As the Cardinals return from their bye, there is understandably a lack of enthusiasm for the final five games of the season.

It’s fair to wonder what we will see in games against five teams – New England 6-6, Denver 3-9, Tampa Bay 6-6, Atlanta 5-8 and San Francisco 8-4. That’s a combined record of 28-33.

The record of the eight teams the Cardinals have lost to, including the Seahawks twice, is 61-35. The four wins have been against teams with a combined record of 16-33.

The vocal critics know what they want. They have been screaming to fire coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim for several weeks and there’s no reason to believe that will stop no matter what happens down the stretch.

Of course, it’s easy to somehow believe that a small fraction of people on Twitter somehow represent the masses.

On a recent edition of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, the host had an interesting perspective on social media. Yes, he was talking about politics, but his basic point is worth hearing.

Maher said, “Let’s rally the normies, which we now realize are still most of us, and bully the bullies on the extreme ends who are such a tiny part of us, and yet thanks to social media and partisan politics are able to hog the microphone and make everything suck!

“The extremists are only about 7-8 percent on both sides and yet they get 90 percent of the media attention. Ninety-two percent of all tweets in this country come from 10 percent of the users. Why are we letting 15 percent of the population make us all miserable? It’s like we’re letting the crying baby fly the plane.”

Now, I realize there are those that probably consider me an extremist on one side of the issue. However, I fully support scrutiny of any coach and general manager. Everyone is fair game. What I rail against (with facts) is the fire the coach crowd that refuses to even acknowledge that a massive amount of injuries absolutely affects a team’s results and makes it difficult to evaluate the performance of a head coach.

The usual responses are that injuries are “excuses,” that “all teams have injuries,” or that backups and depth players have to be “coached up.”

First, injuries are explanations of why things often happen, not excuses. And, yes, all teams have injuries, but any objective analysis should make it obvious that not all situations are the same. Backups are coached up, but there’s a reason they are backups. When too many have to play week after week, especially on the offensive line, the results are predictable.

In recent weeks, the Cardinals have been playing with anywhere from only three to five of their projected starters at the beginning of the season.

However, it’s not only the Cardinals. That’s why I work to include examples of other teams in my analysis. The Rams are in a bigger offensive mess than the Cardinals with a worse record and they are a glaring example of what can happen to even a Super Bowl winner with Sean McVay as coach when the offensive line is ravaged and is accompanied by other prominent personnel losses.

Offensive game plans and play-calling are compromised and affected, especially when the line is constantly changing making it a challenge to run-block or protect the quarterback.

The Rams, Green Bay and Tampa Bay, teams that were 38-13 in the regular season in 2021, are now a combined 14-23.

Conversely, the Eagles have an offense that is obviously operating at a high level and they have a line that has had one player miss one start all season. By contrast, the Cardinals’ line has missed 22 (36.7 percent) of a possible 60 starts and that number and percentage will only get higher in the ensuing weeks.

Two of the interior starters last week -– center Billy Price and right guard Max Garcia — weren’t with the team in training camp and the third, left guard Rashaad Coward was cut from the practice squad in September only to be brought back in November.

Look no further than the Chiefs and how quarterback Patrick Mahomes was running for his life in the Super Bowl two seasons ago against the Bucs when they were playing without their two starting tackles.

Also, what is often overlooked is that when backups move up to starting roles, they often play less or not at all on special teams, which pushes others, including newcomers, to those roles.

The numbers below spell out the 77 players that have played in games this season, a number that is accentuated by the fact that 48 players have started games and 59 have participated on special teams.

There have been only 17 Cardinals that have played in every game and only 28 have played in at least nine. Five have started all 12 games with one, right tackle Kelvin Beachum, on offense. Only nine have started 10 or more games.

The overriding reality is that players executing and making plays is what separates teams in a league where so many games are close.

A coach can make a supposedly great play-call that will be blown up by a mistake, which can be a missed block, dropped pass or myriad of other issues that can be game-changing.

Consider: The strikingly healthy Vikings are 9-0 in one-score games and have won those games by a combined total of 48 points. Flip only three of those and their record would be 7-5.

The Cardinals are 2-4 in one-score games with the four losses by a total of 20 points. Flip two and they would be 6-6. Not great, but it would look a lot better with five to go. A handful of plays can make the difference in close games.

That’s the simple reality of life in the NFL.

Games Played

12 (17 players): DE Zach Allen, TE Stephen Anderson, S Budda Baker, T Kelvin Beachum, LS Aaron Brewer, LB Zaven Collins, DT Leki Fotu, LB Markus Golden, C/G Sean Harlow, T Josh Jones, P Andy Lee, LB Ben Niemann, LB Isaiah Simmons, LB Cameron Thomas, S Jalen Thompson, LB Tanner Vallejo, CB Marco Wilson

11 (4): LB Victor Dimukeje, WR/RS Greg Dortch, TE Trey McBride, DE J.J. Watt

10 (7): RB *Eno Benjamin, DE *Michael Dogbe, TE @Zach Ertz, WR A.J. Green, DE Jeremiah Ledbetter, QB Kyler Murray, LB Ezekiel Turner

9 (6): S Chris Banjo, RB James Conner, LB Dennis Gardeck, G @Will Hernandez, CB Christian Matthew, CB Byron Murphy Jr.

8 (5): CB Antonio Hamilton, T @D.J. Humphries, WR Rondale Moore, K Matt Prater, LB Myjai Sanders

7 (4): WR Marquise Brown, G Max Garcia, RB Keaontay Ingram, CB Trayvon Mullen Jr.

6 (8): WR Robbie Anderson, WR #Andre Baccellia, G Cody Ford, WR DeAndre Hopkins, C Billy Price, G Lecitus Smith, RB @Darrel Williams, TE #Maxx Williams

5 (4): LB *Devon Kennard, NT @Rashard Lawrence, G @Justin Pugh; RB *Jonathan Ward

4 (5): RB Corey Clement, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, C @Rodney Hudson, LB Jesse Luketa, LB @Nick Vigil

3 (6): G Rashaad Coward, DT Trysten Hill, WR *Andy Isabella, QB Trace McSorley, S *Deionte Thompson, CB *Jace Whittaker

2 (4): K *Matt Ammendola, K *Rodrigo Blankenship, QB Colt McCoy, S Charles Washington

1 (7): WR/RS #Pharoh Cooper, G Wyatt Davis, DT #Manny Jones, T #Badara Traore, K *Tristan Vizcaino, WR #Javon Wims, DT &Antwaun Woods

Games started

12 (5): Allen, Baker, Beachum, Collins, J. Thompson

11 (2): Watt, Wilson

10 (2): Ertz, Murray

9 (4): Conner, Golden, Hernandez, Murphy

8 (4): Humphries, McBride, Moore, Simmons

7 (1): Brown

6: 3): Green, Hopkins, Price

5 (6): Ford, Fotu, Lawrence, Niemann, Pugh, Vallejo

4 (2): Hudson, J. Jones

3 (5): Benjamin, Coward, Hamilton, Harlow, Mullen

2 (9): R. Anderson, Dimukeje, Dogbe, Dortch, Garcia, Gardeck, McCoy, Smith, Vigil

1 (5): Banjo, Kennard, Ledbetter, Sanders, Whittaker

Special teams

There have been 317 special-teams snaps in the 12 games played this season. The Cardinals have had 59 players participate in at least one special-teams snap.

Following are those snaps for every player with the second number the percentage.

200 or more

Vallejo 270/85.2, Turner 224/70.7, S. Anderson 200/63.1


Banjo 192/60.6, Gardeck 187/59.0, Dimukeje 186/58.7, Niemann 149/47.0, McBride 146/46.1, Matthew 139/43.8, Hamilton 110/34.7


Brewer 89/28.1, Dortch 89/28.1, Fotu 89/28.1, Lee 89/28.1, Wilson 76/24.0, Grugier-Hill 75/23.7


Allen 58/18.3, Ward 58/18.3, Mullen 57/18.0, Clement 55/17.4, Luketa 54/17.0, Prater 51/16.1


  1. Thompson 49/15.5, D. Williams 48/15.1, Benjamin 47/14.8, Baker 43/13.6, M. Williams 42/13.2, J. Jones 40/12.6, Ledbetter 40/12.6, Dogbe 37/11.7, Beachum 36/11.4, Harlow 36/11.4, Collins 33/10.4, Ingram 31/9.8


Vigil 29/9.1, Whittaker 28/8.8, Washington 27/8.5, Thomas 26/8.2, Hernandez 23/7.3, Humphries 21/6.6, Murphy 21/6.6, Smith 20/6.3


Blankenship 19/6.0, Ford 19/6.0, Baccellia 15/4.7, Garcia 14/4.4, Ammendola 12/3.8, Cooper 11/3.5, Sanders 11/3.5, J. Thompson 11/3.5, Vizcaino 11/3.5


Coward 9/2.8, Lawrence 9/2.8, Isabella 5/1.6, M. Jones 5/1.6, Pugh 5/1.6, Traore 4/1.3, Ertz 3/0.9, Green 1/0.3

*No longer with team

#Practice squad

&Practice-squad injured


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.