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How to Fix Cardinals’ Offense

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images

First and foremost, the Cardinals lost one of their all-time greatest players and champions in Charley Trippi. I hope the team dedicates the game tonight to Charley Trippi’s outstanding legacy. Rest in eternal peace, Champ.

What has to change?

Many Cardinals’ fans who reacted to this chart, immediately blamed the near rock bottom percentage here on the offensive line. Many blame Kliff. Sure, everyone associated with the Cardinals’ offense has a share of the blame.

But, the Cardinals’ pass protection ranking in the NFL right now, per PFF, is 14th. And in Kliff Kingsbury’s long history of play calling from Houston, to Texas A&M, to Texas Tech and to the Arizona Cardinals, this kind of passing ineptitude has never once occurred until this season.

One theory is pretty simple:

The best and most advantageous place to revamp and retune an NFL offense is in OTAs. However, because that was a missed and lost opportunity for not only Kyler Murray, but the Cardinals’ offensive line, and because Kyler was injured for much of training camp, the coaches had to revert back to last year’s offense, which down the stretch, appeared to be more tailored to Kyler’s “comfort levels”, rather than to a more diversified and unpredictable attack.

Same old same old.

On Twitter yesterday, I tried to put a “fix it” of the Cardinals’ offense in a nutshell:

  1. Move the pocket via sprint-outs, bootlegs and waggles

As we saw versus the Seahawks, continuing to situate Kyler at a stationary spot at the back of a shotgun is playing right into the defense’s hand and their most favorable chance to win.

Why? Because it is so predictable and now teams are well practiced in keeping contain on the edge rushes and creating a wall of rushers up the middle who collapse the pocket.

Like the old saying —- “a moving target is harder to hit.”

Here is a case late in the game where finally the Cardinals tried to run Kyler on a sprint-out, and, as you can see, the right side of the formation did a good job of sealing the edge.

But Kyler only ran it like a waggle, only shifting the pocket behind the right tackle where he didn’t have the vision or clear passing lanes he would have had if he had literally sprinted past the edge. Plus, sprinting past the edge would have given him a running option.

It’s called a sprint-out for a reason.

If Kyler can get the spirit-outs, bootlegs and waggles down pat, very good things can happen —- if you ask DCs around the NFL, moving around a mobile, speedy QB like Kyler Murray would be their most difficult challenge to prepare for.

2. Establish the running game to set up play-action

The Cardinals’ running game, more often than not, feels token. They need to commit to it. Even with James Conner out, Eno Benjamin and Keaontay Ingram should combine for 20+ carries. Look at how hard Eno hits this hole and how he follows his blocks:

Then, from direct snaps, imagine the play action options that Kyler could take advantage of.

Plus, what ever happened to the Cardinals’ RPOs out of the shotgun?

By constantly throwing short passes, the opposing defenses can be very aggressive with their front 7. As we have seen. You just can’t play NFL offense into a 10 to 20 yard rectangle and hope to win. You have to back off the linebackers and the defensive backs, otherwise they will keep coming like gangbusters after the football.

3. Utilize RBs more in the passing game

Not only with Eno and Keaontay in tonight’s game, but put Greg Dortch back there and run him on routes. Having Rondale Moore circle motion and then just go and stand 25 feet away on a horizontal line from Kyler is not a wise scheme, because, by the time the pass gets to Moore being that far away, multiple defenders are descending on him.

4. More huddles, fewer muddles

The muddles are where the offense doesn’t huddle and waits at the line of scrimmage for the play to be sent in —- which, imo, is creating more standing around and confusion than necessary. Save the muddles for quick muddles in the 2 minute drills.

Otherwise, huddle so as to make the play and assignment communication crystal clear —- especially now that DeAndre Hopkins is playing in his first game and Robbie Anderson needs confirmation of what his assignments are on every play. And especially now that two starters on the offensive line are out.

5. Exploit mismatches in coverage (study the opponent)

Week after week —- game after game. It’s like the Cardinals are oblivious to the other team’s vulnerabilities in their schemes and personnel.

In terms of exploiting mismatches, the coaches and Kyler should pass downfield much more often to Rondale Moore. And, to attack the the intermediate areas, they should go back to feeding Greg Dortch. Look at this!

Obviously the past couple of weeks the Cardinals haven’t been taking full advantage of these kinds of top 10 separation skills. Heck, as I said on this week’s Red Rain, Dortch is now being Isabella-ed.

Get this —- Greg Dortch as WR3 or WR4 is apt to draw a safety or a CB3 or CB4. How might that be for a mismatch? CB2s had difficulty with him earlier in the season.

6. Throw ahead of the sticks and throw into the end zone!

On third down conversions and in the red zone, Kyler has gotten in the bad habit of throwing quick passes underneath the sticks and short of the end zone. In both cases it makes the receivers heavily reliant on being able to come up with the necessary RACs it takes to move the chains or cross the goal line. This is one of the main reasons why the offense has found itself having to face a plethora of 4th and 1 situations.

Throwing beyond the sticks and into the end zone is why practice is of paramount importance. Teams have to have a number of passing plays that are designed for downs and distances where the QB and receivers can connect ahead of the sticks. There is no reason why Kyler and his talented array of receivers can’t choreograph this.

For whatever reason, in the red zone and near the goal line this year, Kyler is very reluctant to throw into the end zone. Case in point, despite being in the red zone 4 times versus the Seahawks, Kyler threw into the end zone only once. It was the incomplete pass to Rondale Moore on the very first drive of the game where Moore faked the quick slant and then redirected toward the corner.

So, what was Kyler’s pass on 3rd and goal from the 5 yard line? A quick sideways bubble screen pass that no one can still figure out what receiver this rushed, errant pass was intended for.

With a whole week to practice for this game, that play call and the execution of it was inexcusable.

That’s right —- that play epitomizes the Cardinals’ unnecessarily rushed and careless miscommunications that have been costing them ball games since the Green Bay loss at home last year —- the start of a thoroughly unacceptable 8 game losing streak at home.

Having DeAndre Hopkins back this week could be a significant plus, because of how adept he is at scoring touchdowns in the end zone, and how willing Kyler is to throw into the end zone to him.

Kyler has other excellent options in the red zone —- from Ertz to Moore to Dortch to McBride, to Green and now to Anderson.

But, to score consistently well in the NFL, QBs have to take numerous shots into the end zone, the kind you see on a weekly basis from Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes. Again, these are designed passing plays that teams have to rep over and over in practice, including rehearsing what to do when the QB is flushed from the pocket.

The last time Kyler threw on multiple occasions into the end zone, this is what happened:

Cardinals won 26-16.

During the Cardinals’ two losses to the Eagles (17-20) and the Seahawks (9-19), Kyler threw only one pass into the end zone in both of those games. Same thing in the Cardinals’ home loss to the Rams (12-20) .The only throw into the end zone of the Rams’ game was the pass that Kyler threw too high for Zach Ertz on an open skinny post.

The next play on 3rd and goal from the 5, Kyler threw incomplete into heavy traffic to James Conner at the 2 yard line. It made no sense whatsoever. This regrettable decision occurred with the Cardinals having the opportunity, at the 2 minute warning of the first half, to cut the Rams’ lead to 13-7.

Imagine how a TD, at that precise point in the contest, could have changed the complexion of that ball game.

Therefore, these are the main areas, in my opinion, that the Cardinals’ offense needs to amend in order to do away with “Crawl Ball” and usher in “Wall-to-Wall Ball.”