There’s no place like home

That wasn’t the case for the Cardinals in 2021. They finished the season with five consecutive losses and face a Kansas City team that has won seven straight season openers. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are 11-4-1 in season openers at State Farm Stadium.

But those numbers won’t matter much when the ball kicks off at 1:25 p.m. Arizona time Sunday.

Asked whether there might be a new approach, head coach Kliff Kingsbury dead-panned this week, “We could probably change up the music in the locker room or something,” and then said, “But yeah, I mean that’s a pride thing and we’re all embarrassed that it ended the way it did at home last year and hopefully we’ll respond the right way.”

Said linebacker Markus Golden, “You want to make sure you get these fans what they deserve. They’ve been supporting us for a long time and I love playing here and playing in front of all the fans. So we want to let them know that they can trust us at home and we can get out there and compete and win at home.”

Concluded safety Budda Baker, “Those are the games you have to win. Those are the games that you’re counting in the win column because you’re at home, you have that home crowd, we want to get the home crowd and the fans riled up and excited for us. We want to win at home, we need to win at home. That’s something we always talk about.”

How much will Golden play?

During training camp, tackle D.J. Humphries’ stomach bug miraculously cleared up after he signed a new contract. That happened this week with Golden, who signed an extension and practiced after not working since Aug. 1.

Golden spoke to reporters Friday when we didn’t know he had re-signed and insisted he was absent because of a fractured toe, which he said happened when a 50-pound kettlebell weight fell on it.

He had tweeted during camp that he was “underappreciated and undervalued,” and had told the team website earlier in the offseason, “I’m working hard for you, and I hope you do the right thing for me.”

He said Friday, “I’m a guy that’s gonna work hard no matter what. I’m gonna come out and do my thing and grind no matter what. Of course, you want to get paid and everything else. It’s a business. But that hasn’t been on my mindset at all. I’ve been focusing on getting back and getting ready for the game.

“I was myself today, flying around running to the ball and just doing everything I normally do to keep working and getting into football shape and the only way you do that is playing football.”

On Arizona Sports 98.7 Friday, general manager Steve Keim said, “Markus and I have a great relationship. We were able to sit down and have some candid conversations. The thing about Markus is, he is all emotion. He’s a balls-out player that gives everything he has. To me, the one thing about him, we have the ability to be open and honest. I just think the guy deserved an extension and he’s been rewarded now, and I think he’s going to have a big year.”

The reality of the contract is that the report it’s an “up to” $6.5 million, 1-year extension is misleading and incomplete. Whenever “up to” is part of a contract report, the total includes incentives and does not reflect the base value of the deal.

As part of his previous contract, Golden has a non-guaranteed base salary of $2 million this year, a potential total $250,000 roster bonus ($14,706 per game) and a max total of $2 million for various levels of sacks: $250,000 for 6.0, $250,000 for 8.0, $500,000 for 10.0 and 1$ million for 13.0. He reached the first four in 2021 and earned $1 million.

That leaves significant questions unanswered with the new deal. Is the $6.5 million all in 2022 (unlikely) and does that still include the previous incentives or have they been increased? Is there an immediate signing bonus included and how much of the new money is guaranteed?

We will find out soon enough when the contract is reported to the NFL and NFLPA, but it is yet another example of relying on initial information provided by agents that is incomplete and seeks to make the agent look as good as possible.

Aside from the business aspects, Golden and a host of five other edge rushers including Devon Kennard (will they all be active?) hope to get pressure on Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes to help the beleaguered cornerbacks group. When asked if his snaps might be limited, Golden said, “I’ve been here long enough to know when the game gets going and stuff gets to flying around you never know what can happen, so I’m gonna be ready.”

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said, “He’s gonna go full speed, whether it’s 20 snaps or 30 snaps. So again, I have no worries about him. If he’s on the field playing, he’ll play hard and fast.”

The bouncing green dot on defense

After the 2021 draft, the Cardinals were convinced rookie linebacker Zaven Collins would do the honors. Not so fast. Jordan Hicks retained that responsibility, but he is now in Minnesota.

During the offseason and training camp, several players had the green dot in their helmet and for a while safety Jalen Thompson believed it would be him.

Not so fast again.

Now, as the season opens, third-year linebacker Isaiah Simmons will have the task of, let’s be clear, not calling the plays, but relaying them from Joseph to his teammates on the field.

Explaining the importance of the role, Joseph said, “He’s a bright guy, he really is. He has to get used to me giving him keys for other players. He has to spread the message to the DBs, to the front, what’s DND (down and distance). That’s big responsibility. It’s not just ‘calling’ the play, it’s explaining why I called the play. It’s playing the game through my eyes. That’s where you have to grow and that’s the challenge. He’s the quarterback on defense.

“Every offense has indicators by DND, by personnel, who’s in the game. Those things are key. You work 80 hours a week to give your guys an advantage, so has to spread that word game day. That’s a tough, tough job, but he’s getting used to doing it.”

Why select Simmons?

“Guys respect him,” Joseph said.  He is a very smart guy. He’s a clear speaker, so he understands the plan. It allows other guys to play fast and be comfortable.”

As Joseph emphasized, most important is the player with the green dot has to be “on the field in every package. So if you have multiple packages, you got to find a guy who’s playing in every package. We have multiple guys that do that. But I think with Isaiah being a linebacker and being in between the D-line and the secondary, he was the perfect guy to do it. And he is so clear-minded on the field. His rookie year, I was watching him miked up and I was shocked how relaxed and comfortable he was on the field. So that was an indicator he can do it.”

“Some guys on game day lose their minds, but he is pretty comfortable and confident on the field. So he’s the perfect person to do it for us.”

A path to victory

What will it take for the underdog Cardinals to win?

Aside from the obvious, which would be to avoid a total offensive explosion by the Chiefs, the way to do that could be not only truly establishing a ground attack, but taking the foot off the gas pedal and not being as up-tempo as Kingsbury cherishes.

Running the clock and keeping the ball out of the hands of quarterback Patrick Mahomes wouldn’t be a bad idea.

On the subject of playing keep-away, tight end Maxx Williams said, That’s a question for Kliff. I don’t call the plays. I just do what I’m asked to do. And if you’re gonna ask us, yeah, we want to keep the ball the whole game. Time of possession is huge for the tight-end room especially. We’re just gonna go out there and do what we’re asked to do.”

Chiefs coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defenses have a history of slow starts to the season and he conceded this week, “I say this all the time: It takes the first quarter of the season to really figure out who you are.”

Like the Cardinals cornerbacks, the Chiefs are young and Spagnuolo said, “There’s going to be baptism by fire and we certainly know we’re going to have to live with some rookie mistakes. It’s going to happen. Everyone’s going to make mistakes in this game; you just hope that their skill makes enough plays that it offsets that. Because what you don’t want to have happen, especially in the positions you’re talking about, a mistake back there (is) magnified. You just hope it doesn’t cost us in terms of points.”

Even if part of the Cardinals strategy is bleeding the clock, quarterback Kyler Murray hitting big plays to wide receiver Marquise Brown would be a sight to see and doing from the jump would be advisable.

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me:


Howard Balzer is in his 47th year covering professional football as a writer, editor and broadcaster and has covered 41 Super Bowls. His connection with pro football began in 1976 with College and Pro Football Newsweekly, and since then he has been a featured columnist for The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly, USA Today Sports Weekly and The Sports Xchange. Balzer moved to St. Louis in 1978 to work for The Sporting News, where he became Pro Football Editor in 1979. He was an analyst on ESPN's initial broadcast of the NFL Draft in 1980 and continued in that role through 1988. He has won seven writing awards in the Professional Football Writers of America competition, won an Emmy for commentaries on KPLR-TV in St. Louis in 1986 and was nominated for an Emmy in 1988 and 1990. He was named the 2016 winner of the Bob Broeg Media Award presented by the St. Louis/Tom Lombardo Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. The award is for enthusiasm, integrity, professionalism and devotion to the game of football and is reserved for individuals whose contributions to football in the St. Louis area have made a significant difference. Balzer was an officer (secretary and secretary/treasurer) for the Professional Football Writers of America for 33 years and was inducted into the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. Balzer relocated to the Phoenix area in 2020 as the publisher of the FanNation AllCardinals site and is now the Cardinals reporter for PHNX. He is entering his 19th year as one of 49 voting members on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is also on the Hall's Seniors Committee. He is the co-host of the weekly Pro Football Hall of Fame radio show on SiriusXM NFL Radio and is a part-time host at ArizonaSports 98.7 FM.