Rookie Head Coach Expectations for 2018 and Beyond: Steve Wilks

There were many teams who had disappointing 2017 seasons. Some teams, like the Cleveland Browns, who finished with an 0-16 record, decided not to fire their coach. Others, however, like the Indianapolis Colts, decided to clean house in the coaching department. There were a whopping seven head coaching changes in the past year, and it may be difficult to diagnose what those coaches should and/or will accomplish in their endeavors with their respective teams. In this edition, I will be analyzing the expectations for 2018 and beyond for newly hired Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks.

The Arizona Cardinals had a very average year in 2017. After losing star halfback David Johnson for the season in Week 1, and being forced to put future Hall of Fame quarterback Carson Palmer on season-ending IR and having to make do with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, the Cardinals were forced to rely on their defense to win games. The Cardinals defense allowed just 18.4 points per game in 2017 (7th best in the NFL) and have had success running a 3-4 base defense (3 down linemen, 4 linebackers) since 2007. Larry Fitzgerald was the lone (healthy) star on the Cardinals’ offense last year. After the shocking retirement of Palmer and head coach Bruce Arians, Arizona was thrown into a frenzy to patch their team back together this off-season. After going through multiple interviews, the Cardinals had chosen Carolina Panthers’ defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. Wilks ran a 4-3 base defense (4 down linemen, 3 linebackers) during his time in Carolina. Many were concerned that making the switch from 3-4 to 4-3 would be problematic for the already potent Cardinals’ defense. Wilks was asked about that in his introductory press conference and had this to say: “If it’s not broke, don’t worry about trying to fix it.” If Wilks truly is a good coach, he will find a way to keep up the great defensive tradition in Arizona.

As expected, the Cardinals have a very impressive defensive depth chart. At FS is high quality Antoine Bethea, and opposite of him is rising star SS Budda Baker. Patrick Peterson is one of the best CBs in the NFL, and the front seven is led by 2017 NFL sack leader Chandler Jones and 2017 first round pick Haason Reddick.

On offense, there is solid backup quarterback Mike Glennon, but Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen are the only real competitors for the starting job. Bradford is extremely accurate but is getting older and has injury issues. Rosen, though considered by many to be the top quarterback in the 2018 NFL Draft, fell all the way to #10 before the Cardinals finally traded up to select him. In 30 games in 3 seasons at UCLA, Rosen completed 60.8% of his passes for 9,300 yards, 56 TDs and 29 INTs with an astonishing 139.9 passer rating. Bradford will most likely start the season and keep playing until he gets injured, which hopefully won’t be until later in the season for Rosen’s sake. At WR is future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald and 2018 second round pick Christian Kirk. Jermaine Gresham is a solid tight end, Mike Iupati and Justin Pugh make up a great interior offensive line, and, remember that star halfback David Johnson? Yeah, he’s coming back, too. Wilks hired former San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy to be the team’s next offensive coordinator. McCoy is a disciple of Joe Gibbs, who was a disciple of Don Coryell, who was the inventor of “Air Coryell,” which focused on a vertical passing game rather than West Coast which focuses on the horizontal passing game. I expect McCoy to also add in some zone-read concepts, similar to what he did during his time as the Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator under John Fox. I expect this Cardinals team to be very interesting this season.

The Cardinals are a very interesting team moving forward, however, their division is very tough. I predict that the 2018-2019 Cardinals will have a record of 7-9. They are installing a new offense and are under new coaching on defense. Teams like the Cardinals are tough to predict because we don’t know if their rookie QB will pan out or not. I think Steve Wilks will have a career win % of .631. I think the 49ers are being far overrated by the media because of how flashy and glamorous 49ers’ QB Jimmy Garoppolo is. I agree that Garoppolo is great, but I do not trust the San Francisco’s ownership. I mean, come on, they ran Jim Harbaugh out of town after one average season and the franchise was in ruins the very next season. The Cardinals, however, have generally been fairly stable at worst. Steve Wilks will be pretty consistent with about 10 wins per season and will make a nice amount of Wild Card appearances, but will struggle to top the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC West. In conclusion, the Cardinals did a nice job with this hire.