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The Anatomy of a “Textbook” TD Pass: Murray to Kirk

Arizona Cardinals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

On the Arizona Cardinals’ first possession versus the Cleveland Browns, the Cardinals marched down to the Browns’ 7 yard line where they had a 2nd and 5.

However, while Kyler Murray was giving added instructions on an audible, Max Garcia snapped the ball prematurely, and the ball caromed off of Kyler’s hand and skipped behind him where Kyler astutely dropped on the football at the 21 yard line for a a 14 yard loss.

Talk about potential momentum breakers. These are the kind of miscues that derail momentous scoring drives.

However, the Cardinals’ interim play caller, Spencer Whipple, remembered a play that Kyler had told Whipple he loved when the two were preparing for the game on Saturday. With the down and distance now being 3rd and 19 from the Browns’ 21 yard line, Whipple felt the play set up perfectly, distance-wise, for the situation.

On a day where the Cardinals offense would bounce back repeatedly from a number of miscues that resulted negative plays and on a day where the Cardinals’ defense would stifle the Browns on all four of the Browns 4th down conversion attempts, this play set the tone for the entire afternoon.

Formation (pre-snap): 10 personnel, shotgun with Murray and Edmonds in the backfield, Edmonds to Murray’s right—- Hopkins wide left, Moore and Kirk as twin slots inside of Hopkins, Green wide right.

Snap:

  • LT D.J. Humphries induces DE Myles Garrett to rush a wide arc, which allows Kyler Murray to flush from the pocket to his left, thus giving Murray great field vision and a shorter throwing distance to the intended target.
  • DeAndre Hopkins runs an 8 yard out pass with the intention of keeping his man (CB Denzel Ward) 10-12 yards from the end zone —- this is called “opening the door” to the end zone.
  • Rondale Moore and Christian Kirk sprint at full speed downfield in tandem, where they are going to crisscross at the 5 yard line, with Moore breaking inside toward the post and with Kirk rubbing off of Moore’s inside cut on a 45 degree angle to the outside corner, half way between the pylon and the the back corner of the end zone.
  • Kyler Murray with a mere flick of his wrist throws the ball on a dime to where only Kirk can catch it.
  • Christian Kirk catches the ball cleanly and skillfully manages to get both feel down before his knee touches out of bounds for a 21 yard TD.
  • Cardinals take the lead 7-0.

The Eye Test:

What Kliff Kingsbury, Kyler Murray and Spencer Whipple believed was that the Browns’ defensive backs would lean a little more toward Rondale Moore out of respect for his speed. K2, K1 and Whip also knew that the CB assigned to pick up Christian Kirk (in this case, former Rams’ nemesis, Troy Hill) would find it very difficult to catch up to Kirk off of his 45 degree cut while rubbing off of Rondale’s inside cut.

Note: Dan Orlovsky of ESPN during NFL Live yesterday, diagrammed this play and he made a fantastic point when he said that Christian Kirk could have planted his foot and run a 90 degree out cut to the pylon, but Kingsbury’s design to run Kirk on the 45 degree corner gave the Cardinals a better chance to score because it would be the harder angle for the CB to catch up to AND it allowed Kyler Murray to pass the ball to a spot where only Christian Kirk could catch it.

Another subtle point that I would like to add is with regard to the bait that Kingsbury designed in the play, by using DeAndre Hopkins as a decoy to “open the door” to the end zone, but also, by lining up Chase Edmonds to Kyler’s right (and thus not to Myles Garrett’s side), that was meant to entice Garrett, seeing there was no chipper or RB help to his side, to try to win one-on-one on an outside speed rush. Thus, if Garrett takes the bait, that would “open the door” for Kyler to buy time on a flush to his left and give him a straight throwing lane, than having to try to throw a longer distanced hypotenuse angle pass from the pocket.

I would imagine that D.J. Humphries was instructed to invite Garrett to the outside, but, if Garrett were to take an inside lane, to ride down on him to pin him inside so that Kyler could still flush to his left.

It takes a special QB with Kyler Murray’s kind of mobility and quick flip arm strength and accuracy to make this play work. Watch how Kyler squares his feet and shoulders to the target. Watch the sheer precision of Christian Kirk’s route and catch. That my fellow Birdgangers is what coaching gurus call “textbook.”