In the NFL, first impressions can be everything, and for Jonathan Gannon's first go-around as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, it's certainly been a rollercoaster. The team's record may not be something to brag about, but this season's story is about more than just the numbers in the win column.
Think back to when Gannon first took over. He came in with talk of adaptability, grit, big plays, and smart football – setting us up for what we thought would be good, fundamental football. But let's be real, most folks had the Cards pegged as bottom-tier in terms of talent, with more gaps than a kid's first smile and their star quarterback, Kyler Murray, out for a good chunk of the season while he recovered from a torn ACL.
Fast forward to the present, and the Cardinals are sitting at a disappointing 3-10. But here, context is king. Murray missed the first nine games, and that's a blow every team would struggle to overcome. Despite the gloomy outlook, the Cardinals have somehow managed to outdo the naysayers' predictions. They've been scrappy, fighting above their perceived weight class, and showing flashes of Gannon's vision, albeit sporadically.
There's been a noticeable shift in the Cardinals' energy under Gannon's watch. The consistent fight the team shows throughout the season even when things clearly haven’t been going their way is a real testament to Gannons ability to keep these guys motivated and engaged. The team’s overall culture and effort reflect on the head coach, and the Cardinals are reflecting well in that department.
This newfound spark isn't just surface-level; it's seeping into their play, especially on defense where the Cardinals have been able to stifle some high-powered offenses behind a collective effort. Something Gannon brought to Arizona from his time in Philadelphia, where the Eagles consistently had a top-five pass rush in his time there: scheming up a good pass rush. They don’t have a pass rusher in the top 55 for sacks in the league; yet as a team, they’re ranked 15th.
Gannon’s Arizona Cardinals building a good culture, despite poor record
One of the greatest parts of this Cardinals season has been the improvement of the younger players. There’s the obvious Trey McBride explosion, but there’s an argument to be made that he would’ve broken out under any head coach. What can’t be denied is his impact on players specifically on the defensive end. Many of the Cards defenders have taken a jump in their play this year under Gannon’s leadership.
Let's zoom in on Dennis Gardeck, one of the players benefiting from Gannon’s presence. As an outside linebacker, he’s improved in virtually every facet of his game. That’s being reflected in his playing time, having nearly doubled his snap count from last year with a full month left to play. Gardeck has taken a big jump rushing the passer over last year, leaping from a lone sack last year to five already in his 2023 campaign, while more than doubling his pressures. It isn’t just rushing the passer where his game has improved, his pass coverage stats have seen a bump over last year as well.
In the Cardinals secondary, Jalen Thompson has taken his game to new heights this year. With Gannon as the head coach he’s gotten more interceptions while giving up less touchdowns on the other end. Creating turnovers and preventing points in clutch moments, he’s been a great player in the secondary. Thompson has also been able to find new versatility in this new regime; becoming a disruptor when he’s asked to attack the quarterback.
Gannon’s impact is more than just X’s and O’s, he’s changing the culture in the organization. The team has taken on his even-keeled attitude and never seems to sway too far in either direction. This new culture seems to be taking its effect on Kyler Murray as well, who’s off-field evolution has been as impressive as his on-field exploits. Since Gannon's arrival, there's been a maturity and leadership quality about him that's hard to miss. He's been a catalyst for the team's never-say-die attitude, a reflection of Gannon's impact on the team culture.
It’s clear that Gannon’s first season with the Cardinals has been about more than just the win column. It’s been about building a culture, developing talent, and laying the groundwork for future success. With a healthy Kyler Murray back in action, a high draft pick, and the continued growth of the team, who knows? Next season, we might just see the Cardinals flying high.
(Statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference)