As we wait with bated breath for the Cardinals to decide on their next head coach, it’s significant to look at the teams that will be arriving in Arizona to compete in Super Bowl LVII.

There will be reams of words written and said about the usual noteworthy suspects: Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Chris Jones and Frank Clark on the Kansas City side to go with Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Haason Reddick and Fletcher Cox from Philadelphia. Of course, many other players had key roles.

However, you can take this to the bank: There won’t be much time devoted to the unit on each team that is as much responsible for their team’s success as any other.

The offensive line.

Peter King, who writes the Football Morning in America opus each week for nbcsports.com, had a revealing passage in his column following the Eagles’ victory over the Giants in the divisional round.

King wrote, “My dad’s here tonight,” (coach Nick) Sirianni said after the game, nodding in the direction of his father, “and the first thing he told me when I got into coaching was, ‘It’s always about the O-line and the D-line.’

“Just then, the architect of the two lines and the rest of the roster, GM Howie Roseman, walked by to congratulate Sirianni.

“Howie!” Sirianni yelled. “All about the O-line, D-line, baby!”

“All about the O-line, D-line!” Roseman replied.”

There’s nothing new there, but it’s important that everyone be reminded of it. It’s always said that football games are won in the trenches, yet that’s rarely part of the analysis afterward.

What should be obvious, as I digress for a moment, is how the Cardinals season was adversely affected by a decimated offensive line as well as diminished personnel at other positions because of injuries. The “all teams have injuries” crowd, you know, the injury deniers, can yell that at the top of their lungs as much as they want, but the reality is that it’s folly to criticize Kliff Kingsbury for his play-calling or lack of creativity and make blanket statements that quarterback Kyler Murray regressed without at least asking a simple question: why?

Consider this: Overall, the Chiefs had 15 players start at least 15 regular-season games with nine starting all 17. The Eagles had 12 players start all 17 games and 14 start at least 15.

The Cardinals? Only five players started at least 15 games and two –- right tackle Kelvin Beachum and safety Jalen Thompson –- were the only ones started all 17.

As Bucs quarterback Tom Brady said on the “Let’s Go” podcast Monday, while discussing the elbow injury suffered by 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy Sunday, “Injuries play a role in every game and your margin of error changes quite a bit.”

And yet, no matter what Brady or others that play and coach the game say, there will be those that blindly repeat the mantra that injuries are “ an excuse.” No, they are explanations, but some don’t want to hear them because it might spoil a good rant about how the coach or general manager sucks.

So, let’s go back to the offensive line theme that began as the premise of this exercise.

Starting with the Cardinals, they had 12 different players start games on the line with 10 different combinations. The team’s projected starters opened only 47 of a possible 85 starts (55.3 percent): Beachum 17, right guard Will Hernandez 13, left tackle D.J. Humphries eight, left guard Justin Pugh five and center Rodney Hudson four. Humphries, Pugh and Hudson started 17 of a possible 51 (33.3 percent).

Now, let’s examine the Chiefs and Eagles. Both teams had only six offensive linemen start games and each team had three different combinations in their 19 games, including the playoffs.

For the record, left tackle Orlando Brown, center Creed Humphrey and right tackle Andrew Wylie started all 17 games for the Chiefs. Right guard Trey Smith started 16 and left guard Joe Thuney 15. Backup Nick Allegretti started the other three games at guard.

For the Eagles, left guard Landon Dickerson, center Jason Kelce and right guard Isaac Seumalo started 17 games, while left tackle Jordan Mailata started 16 and right tackle Lane Johnson 15. Backup Jack Driscoll started the other three games at tackle.

Both teams lost only three games this season and the Eagles lost two when Johnson was out, while the Chiefs lost one of the games Thuney missed.

Currently, the Chiefs have three players on reserve/injured with one a rookie free agent placed on the list in July. The Eagles have six on reserve/injured with only one being a starter. The other two teams in the conference championship games, San Francisco and Cincinnati, had six and seven players, respectively on reserve/injured.

The Cardinals ended the season with 18 players on IR, nine of whom were starters. That was the third-most in the NFL behind Denver with 23 and Tennessee 22. The Titans lost their final seven games after being 7-3. The Rams, who like the Cardinals, won seven fewer games than last season, ended the season with 16 on IR and four offensive linemen.

That all sounds compelling to me, but, heck, what do I know? Well, I do know this: I am shopping for a trusty crane to help a bunch of people get their heads out of the sand.

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

Author

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.

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