TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Steve Wilks began what could be his final week as Arizona Cardinals coach pretty much the same as any other week.
At what might be his last Monday news conference, the first-year coach calmly, politely answered every question thrown his way. What he might like to say is another matter.
“I always tell the coaches this: There’s always a bubble over a player’s head and as you sit there trying to talk to him, if you really understood what that bubble was saying back, you’d be amazed,” Wilks told reporters with his usual straight face. “There’s a bubble over my head and if you really knew exactly how I felt inside and what it was saying, you would question my faith at times.”
Asked to reveal one of the thoughts from inside the bubble, Wilks said, “My mom’s in town, so I don’t want to say those words.”
Wilks is dryly funny and likable, which makes watching him toil through this season difficult. There hasn’t been much improvement from the opening of training camp. Some things, the run defense for instance, have gotten worse.
But Wilks soldiers on with an inconsistent rookie at quarterback, a one-time All-Pro running back who never broke loose and an extremely popular wide receiver nearing the end of a spectacular career. Otherwise, the Cardinals have a core of mostly anonymous receivers and an offensive line of rookies and castoffs from other teams after the starters, who weren’t much more effective, went down with injuries. Only rookie center Mason Cole remains from that first group.
The defense has hung in there much of the season but has been gashed for 215 and 269 yards rushing the last two weeks, its worst two games of the year in that department. Five days after being signed off the street, C.J. Anderson rushed for 167 yards — one shy of his career best — in the Rams’ 31-9 win in Glendale.
Wilks called Arizona’s run defense “a virus” under his skin. He blames it on players being in the wrong places and, most of all, missed tackles.
This coach is all about defense. He was defensive coordinator for a season with Ron Rivera in Carolina. Before that, he coached defensive backs for five seasons. So he takes the defensive issues personally.
But it’s been the offense that’s been an even bigger problem. Arizona ranks last in the NFL in every major category, and with one game left it’s hard to see that changing much.
The only Arizona TD against the Rams was a trick play that saw rookie Josh Rosen throw backward to Fitzgerald, who tossed to a wide-open David Johnson for his first career scoring pass (in 15 NFL seasons). He has 115 career TD catches.
Fitzgerald bumped chests with offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich when he left the field to chants of “Larry, Larry.”
“Because he told me he was going to call it, so I was happy he did, and I had the opportunity to throw something,” Fitzgerald said.
Otherwise, the offense didn’t do much, and one play won’t make Wilks’ job more secure. He acknowledges getting support from around the league.
“Coach Rivera is always a guy that I’m very close to,” Wilks said. “There are times that (Bengals head coach) Marvin Lewis has reached out to me this year. (Jets head coach) Todd Bowles, (Bills head coach) Sean McDermott. Those guys who have gone through the process and just words of encouragement.”
Now comes a trip to Seattle, which has already clinched a playoff spot. Just how much the main cast of characters will play for the Seahawks remains to be seen. Arizona finished 1-7 at home, its worst since moving from St. Louis 30 years ago. A loss on Sunday would leave the team 3-13, tied for the worst since the franchise moved and the worst since 2000.
When it’s over in the Pacific Northwest, Wilks will fly back with his team to hear his fate.