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Rapid Reaction: Arizona “Air Raid” takes flight en route to one point win against Falcons

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Rookie QB Kyler Murray shines; tossing three touchdown passes in the home win.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since 2017, the Arizona Cardinals have won consecutive NFL games.

Perhaps more importantly, the much-anticipated Kliff Kingsbury “air raid” offense is finally taking flight. The Cardinals outlasted a talent, yet underperforming Atlanta squad by the final score of 34-33.

After a slow start to the season, Arizona is moving the ball at ease and Kyler Murray looks like a legitimate (top 10) franchise quarterback.

The rookie was exceptional again on Sunday against the hapless Falcon’s defense, throwing for 340 yards and three scores. This was Murray’s most productive passing game of the young season that, like the Bengal game, included zero turnovers.

The former Oklahoma Sooner also ran for 32 yards.

Following an opening third quarter touchdown drive (Murray to TE Maxx Williams), the Cardinals had orchestrated what appeared to be an insurmountable lead of 27-10 over the 1-5 Falcons.

The Atlanta offense would respond with veteran quarterback Matt Ryan tossing three second half touchdowns to eventually knot things up at 27. The Cardinal defense once again melted down in the fourth quarter thanks to missed assignments and a inconsistent pass rush.

After Kyler Murray hit David Johnson for a 14-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter, the Falcons would again respond with a touchdown drive of their own. This time it was Ryan connecting with a wide-open Devonta Freeman that capped a 75 scoring drive that took less than four minutes.

What happened next was unexpected and certainly welcomed if you’re a Cardinal fan.

Preparing to lead his second consecutive game winning drive, Kyler Murray and the Arizona sideline watched as veteran kicker Matt Bryant hooked left the game tying extra point.

Three offensive plays and an Arizona first down later and the Cardinals moved to 2-3-1.

Game Ball: Kyler Murray

What’s left to say at this point that hasn’t already been said? Murray operates Kingsbury’s offense with such rhythm and timing it’s ridiculous. As it stands now, Kyler Murray is set to break Andrew Luck’s rookie passing yards record of 4,374.

Pretty good for a “running” quarterback who’s too undersized to sit in the pocket and sling darts.

Watching Murray’s development, knowing the surrounding talent will eventually be upgraded; it’s easy to become excited about the coming years of desert football.

Game Ball: Damiere Byrd

The fourth year pass catcher out of South Carolina had missed the previous two games for the Cardinals, but made his presence felt on Sunday against Atlanta.

Arizona has been searching for a deep threat in the passing game and perhaps Byrd can be the answer for the remainder of 2019. His 58-yard (non fumble) catch from Kyler Murray to kick off the second quarter showed that this team is desperate to stretch the field. Byrd beat two Falcon defenders to haul in the deep ball and eventually setup a two yard touchdown pass to Chase Edmonds.

Outside of rookie Andy Isabella, top end speed isn’t what Arizona’s receivers are known for. Byrd’s presence on the field certainly changes that.

Game Ball: The Cardinal Offensive Line

For the first time in 2019, the Cardinal offensive line did not surrender a sack on Kyler Murray. In fact, they have allowed only one sack in their past two games combined.

Sure, the Atlanta defense had a mere five sacks on the season coming into Sunday’s contest, but that shouldn’t overlook the improvement of this much-maligned unit. While the team’s ground game wasn’t as effective as in recent weeks (29 for 102), it was still enough to keep the Atlanta defense honest thus allowing time for Murray to operate in the passing game.

The Cardinals still need an infusion of talent upfront, but this unit’s recent rise in play ranks as one of the biggest team surprises.

Needs Work: The Cardinal Defense…again

For what it’s worth, if you didn’t expect Arizona’s defense to struggle against this highly talented Atlanta offense…I’m not sure what to tell you. The Falcon’s are as deep of an offensive team as there might be in the NFL and for the Cardinals to hold them to 10 first half points is pretty impressive.

Yes, the second half collapses need to stop but let’s have some perspective. Arizona is starting THREE rookies in their secondary and LB Haason Reddick is playing his third position in three seasons. Terrell Suggs is 36 years old and playing large minutes at OLB. The team is zero impact defenders on the defensive line.

I expect this unit to improve upon the return of All Pro CB Patrick Peterson but even he can’t mask all the issues Arizona has defensively. Most of which are talent related.

Check back in November and we can assess this unit’s progress.

Quick Hits

  • David Johnson was questionable leading up to Sunday’s game with a back injury but gutted it out for his teammates. Watching the game, it was obvious that the former Pro Bowler was limited but that didn’t stop him for securing two more touchdowns (1 rushing, 1 receiving). Chase Edmonds’ roll continues to increase but the presence of both backs is what has made this offense explode in recent weeks. The Cardinals need to lean on it.
  • Tight End Maxx Williams caught his first touchdown of 2019, a wide-open 20-yard fade from Kyler Murray. While William’s targets have been limited, the former second rounder’s physicality can’t go unnoticed. He has mad a large difference in both pass protection and in the run game. So much so that the team should consider extending Williams passed 2019. His sub one million dollar salary for this season is one of the biggest bargains on the roster.
  • After a brief absence against Cincinnati, the tight end was back to haunt the Cardinal defense. Padding his league leading stats for the position, TE Austin Hooper hauled in eight receptions for 117 and a touchdown against Arizona.
  • Andy Lee, back from injury, had a terrific day punting. The veteran averaged 52 yards per punt on three attempts and did a quality job holding for kicker Zane Gonzalez (who was perfect on the day).
  • Rookie second round pick Andy Isabella remains without a catch on the season. With Christian Kirk likely back from injury next week against the Giants, you have to wonder if Isabella will have any kind of impact this year.
  • After fielding one of the worst offenses in league history in 2018, as of the posting of this article, the Cardinals are 11th in total offense (12th in rushing and 10th in passing). That is, in my honest opinion, truly incredible when you consider that the team really only added two “marquee” individuals: Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury. For the most part, this is the same offensive group Steve Wilks and Mike McCoy had a year ago. Coaching is everything.
  • On the flip side, the Cardinal defense ranks 30th overall. Yikes.
  • For the first time since October of 2017, the Arizona Cardinals eclipsed 30 points.
  • The Cardinals still remain without an interception for 2019.
  • If the season ended today, the Arizona Cardinals would own the 14th pick in next April’s NFL Draft.