year outside of Chandler Jones. The offense they finished the season with is predominantly the same offense they started within Week 1 against San Francisco. How many teams can say that? So that’s an indictment on Kliff. It’s like, ‘What would you say you do here?’ You’re not really elevating a lot of these guys. It’s a lot of backyard football. We’re just kind of relying on the stars that we know are stars. They just need Kliff to be better as an in-game coach.”
Arizona averaged just 22 points per game in the second half of the season and scored a meager 19 points over the final two games of the year, with the playoffs on the line against the 49ers and Rams.
Biggest storyline going into the year
Without a doubt, it’s the job security of Kliff Kingsbury. While he had taken the team from 5-10-1 his first season to 8-8 last year, Venerable thinks it’s playoffs-or-bust for the former Texas Tech head coach.
“It will be his last year if they don’t make the playoffs. I just think it’s bad timing for Kliff. In a different division, with a different ownership group, he’d be given time to grow...Everybody just trashes him. It’s because he’s got this mantra of pretty boy football, and nobody thinks he earned his way to the NFL...This team should be primed and ready to go. You’ve got year three of a rebuild, ascending quarterback, stars all over the roster, and you’re picked to finish fourth in the division. What does that tell you about your head coach?”
It was good to hear the view of things from enemy territory, and it’s just the start on the Niner Nate-tion podcast. You can check out the full episode here or anywhere you get your podcasts.
Up next, Nate and Leo will tackle the hated Seattle Seahawks with Matt Mikolas of 950 KJR in Seattle.