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Why the Cardinals’ Offense is Unimaginative and Under-Prepared

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Imagine what kind of pressure it would put on the defense if the Cardinals ran RPOs (run/pass options) with David Johnson (and Chase Edmonds when he’s in the game). On a key third down, Josh Rosen could run with the ball to move the chains (on a slide) if the end crashes down...but most of all, Rosen can fake the handoff and then pass into the open areas behind the linebackers. The Vikings and Eagles did this very well last year with Keenum and Wentz/Foles.

Why have a FB on the roster and not use him?

So—-OC Mike McCoy is not keeping the LBers honest with RPOs—-he isn’t even running head-on iso blocks with a FG on them. Thus, the opposing linebackers might as well be playing in tuxedos. It’s Prom Night versus the Cardinals.

You have to make life difficult for linebackers in the NFL. if you don’t—-chances are you are going to lose.

Like Mark Schlereth said---the Cardinals were just running DJ into a stone wall. It’s maddening.

If you move DJ around like the queen on a chessboard---the defense has to become acutely aware of where he is at all times and adjust their coverages and run defenses on the fly. But how often is DJ on the move in McCoy’s offense? Throwing to DJ only twice in the game is not only unthinkable—-it is irresponsible.

Would it be so hard for Wilks and McCoy come to the conclusion that a 4-5 yard pass to DJ is better than a 2 yard run just for the sake of running the ball?

Isn’t the whole point of having David Johnson on your team to find ways to get him the ball in space?

When you watch the best offenses—-they PASS to set up the RUN---they don’t run to set up the pass. Plus, defending the pass gasses the defensive line and linebackers way more than defending the run, so by the 4th quarter you can run the ball better because you’ve (a) backed the defense off and (b) you’ve steadily worn them down.

The Cardinals’ offense is playing as tight as a drum. The calls are predictable and they play right into the hands and the strengths of the defense. To play fast on offense you have to take the training wheels off and you have to play loose and with passion. Look at DJ---he looks like he’s playing in a straightjacket half the time because the defense is keying on him and loading the box and the Cardinals’ OC still runs the ball (without a FB in front of him to take out the first threat). In this offense, DJ is basically giving the defenders target practice.

When the Cardinals started throwing on 1st downs they misfired too often---which then put them in 2nd and 10s---and it seemed that every 2nd and 10, McCoy called a run between the tackles, which then set up a series of 3rd and 7s---and several of the 3rd and 7 passes were high risk WR or RB screens that were easy for the defense to defend within the 7 yard box because the catches were at or behind the line of scrimmage.

If you misfire on 1st down, take another shot on 2nd down.

The Patriots once opened a game with 19 straight pass plays—-and they backed the defense off so far that by the end of the game, the Pats ended up with well over 100 yards rushing.

As an OC you have to have answers for 3rd and 7s and 3rd and 10s---that’s where mismatches come into play. That’s what Kurt Warner was a genius at---knowing all week long what the WR, TE, RB mismatches were, so that when he saw them he could audible right into them. Often they were for #3 and #4 WRs like Steve Breaston and Jerhemy Urban. Carson Palmer did that a lot on 3rd downs with Jaron Brown.

Essentially it all comes down to one simple principal---you take whatever the defense is giving you.

But you have to have that worked out before the game---that is—-if you have studied your opponent well and if you know their matchup and scheme tendencies. The last couple of years it looked like BA was less prepared for each opponent as he was the first couple of years---he then confirmed that by saying “we do what we do.” It looks like McCoy mantra is the same thing---week after week he is doing what he does without showing a keen understanding of where the defenses are weakest.

And then—-there are in-game adjustments that should be automatic---but Mike McCoy doesn’t seem to be making such adjustments. Like in the Bears. game, RCB Prince Amukamara was injured and yet McCoy didn’t pick on the new CB. Even worse, in the Seahawks game, it was all the more frustrating that McCoy got even more conservative after Earl Thomas got hurt. Those are opportunities a good OC takes advantage of.

On the play sheet an OC should have sections for down and distance calls---and sections for which pass plays attack the perimeter (short, intermediate, deep) and the middle (short, intermediate and deep)---so, when he sees a starting CB, LB or FS go out of the game, bingo, he looks on his sheet and decides how to exploit the substitute.

Being creative on offense is not as difficult as some think. You run misdirections to turn the defense around, just as in basketball you want to swing the ball from side to side and then exploit an opening.

You run your offense based on the numbers—-if the defense is loading the box, the numbers are in the defense’s favor, but it leaves them more vulnerable to the pass. This is where defenses try to confuse QBs by giving a loaded box look when they are really going to back players off into coverage.

But, by sending a man in motion—-you can get a solid on read on whether the defense is playing zone or man—-if they chase the receiver across the formation, it’s man—-if they don't chase then chances are you get an immediate cover mismatch even if the defense is disguising man coverage.

Then—-there are always the gadget plays. The Eagles won the Super Bowl thanks in part to their “Philly Special.” There are all kinds of flea flicker options—-and throwback passes off sweeps or backward laterals (like the Giants ran yesterday with OBJ passing a wide open throwback TD to Saquon Barkley).

One of the philosophies that BA had down pat is—-taking deep shots and running gadget plays keep the defense honest—-even if you don’t complete them, it backs the defense off a little and gives you more room to operate.

Same way in basketball—-versus a full court man-to man deny-every-pass defense—-if you do not pose a deep threat—-all the defense has to do is defend half the court—-and with quick athletes it’s twice as easy to defend half the court than every inch of the full court.

This is what the 2018 Cardinals are doing—-they are playing in the half court—-they are running far too many plays that allow the defense to be ultra aggressive in a 20-25 yard box—-the Cardinals’ one big play this week came on a first play bomb. But, by the 3rd and 4th quarters the 49ers’ defense was playing way up without any fear of getting beat deep.

This is why it actually can be smart to take downfield shots late in games, rather than play ultra conservatively down the stretch.

This was how BA taught the team how to win—-by being aggressive when the situation traditionally calls for being conservative.