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Cardinals’ 2022 Shortcomings in a Nutshell

Arizona Cardinals v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

During yesterday’s Red Rain Podcast, special guest Marcos Labrada (AZSorts Underground) and I talked about how Kyler Murray’s slide 12 a yard short of the first down versus Philly and subsequent spiking of the football on 3rd down (thinking it was 1st down) was a play that has epitomized the Cardinals’ 4-8 season, to date.

An ESPN crew (Mike Greenberg, Ryan Clark, Rex Ryan and Dan Orlovsky) broke down the highlights of the game and spoke at length about the Cardinals’ woeful 2-minute drill gaffes. Having just reviewed their analysis and discussion of the game highlights, I think there are a number of comments we can make regarding every play they showcased —— and, in doing so, it can remind us of a number of the Cardinals’ shortcomings —- shortcomings that cannot continue to happen if the Cardinals are going to compete for division titles, playoff berths and championships.

Have a very close look at the video and what each of the ESPN pundits (including my top choice for 2023 GM, Ryan Clark) has to say.

Game Highlights: PHI 20 ARI 17

  1. “Soft Coverage to the Boundary” —- easy pitch and catch from Jalen Hurts to a wide open A.J. Brown for 15 yards, with Marco Wilson giving huge cushion. This has been a recurring pattern all season, as we saw again at times in the last game versus the Chargers. To echo what Marcos said about the Cardinals’ defense, “everything is so easy”, that is, for the Cardinals opposing QBs.
  2. QB Sneak TD for Jalen Hurts. Notice how well the Eagles design this play with Hurts’ teammates helping to push and pull him over the goal line. It makes you envious, doesn’t it? Because, for as many 3rd and 4th and inches the Cardinals have been in the past few years, apparently the QB sneak is not in the team’s playbook.
  3. On 3rd and 3 in Eagles’ territory, a beautiful pass over the middle from Kyler Murray to Marquise Brown, where Hollywood jukes his way through the Eagles’ defenders for a 22 yard TD, which makes the score PHI 14 ARI 7. When the Cardinals’ offense attacks defenses over the middle, they have dynamic playmakers, further evidenced by DeAndre Hopkins’ 22 yard catch and YAC TD versus the Chargers. The problem is, the Cardinals don’t pass over the middle and/or beyond the sticks nearly often enough.
  4. 4th quarter QB draw for a sweet 1st down by Kyler Murray. Notice that Dan Orlovsky says (as a ‘foreshadowing”), “I actually like the fact that he gets the first down.” It look very clear that, like Kyler did versus the Raiders, he is stepping up his game to mount a 4th quarter comeback.
  5. On 1st and 10 from the Eagles’ 12 yard line, thanks to a good down blocks by D.J. Humphries on the DT and Justin Pugh on the MIKE and a clean pull up the C gap hole to the left by Will Hernandez, Eno Benjamin scampers home to tie the game at 17-17. Weird to think now that for many weeks Humphries, Pugh and Hernandez have been on the IR, with DJ and Justin out for the season, and that fan favorite and leading yards per carry RB, Eno Benjamin, is now a Texan, having been mysteriously cut by Steve Keim.
  6. Next Philly possession on a huge 3rd and 11, Hurts converts on a pass short of the sticks to TE Dallas Goeddert where LB Dennis Gardeck hasn’t picked up the TE soon enough and compounds it by missing the tackle. How often do these type of game changing 3rd and long conversions happen for the Cardinals defense under Vance Joseph? Now, to be fair, the Cardinals’ defense played one of its very best games in this game. Although, how often this season and the last, following the offense either tying the game up or having taken the lead, does the Cardinals defense give up an immediate FG or TD on the next possession? Ironically, the Cardinals’ defense did not do so in the last game versus the Chargers, getting the ball back to the offense 3 times with a 7 point lead, and yet, the offense went three, quick 3 and outs.
  7. Cards in 2 minute drill and Kyler Murray throws a downfield dime to TE Zach Ertz up the left hashmarks with 1:11 left on the clock and 0 timeouts left. Sad that Zach Ertz, the Cardinals’ highly deserving nominee for the Walter Payton Award and go-to guy in clutch situations, is lost for season with an ACL tear. Notice on the next play that the Cardinals spiked the ball on 1st down at 0:35. That’s 36 seconds off the clock.
  8. 2nd and 10 QB draw for 9 12 yards by Kyler Murray, followed by another spike on 3rd down and a badly missed potential game tying FG by Matt Amendola. Eno Benjamin throws a very good block downfield and Kyler appears to have ample space to go another 2 yards, but goes into a slide, a couple of inches too early.

ESPN Commentary:

Essentially, the panel was highly critical of both Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury for mismanaging the yardage and the clock. Dan O called this a late game example of the “worst kind of game and clock mismanagement.” Hard to argue with him.

After they showed Kyler explaining that “everyone was telling me ‘clock’ in my ear”, Rex Ryan clarified the situation by saying “there was one voice in Kyler’s, ear. it was the head coach’s.” That is correct. Both Kyler and Kliff thought it was a 1st down. Major gaffe on both their parts.

Dan O was 100% correct that if you call a QB draw on that play with only 35 seconds left, you have to already be thinking it’s going to be short of a 1st down.

Which leads us to a question that no one on the ESPN panel asked, but I think we should. Was calling a QB draw in that situation (35 seconds left and 0 timeouts) a smart call?

I thought the Cardinals still had a chance, like the Chargers did versus the Cardinals in their last second 25-24 win, to score a TD and win the game.

By calling a QB draw, you are already conceding that close to 15 seconds of the 35 remaining seconds is going to come off the clock and, oof you don't already have a second play called, (which they didn’t) you are going to have to spike the ball. The added context here is that you have an erratic new kicker to rely on in the ultimate pressure situation, if you are just trying to set up for a FG.

As I mentioned on the podcast, the 2 minute drill for Kyler and Kliff has not been a strength and it usually ends with some sort of miscommunication, as it did in the GB game on the infamous Rasul Douglas interception or in this game on the infamous ill-advised slide.

What bothers me most about this is —- this is year 4 of Kliff and Kyler and the execution of these critical late game situations has not significantly improved, Furthermore, when Kyler was missing OTAs and a few weeks of training camp, Kliff kept insisting that it’s ok because “Kyler knows the offense.” Yet, time and time again since the GB game last year, Kyler, for whatever the reasons, cannot consistently run and execute it.

Rex Ryan makes a perfect point that if you line up the same way every time and you have a “one word” play call, you don’t have to spike the ball. Rex is correct, the two spikes were “wasted downs.” Rex correctly asks, “Do you (Cards) have that mechanism? Because it certainly doesn’t look like you did.”

Rhetorical question, right?

What I am wondering is what the 2 minute offense would look like with Colt McCoy in charge. Then we could see just how much Kliff is at fault for the “mechanisms” of the scheme. Colt closed out his three wins, and his two losses were lopsided defeats, thus we haven’t been able to see yet what the 2 minute offense looks like with him.

No matter what the case may be, the two minute drill appears to expose another way in which Kliff and Kyler do not appear to be of one mind and on the same page.

Ryan Clark: “When you look at how the Cardinals run the 2 minute, it’s give the ball to Kyler and everybody else get the frick out of the way. It’s always been about Kyler Murray’s talent; it’s not about the way they go out and execute in the 2 minute —- and it’s just another example of how Kyler Murray is expected to do everything, not only physically, but mentally.

“But in looking at this situation, I will say this about Kyler Murray, because I think he is one of the best in football in knowing when to get the extra yard and also knowing when to protect himself. But, this was an opportunity that you can get every yard you can possibly get, because you don’t exactly know where the yellow line is. Kyler Murray needs to get as many yards as he possibly can and then look to the sidelines to see are they moving the sticks, do you see the chain game moving along? Or is it 3rd down? He didn’t do a good job of that, but also there should be someone on the sideline communicating with Kyler Murray constantly in that situation”.

Dan O: “Lamar Jackson is not sliding in that situation. Josh Allen is not sliding. Plus, in that situation (if you don’t spike the ball) you have plenty of time to run another pass play and even if it’s incomplete, it stops the clock.”

Ryan Clark: “Here’s what’ interesting about that, if you have the opportunity if, like Rex said, you are prepared in that manner (with a one word play call) —- whether it’s 3rd down or 1st down —- the same play works —- if we throw something to the outside and it’s incomplete, then it’s ok because it stops the clock and we can kick —- if we throw something to the outside and it is complete and we can get out of bounds, now we can regroup —-it’s about BEING PREPARED FOR THE MOMENT —- it’s about ANTICIPATION —- that’s the job of PREPARATION to be able to PARTICIPATE —- and they were not able to do that.”

You see, this one of the reasons why I love the idea of Ryan Clark as GM. He speaks the truth and he pulls no punches. He communicates in an emphatic and cogent manner in a language and tone that everyone can understand.

I would be fascinated to see what moves Ryan Clark would make if he was appointed the Cardinals’ GM.

I know for sure that on the defensive side of the ball, as I mentioned on the podcast, RC would hire a 34 Dick LeBeau style disciple, like for example, Larry Foote (former Steeler and Cardinal who's is currently the Bucs’ LB coach). When Larry Foote played ILB here, he basically ran the defense.

Judging from how RC talks about Kyler’s talents and feeling like Kyler is being asked to do everything himself in the offense, both physically and mentally, I would guess that he would want to move on from Kliff.

It would be fascinating to know what OC he would have in mind.

Budda Baker would jump for joy if RC was appointed GM. The buzz for Budda and his teammates would be resounding. RC calls Budda, “my guy.” They have a great relationship.

And I think that if anyone could emerge as a go-to mentor for Kyler Murray, Ryan Clark would have as strong a chance as any. RC wouldn’t bubble-wrap and place him on a pedestal him the way Keim does. He would help Kyler know how important it is to be humble and diligent. In essence, he would help Kyler “handle the truth” in a way that would encourage growth and sustained progress.

It should be very interesting to see what Bill Belichick has in store for Kliff and Kyler on Monday Night Football. Belichick has had 11 days to prepare, which typically works in the G.O.A.T,’s favor. This is a great challenge. Which team, in your opinion, comes out on top?

Having pointed out this Cardinals shortcomings during the Philly game, let’s remind ourselves of three of Kyler Murray best “Murray Magic” finishes: