I hope …

That everyone, and that includes those that label explanations of why things go a certain way for teams “excuses,” realize just how important center Rodney Hudson is to the Cardinals offense.

Last season at this time, when the team was 7-1, I was making a case for why Hudson might have been the most valuable player on the team.

Aside from his ability, teammates and coaches hailed his leadership, smarts and ability to keep his linemates calm when the going got tough. Quarterback Kyler Murray talked about instances where Hudson recognized something in the defense, communicated it to him, and an adjustment was made with a touchdown the result.

Hudson missed five games last season and his absence was noticeable. The Cardinals were 9-3 when he played, 2-3 when he didn’t.

There were signs of relief just before training camp opened when, after missing OTAs and minicamp amid speculation he was considering retirement, Hudson revealed he would play this season.

The problem now is, after missing the last four games because of a knee injury, there’s no indication of when he will return.

Asked Monday about Hudson’s status going forward, coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “I would say at least this week he’ll be out. I’m not sure moving forward where that’ll be, but at some point in the future I expect him back.”

That doesn’t sound promising.

Commenting on Hudson’s value, Kingsbury added, “He’s a Pro-Bowl caliber center, a very established leader, very cerebral, great at the Mike points and doing all those things. If he leaves, a piece like that, it’s never going to be easy to replace him, so we’ll see when we get him back.”

The Cardinals are 2-2 this season with him and 1-3 without, making the total 11-5 and 3-6 in the 25 regular-season games since the start of the 2021 season.

It’s no surprise this is happening. A Raiders source that was with the team when Hudson was traded to the Cardinals told gophnx.com that while the main issue in the deal was mostly about money, the source also said that as good as Hudson was as a player and leader, he was “always beat up and talking about retiring.”

He rarely practiced this past summer in training camp because of a knee issue and playing in the first four games likely only made it worse. It appears almost guaranteed that he will retire after the season, but if he doesn’t, how can the Cardinals count on him?

Had the Cardinals not made the draft-night trade for wide receiver Hollywood Brown, they likely would have selected center Tyler Linderbaum, who has started all eight games this season for the Ravens and would have set the Cardinals up at the position for the present and the future.

Now, that will be a position of need in 2023 unless the Cardinals believe rookie Lecitus Smith can play at a high level. It might not be a bad idea to have him play there at some point in the second half of the season.

I wonder …

If enough people truly realize how overall line issues significantly affected the Cardinals in the stretch run last season and this year’s first eight games.

In 2021, the Cardinals had nine different line combinations in 17 regular-season games and four different ones in the final five games, four of which were losses. During the regular season, they started three centers, three right guards, two left tackles, two left guards and two right tackles.

This season has been more of the same. In the first eight games, there have been five different line combinations with 10 different players receiving starts. There have been four left guards, three centers and two left tackles.

While the deniers blindly say “all teams have injuries” when this is discussed, the reality is that most consistent offensive units simply don’t have that number of injuries within the most important group on the team.

Look no further than Super Bowl LV when the Chiefs played Tampa Bay without both their starting tackles and quarterback Patrick Mahomes was running for his life most of the game in a 31-9 loss.

To add some perspective, so far this season, the 7-0 Eagles have had one game in which they had a backup left tackle. The other positions have been the same for every game. The 6-1 Vikings have had the same starting offensive line all season.

Then, consider the division-rival Rams.

Last season, in the 21 games they played on the way to a Super Bowl victory, the Rams’ offensive line had the same starters for 18 games and all four post-season wins. They scored 30 or more points nine times, including two in the playoffs. This year has been a different story.

In a 3-4 start, all four losses have been by 12 points or more (12, 15, 17 and 21) and they have already had six different offensive line combinations, using 10 players (two have started at two positions) with four right guards, three centers, two left tackles and two left guards. They have scored at least 30 points only once and 10 or fewer points three times.

In the second half of Sunday’s 31-14 loss to the 49ers, in which the Rams led 14-10 at halftime, the offense totaled 58 yards on 25 plays (2.3 yards per play), had four first downs and quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 5-of-12 passes for 37 yards. They had 223 yards for the entire game.

It makes me wonder if Rams critics claim coach Sean McVay has lost his play-calling touch and have ignored the obvious. The truth is, offensive game plans are designed knowing the problems that are present and a play-caller would be negligent trying to do things that can’t be accomplished consistently.

Here are some current sobering offensive rankings for the Rams offense with the Cardinals ranking in parentheses: 30th (14th) in yards per game, 31st (30th) yards per play, 31st (17th) rushing, 31st (20th) yards per rush, 15th (13th) passing yards, 26th (30th) yards per pass play, 27th (7th) percent intercepted, 27th (12th) sacks per pass play, 23rd (7th) first downs and 28th (15th) in points.

This clearly shows how critical line play is to a team’s offense even with an acclaimed McVay at the helm. Yet, the knee-jerk reaction is that Stafford and Murray have regressed. They have played poorly, but there are obvious explanations for that, not “excuses.” But, it’s easier for emotional rants on Twitter or sports-talk shows to target the coach or quarterback rather than what’s going on around them.

I know …

That I must have missed the announcement of the parade in downtown Minneapolis where Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson can celebrate his team’s win over the Cardinals Sunday. I imagine Peterson has been searching for the Lombardi Trophy he thought the Vikings had won after their victory over the Cardinals Sunday.

But really, you’d think a 32-year-old player would understand the business of the NFL. Furthermore, if he had played with the energy and passion exhibited Sunday during his final season in Arizona, there might have been more of an effort to keep him around.

Of course, the Cardinals understandably weren’t willing to pay top dollar for Peterson and while he was chirping Sunday about general manager Steve Keim not calling him, he apparently blocks out the reality that there wasn’t much of a market for his services when he became a free agent in 2021.

Peterson played last season on a 1-year, $8 million guaranteed contract that included a $5.9 million signing bonus. This year, on another 1-year deal, it’s significantly less: $4 million with $3.5 million guaranteed plus $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses.

One Minneapolis report credited Peterson with “almost single-handedly” limiting Robbie Anderson and A.J. Green to no receptions on four targets. Chalk that one up right there with the top cornerback performances in NFL history. Green has 10 receptions for a whopping 56 yards this season and rarely gets open. Anderson has been with the team since Oct. 18.

Yet, after Peterson deflected an early-game pass intended for Green, he began yelling at coach Kliff Kingsbury and kept it up throughout the game, often appearing close to being guilty of taunting.

Afterward, he said, “Oh, yeah, that was purposely. I’m still waiting on Steve Keim to call me. I still haven’t talked to him.”

He added, “I’ve still got it. All I heard the last two years was, ‘He’s washed up. He’s done.’ I’m just getting started. Like, I’m in a zone right now. I’m in a groove.”

Peterson also threw some other barbs at the front office, saying, “I have been told a lot of things about me from that organization. I got fan mails from the owner [Michael Bidwill] saying I can’t tackle. I’m old. I lost it. I wanted to go out there and show them. Now they see me.”

Asked to explain that one, he then clarified, “Someone was sending emails to the owner, and I’d get them on my chair in the locker room. They said as long as I was on the team, they wasn’t going to be a season-ticket holder anymore. I think his name was John H. Berry, if I’m not mistaken.”

I think that was his name, when you mention the middle initial? That’s rich.

Who knows if the claim is actually true, but in Peterson’s mind, it is.

Meanwhile, according to Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith, former Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks, who had a crucial tackle on a late-game reception by running back Eno Benjamin, spoke up at a team meeting Saturday night exhorting the team to “start fast and hit them in the mouth” to shut the Cardinals up.

Hicks said after the game, “That’s a jawing team; that’s what they do. That’s just who they are.”

And, obviously, so are the Vikings.

I hope …

The offense can iron out issues with getting plays off without needing timeouts to avoid penalties for delay of game. There were instances Sunday where there wasn’t much time to get the ball snapped after breaking the huddle, which has been a new wrinkle.

Surely, having new starters exacerbates the problem, including a center (Billy Price) who has been with the team since Oct. 4.

Said Kingsbury, “We tried to huddle which was new for us, and obviously there’s been some growing pains in that. We’ve got to be better with some of these new pieces and trying to calm people down because it has been late in the play clock when we’ve been getting up there so that’s something we’ve continued to work on.”

Those “new pieces,” include wide receiver Robbie Anderson and three backup linemen playing Sunday “being able to talk through some things. When you’re at the line signaling, doing all that, it’s not as much communication that can be had, and I think that’s kind of the problem. We’re breaking late, probably overcommunicating some things, and getting up there. It can pressed for time a bit, so we’ve just got to keep working through that and kind of find what fits us best.”

Kingsbury noted that he and Murray aren’t “accustomed to huddling, so I think both of us are still working through that. Like I said, we have to streamline the process, it has to get to the line quicker, and not be pressed for time to get the ball snapped.”

Murray had a wristband Sunday, and Kingsbury acknowledged, “I think it helped him with a few concepts, and we’ll continue to try to fine tune that whole process and see how we can expedite it.”

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on a season that has only nine games remaining.

I wonder …

If the Cardinals have it in them to find a way to win at least two of the next three division games, while also knowing the debut of Hard Knocks with the team is next Wednesday (Nov. 9).

The numbers are simple.

Win all three, and they are 6-5 overall and 3-2 in the division. Win two and it’s 5-6 and 2-3. Win one and it’s 4-7 and 1-4. The worst result would be three losses, a 3-8 record and 0-5 in the NFC West. That would mean turn out the lights, the party is likely over after a trip to Mexico City.

The biggest difference between 2020 when the Cardinals were 8-8 and last season when they were 11-6 is the 2-4 division record two seasons ago and 4-2 last year. That turns 8-8 into 10-6, with the 11th victory being the 17th game that was against Cleveland.

Isaiah Simmons said Monday, “I think everybody understands what the importance of this game is and what it can do for us and how we can just really build off of this week. I know we’re all looking forward to getting back on the field tomorrow, installing and getting everything going.”

Kingsbury said what’s expected in usual coach-speak, but the focus is obvious.

“It’s basically one day at a time at this point,” he said. “(Sunday) is a huge division game and three coming up, so Wednesday at practice it’s just get back to basics, focus on the little things and things we can control. Our guys understand that the division is still wide open really with where it sits. There’s a lot to play for.”

There isn’t much he can say to the team because they know the precarious situation that exists.

“Obviously, there’s not a lot of wiggle room left with three division games and where we’re at record wise,” Kingsbury noted. “Our guys understand that, and we’ve got a great locker room. They’ll continue to push each other, and the sense of urgency will pick up.

“If you are able to win all three, there’s an opportunity to be right there, or at least have a piece of first place at the end of this deal. Our guys understand after starting the way we did that that’s a great carrot out in front of you, so let’s take it one week at a time and try to get better.”

With the Seahawks 5-3, the 49ers 4-4 and the Rams 3-4, he concluded, “The division is still wide open really where it sits. There’s a lot to play for.”

I know …

That this is a player’s game and that most of the responsibility is on their shoulders to just do their job in a week-to-week sport where most games are close and come down to the fourth quarter.

Entering Week 9, there are only 12 NFL teams with winning records and five are in the NFC. Seven teams will be in the playoffs in each conference. There are 19 teams with records ranging from 5-3 to 3-5.

The final average score margin of 9.52 is the lowest through the first eight weeks of a season since 1970 and 55 games have been decided by a touchdown (six points or fewer), the most such games through Week 8 in NFL history.

Yet, when a team loses, we’ll frequently hear the common narrative of being “out-coached,” or the team wasn’t “prepared,” or players making mistakes are linked to coaching.

To name only a few from Sunday: Greg Dortch muffs a punt, Trey McBride commits two straight holding penalties; Eno Benjamin is guilty of a blind-side block; Murray makes a bad decision on a pass attempt that is intercepted and then isn’t on the same page with Zach Ertz on another pick; Price snaps the ball on third-and-8 from the Minnesota 11-yard line when Murray wasn’t looking; the Cardinals have 10 penalties for 67 yards (by the way, the Vikings had the same number of penalties for more yards, 86). Somehow the narrative is that it isn’t on the players, it’s coaching discipline.

At times, what’s said defies logic. The onus should be on those actually on the field with helmets on their heads, not on those standing on the sideline wearing headsets.

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


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.