Naysayers and cynics all over the USA were adamant from the get-go that Kliff Kingsbury and his “Pretty Boy” brand of Air Raid offense were going to fail miserably in the NFL.
The first and perhaps loudest critique of the Cardinals’ hiring of Kingsbury came closest to home from veteran Arizona Republic sportswriter, Kent Somers, who wrote in his January 8th, 2019 article/op-ed:
“It’s a bold move by the Cardinals. And a bad one. Kingsbury has never coached in the NFL, and the list of coaches with no pro experience who successfully transitioned from college to the NFL is short.”
By the end of that article, Somers softened his stance just a little and left the door of success open just a fraction when he concluded:
“There’s a chance it could work. Kingsbury could inject life into a Cardinals offense that’s been bypassed by the ongoing renaissance in the NFL. He could lure a proven defensive coordinator, as McVay was able to do with Wade Phillips. Keim could revert to the general manager he was from 2013 through 2015, when the phrase “Keim time” was meant as a compliment. But that’s a lot of wishes that have to come true. There’s no question Kingsbury is an out-of-the-box hire. But that doesn’t mean it’s a wise choice. Good things come in boxes, including new shoes, Christmas presents and coaches with NFL experience.”
After 7 games, with the team starting out 0-3-1 (but playing competitively) and now having won 3 games in a row to square the team’s record at 3-3-1, Kingsbury has shown an extraordinary display of adaptivity.
Where the Cardinals’ previous two head coaches were very stringently set in their ways, insisting that “the system works” or “no risk-it, no biscuit, win or lose we booze”—-Kliff Kingsbury’s offense is sporting new shapes, sizes and colors with each game.
People who wanted to put Kingsbury’s Air Raid in a box are learning very quickly that the box is a great deal larger and more difficult to place a lid on than first imagined.
In a matter of 7 weeks and 7 differently tailored game plans, the Cardinals’ offense has shown a mystifying ability to pass and run for big numbers—-sometimes with remarkable balance—-and other times favoring one aspect of their attack over the other, based on game situations, weather conditions and what the defense is giving them.
During Kingsbury’s first few months as head coach, he and his offensive line coach, Sean Kugler, vowed that the running game will be featured more prominently than people think.
During the team’s recent three game winning streak, Kingsbury’s offense has averaged 29 points per game, while passing for 679 yards and rushing for 524 yards. That’s an average of 227 yards per game passing and 175 yards per game rushing—-totaling an average of 402 yards per game.
Based on what Cardinals’ fans have observed over the first 7 games, the 4 main keys to Kingsbury’s offensive success:
- An ability to dictate tempo—-both in speeding up the game and in slowing the game down, depending on the situation. While Kingsbury prefers to maintain a fast, brisk pace—-he has shown the wisdom to work the game clock and play calling to the team’s advantage late in games.
- A commitment to making his offense a collaborative effort. Clearly, Kingsbury listens very carefully to his players and his assistant coaches. Following the home loss versus the Panthers the Cardinals’ offensive linemen, then much maligned for giving up 8 sacks, loudly voiced their displeasure with the play calling, the pass protection schemes/personnel and the heavier tilt toward the passing game, at the expense of the running attack. In their recent win over the Giants which was highlighted by RB Chase Edmonds’ 126 yards and 3 TDs (all from a stance of 20-22 yards), it became evident that the Cardinals could impose their will in the running game under adverse weather conditions while playing in a hostile environment. Just yesterday, the Cardinals added a complimentary RB to David Johnson, Chase Edmonds and D.J. Foster in veteran Alfred Morris—-Morris is a blue collar, grind-it-out hole banger who can further allow Kingsbury and the offense to lean on a power running attack when needed, as it was late in the game versus the Giants.
- Developing trust in his QB Kyler Murray. This is why it was so essential for Kingsbury to be able to draft his top choice for QB. Kingsbury and Murray manifest the epitome of collaborative effort. They are dialed in on each week’s game plans and all of the tweaking of the offense from game to game. As the weeks proceed, we are seeing Murray’s role expand and diversify—-he is now a vital part of the running game and who would have ever thought he would take as many direct snaps from the center as he has to this point? Murray, who in just his 6th game as a pro, took home the NFL’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player of the Week Award. deserves high praise for his accurate and well-time throws and his ability to move the chains via a handful of designed QB runs and a few downfield scrambles a game. But, what often gets overlooked is perhaps Murray most impressive trait: ballhandling.
- Skillful Ballhandling. What QB coach Tom Clements will tell you—-or what anyone who values the honing of QB skills (combination of footwork and ballhandling) will tell you—-Kyler Murray’s ball handling has been spectacular. Go back and look at Murray’s ball handling in the downpours at Met-Life Stadium—-he was so efficient that even late in the game when the ball was its slickest, Murray was cleanly taking each snap (even the one that came early) and was still delivering perfectly placed handoffs and, most impressively, flicking brisk, well-led strikes on quick sweep pitches—-does everyone realize how difficult that toss is to make perfectly let alone with a slippery, wet football? Murray is making QB ball handling look so automatic and natural that it’s been easy to take it for granted. But, masterful ball handling is one of the main reasons why an offense can get out of a game with zero turnovers—-a feat the Cardinals have accomplished for 3 straight games. How often as Cardinals’ fans have we witnessed 3 straight games of 0 turnovers?
Imagine what it must be like for opposing head coaches and defensive coordinators to prepare for this Arizona Cardinals’ offense. By now, 7 games in, coaches were hoping to have a leg up on what to expect from Kingsbury’s NFL version of the Air Raid. Well, this offense is now so amorphous, multi-dimensional and unpredictable that in certain ways it has become virtually impossible for teams to prepare for, at least to to any comfortable or satisfying degree.
As you might recall, the Saints’ head coach, Sean Payton, had some very glowing things to say at the NFL Combine to Daniel Jeremiah and Rich Eisen about Kyler Murray. Fast forward to the 1:50 minute mark to see what Payton had to say:
Such compliments mean a lot coming from one of the mastermind offensive coaches in the NFL. And it will be interesting to hear Sean Payton’s takes this week on Kingsbury and the Cardinals’ offense.
The Cardinals suddenly have a chameleon as a head coach—-not only does Kliff Kingsbury try to adapt to each change in his environment—-it’s his exemplary willingness to listen—-to take the blame for when plays go bad—-to be ever so humble even amidst victory celebrations —-and to be so eager to direct and deflect the praise to his players, his coaches, his GM and the team’s owner.
Kingsbury’s ultimate aim is to blend in precisely to the point of being invisible, while those around him bask in the team’s success.