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The Top 5 Ranked Offense That Nobody Likes

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at New England Patriots Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Context:

Arizona Cardinals’ Offense—-

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2018 Yards Per Game: 241.6 (#32)...2018 Points Per Game: 14.1 (#32)

2019 Yards Per Game: 341.7 (#21)...2019 Points Per Game: 22.6 (#17)

2020 Yards Per Game: 403.7 (#2)...2020 Points Per Game: 27.6 (#8)

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2018 Passing Yards Per Game: 157.7 (#32)....2018 Rushing Yards Per Game: 83.9 (#32)

2019 Passing Yards Per Game: 217.3 (#22)....2019 Rushing Yards Per Game: 124.4 (#10)

2020 Passing Yards Per Game: 247.8 (#15)....2018 Rushing Yards Per Game: 155.9 (#4)

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2018 3rd Down Conversions: 29.15 % (#32)....2018 4th Down Conversions 37.50 % (#32)

2019 3rd Down Conversions: 36.04 % (#23)....2018 4th Down Conversions 65.00 % (#2)

2020 3rd Down Conversions: 43.80 % (#10)....2018 4th Down Conversions 69.23 % (#9)

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2018 Record: 3-13 (#16 in NFC), (#32 in NFL)

2019 Record: 5-10-1 (#12 in NFC) (#25 in NFL)

2020 Record: 6-5 (#7 in NFC) (#14 in NFL)

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Most NFL football fans would look at these stats and marvel at the year to year improvement that the Arizona Cardinals have made in going from the worst offense in the league in 2018, to a middle of the pack offense in 2019 and now emerging as a top 5 offense in 2020.

Ironically, to many Cardinals fans and pundits—-these numbers don’t mean a heckuva lot. In a recent 98.7 FM poll, 62 % of the fans believe that HC Kliff Kingsbury deserves to be on the proverbial “hot seat.” Some pundits and fans are already crying out for the Cardinals to hire “an experienced offensive coordinator.”

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2020 Top 5 Offenses in NFL To Date:

  1. KC: 425.8 yards per game, 32.6 points per game (#2)
  2. AZ: 403.7 yards per game, 27.6 points per game (#8)
  3. LAC: 397.8 yards per game, 25.2 points per game (#16)
  4. GB: 392,9 yards per game, 31.7 points per game (#1)
  5. SEA: 391 yards per game, 31.0 points per game (#3)

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A look at these numbers might suggest that the Cardinals’ offense is in pretty lofty company here.

Q: What do these other offenses have that the Cardinals’ offense lacks?

A: More dynamic downfield passing attacks with QBs who consistently win from the pocket or from connecting downfield off scrambles.

Q: What do the Cardinals have that these other teams lack?

A: More productive rushing attack and perhaps the most dynamic running QB in the NFL.

Ergo: the Cardinals’ offense is designed to be more balanced and, in doing so, it is perceived as being more conservative.

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Optics:

In today’s NFL, fans are seemingly most enamored with high level passing production, the likes of which they see on a weekly basis from Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and even from rookie of the year candidate Justin Herbert.

In today’s NFL, fans are more enamored with highly dynamic and productive wide receivers than they are with running backs. Let’s face it, Tyreek Hill and D.K. Metcalf are the envy of the NFL right now. Every fan of another team is praying for a Hill or Metcalf type player under their Christmas tree for next season.

When Kliff Kingsbury was hired by the Cardinals, the expectation was that he was going to bring with him a high octane, super fast, downfield striking Air Raid—-

Yet, somewhere early on in Kingsbury’s tenure, he was encouraged by his coaches and the players to channel his inner Mike McCoy.

And this is what infuriated Cardinals fans.

Here we have the most dynamic dual-threat QB in the history of the organization and we are spending half of our time on game days watching Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds dive repeatedly into either a brick wall or two layers of plaster board save for the occasional burst through cellophane.

To make the optics even worse, the passing offense has been more about “small ball” than a down field air attack. It’s been about getting the ball out of Kyler Murray’s hands as quickly as possible to the point where none of the top 3 receivers last year averaged more than 10 yards per catch (Fitzgerald: 75/804/10.7/4-td; Kirk: 68/709/10.3/3-td;D. Johnson: 36/370/10.3/4-td).

At Oklahoma in 2018, Lincoln Riley boasted 4 1,000 yard and double digit TD players on his Air Raid offense—-in 14 games:

QB Kyler Murray: 4,361 yds. passing, 42 TDs, plus 1,001 yds. rushing, 12 rushing TDs

RB Kennedy Brooks: 1,056 yds. rushing, 12 TDs

WR Marquise Brown: 1,318 yds. receiving, 10 TDs

WR CeeDee Lamb: 1,158 yds., 11 TDs

Now, one could say, well, versus NFL defenses we can’t expect that kind of production from any set of QBs, RBs and WRs. Right?

However—-as we Cardinals fans know, in 2008 QB Kurt Warner passed for 4,583 yards, 30 TDs, WR Larry Fitzgerald amassed 1,431 receiving yards and 12 TD, WR Anquan Boldin 1,038 yards and 11 TDs, WR Stevie Breaston had 1,006 yards and 3 TDs, plus the RB trio of Tim Hightower, Edgerrin James and J.J. Arrington rushed for a combined 1,100 yards and 14 TDs.

Cardinals fans know a high powered passing attack when we see one.

In 2015: QB Carson Palmer: 4,671 passing yards, 35 TDs. RB David Johnson ran/caught for a combined 1,038 yards, 12 TDs, WR Larry Fitzgerald 1,215 yds., 9 TDs, WR John Brown 1,003 yds,, 7 Tds, WR Michael Floyd 849 yds., 6 TDs.

This year’s Kansas City Chiefs through 11 games: QB Patrick Mahomes: 3,497 yds. passing, 30 TDs. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire a combined 926 yds., 5 TD. WR Tyreek Hill: 1,021 yds., 13 TDs; TE Travis Kelce: 978 yds. 7 TDs.

In comparison, the Cardinals this season: QB Kyler Murray: 2,814 yds. passing, 19 TDs, 650 yds. rushing, 10 TDs; RB Kenyan Drake 719 yds. rushing, 7 TDs. RB Chase Edmonds: 651 combined yds., 4 TDs, WR DeAndre Hopkins 967 yds. 4 TDs. WR Christian Kirk 496 yds., 6 TDs.

These are very good numbers (let’s not kid ourselves)—-but—-the perception is that the Cardinals’ offense just hasn’t been as explosive and exciting to watch as some of the more wide open offenses around the NFL.

For many Cardinals’ fans, watching this offense has been like going to circus to see the high flying trapeze artists bounding and leaping on the high wire while flame throwing—-and instead— finding that the majority of the action in the Big Top is given to the circle of elephants on the ground floor.

Many have said that with the Cardinals’ talent on offense, they shouldn’t have to rely so much late in games on their field goal kicker—-and wouldn’t have to if the play calling was more aggressive. Although, many of those same fans and pundits were irate that Kingsbury elected to pass the ball three times in a row with 4 minutes left in the Bills’ game while clinging to a 26-23 lead.

It seems that with some of the fans and pundits, Kliff Kingsbury is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

Many would say that Kyler Murray needs to do what great passing NFL QBs do—-step up in the pocket when necessary, not run backwards from it—-use his quick feet like he did on the Hail Murray to generate downfield strikes while on the move while having the option to tuck it in and run.

Yet, the irony is, this Sunday by virtue of Sean McVay’s motion offense, we are far more apt to see 6’4” 222 Jared Goff running bootlegs, sprint-outs and waggles, than we are Kyler Murray.

That seems a little weird, doesn’t it?

Again—-this boils down to optics—-as being something that Cardinals fans did not expect.

Just the same—-you might be surprised to find that despite Kliff Kingsbury’s conservative play calling, the Cardinals are #7 in the NFL in yards per play at 6.0. KC is #1 at 6.5. And as much as Cardinals’ fans haven been envying the division leading Seahawks’ offense with QB Russell Wilson and WRs Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf, the Cardinals are right on their heels by 1/10th of a yard. They average 6.1 yards per play (#5 in NFL).

2020 Passing Play Percentage in NFC West

SEA: 60.8 % (#10)

SF: 57.9 % (#19)

LAR: 56.0 % (#24)

ARI: 54.4 % (#25)

These rankings are surprising in that traditionally one would expect them to be the opposite with SEA and SF running the ball more often.

The question is—-what does Kliff Kingsbury need to do in order to solidify or regain your confidence ?

I would like to see Kliff Kingsbury open the offense up—-because I wonder whether RBs Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds can hold up physically for 16 games while being used to run between the tackles at the current rate and the coaches have shown us that they do not have confidence in D.J. Foster, Jonathan Ward or Eno Benjamin. Drake is giving all he has—-his toughness is impressive. But, the truth is—-Drake stands to make more yards per play as a receiver—-just as Chase Edmonds has shown.

I want to see Kingsbury back defenses off. When he and Kyler keep running and passing play after play into a 20 yard rectangle, as we have seen over and over, that makes it so much easier for teams to defend. The dink and dunk has gotten so predictable that Bill Belichick had his defenders jumping up and down with their hands up to try to take away Kyler Murray’s short passes. One of the key turning points in the game came on the Pats’ deflection of Kyler’s forced, triple-clutched panic-induced pass that was picked off.

K2—-please go back to playing up tempo—no more of this sit in the formation and count the play clock down to 1 before snapping the ball. Move Murray around, make teams wonder where he will move. Try to hit home runs rather than dink and dive and dunk into short yardage situations—-aim for far more than the 10 yard sticks. In the red zone take shots into the end zone, not in front of it. The KeeSean Johnson reception wasn’t the best call if he couldn’t score. KeeSean tried his best. But this is what you often get when you throw short of the end zone or the sticks and not beyond them, like Kyler did on the previous play to Christian Kirk—-which is so frustrating because that’s a catch that winning teams tend to make.

And the next time you are in 3rd and short—-run Chris Streveler in to sneak the ball. Kyler says he wants to win. Well, if he’s not going to sneak the ball, then Streveler should. If not a sneak, please use Maxx Williams as a FB and plow open the holes. Take the romance out of the MLB plug.