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Analysis of Alex Rollins’ “House of Cards” Video

NFL: Super Bowl LVI-NFL Experience Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Background: Feb 7, 2022; Los Angeles, CA, USA; A locker room exhibit of Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray at the Super Bowl LVI Experience at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee

A couple of days ago, I received the following video recommendation from my friend Dutch on Twitter:

Alex Rollins’ “House of Cards” video is a worthy 12 minute viewing. Have a look for yourselves:

Obviously, Alex Rollins put a great deal of time, care and effort into the making of this video.

What I would like to do is offer some thoughts about the premises that Alex posits in the video. In general, I agree with Alex’s premises, but I think there are constructive ways in which the premises can be put in added context —- and some creative ways in which Kyler’s deficiencies can be turned into strengths.

The Cardinals’ offensive scheme —- per Alex:

  • Built around Kyler’s arm strength/accuracy and his receivers winning 1 on 1 matchups.
  • Built around Kyler’s ability to extend plays with his legs when things break down.
  • Attacks almost exclusively the perimeter of the field, both vertically and horizontally.
  • Vertically —- favorite routes are go balls and hitches.
  • Horizontally —- favorite routes are bubble and smoke screens (Cards highest % of screens in NFL)
  • In 2021 Kyler jumped from 20th in NFL in 2020 to 1st in NFL in big-time throw percentage.
  • In the pre-snap Kyler keys on where the middle safety is aligned and makes “alert” calls to his receivers that he knows will be matched up in 1 on 1 coverage (ISO routes), paired with combo route combination on the other side.
  • Kyler is, according to Alex, the best QB at calling and executing receiver “alert” calls.
  • Alex highlights Kyler’s cross corner pass to Christian Kirk versus the Seahawks —- which has become a signature pass play in the Cardinals’ scheme and one in which Kyler is adept at dropping dimes into the outstretched arms of the WR.
  • When Kyler gets immediate pressure, as showcased versus the Rams rushing 6 versus the Cardinals 5 offensive linemen, because he can’t quickly pick up his open receivers over the middle (or because he fears the defender might jump the route), he becomes overly reliant on his legs.
  • Alex showcases the play versus the Lions where Kyler can’t see a wide open Zach Ertz over the middle so, he throws too late to A.J. Green on an out route and the pass is intercepted.

Alex’s 3 Major Premises:

“Kyler Murray is one of the most exciting and talented QBs in the league, so why is it that the better he gets, the more it seems his game is like a house of cards?”

“Is it because of...

1 —- the Cardinals’ annual 2nd half disappointments?

2 —- the sheer unsustainability of some of Kyler’s biggest plays?

3 —- the fact that Kyler can barely see over the middle due to his lack of height?”

Commentary:

As Alex points out, toward the second half of each season, defenses have tended to figure out Kliff’s offense and his tendencies. Did you notice that virtually every passing play Alex showed on the video was of Kyler taking direct snaps from the shotgun, with a number of them including token fake handoffs disguised as RPOs?

It is the predictability of defenses knowing exactly where Kyler is lining up each play that allows defenses to box Kyler in.

If you go back and look at most of the fake handoffs out of the shotgun, the opposing linebackers are not biting at all on the fakes. Even worse, what this does is —- it takes the RB out of pass pro.

Imagine how much more difficult it would be for opposing linebackers to defend the run and play action passes if Kyler were taking a more steady diet of snaps from under center. Not being able to read Kyler’s eyes as he turns off the direct snap, would make it much harder for the linebackers to read the play.

Plus, if Kliff and Kyler could start running more bootlegs, sprint-outs and waggles off of direct snap play actions, then this would give Kyler wider passing lanes to see over the middle on digs and crossing routes (both shallow and deep).

Second half disappointments can also been attributed to Kyler’s post-injury tentativeness and to the fact that Kliff almost never subs his WRs in and out to keep them fresh in games or for the duration of a 17 game schedule. Kliff tends to ride his starters too long. And when one of them gets injured, at times due to overuse, the backups tend to be rusty and out of sync with the QB.

Kliff could also do a better job of rotating in RBs, like the Patriots do. Notice the Cardinals have created a stable of RBs this off-season (James Conner, Darrel Williams, Eno Benjamin, Jonathan Ward, Keaontay Ingram, Ronnie Rivers and T.J. Pledger).

Now that the Cardinals have stockpiled their TE unit in ways we Cardinals’ fans have never seen before, the prospects of running a steadier diet of 12 personnel and occasional 22 personnel (2 RBs, 2 TEs) should be an auspicious way to upgrade the running attack and play actions games, particularly if Kyler takes direct snaps from under center.

The vast majority of NFL QBs have trouble seeing over the line well enough to be able to hit 5-7 yard crossers and dig routes. We have seen taller QBs get balls batted down on a regular basis, as defenders are taught when to get their long arms up to deter the short passing games.

Throwing over the middle is compounded by defenses using an inside linebacker or weak safety as “scouts” who read crossing routes where the man coverage is beaten and the “scout” jumps the route when the QB starts his passing motion.

Kyler Murray has always been good at hitting his TEs up the seams. If he creates better play action fakes to draw the linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage, then he will be able to open up the second level of the defense with more consistency.

One of the reasons why Tom Brady has been so great at throwing over the middle is that his long-time OL coach, the legendary Dante Scarnecchia, designed his pass protections to have his linemen influence the defender opposite him to one side, often by the o-lineman taking a drop step, and then when the defender commits to a side, the o-lineman leverages him and rides him sideways to open up a wide passing lane.

How many times have you seen a replay of a pass over the middle from a camera behind the secondary where you see a gaping. wide-open passing lane up the middle?

The point is —- there are pass pro blocking schemes that are designed to create clear passing lanes over the middle. This is why DCs like to call a number of twists and TEX stunts, in the hope that they can spoil to timing of the blocking scheme and to loop a defender back into a vacated hole.

The other thing is, when Kyler finally agrees to start utilizing play action bootlegs and waggles the way McVay and Shanahan design for their QBs —- Kyler can create wide open passing lanes to Zach Ertz, Maxx Williams, Stephen Anderson and Trey McBride on crossers and zig zags (counter routes), the kind that George Kittle and Tyler Higbee have made a lucrative living out of.

Plus, what we Cardinals’ fans are apt to see much more of this season is Kliff flexing his TEs wider into the slot (for better spacing) and at times all the way out to the perimeter —- which feeds right into Kyler Murray’s “alert” call wheelhouse.

Finally, while Kyler is not particularly adept at selling late developing screens because of his height, he is very good at executing shovel passes and quick screens to his TEs. Moreover, it is a DC’s nightmare to have to worry about Kyler running designed QB draws to exploit the middle of the defense. That, and when Kliff runs play action, it is imperative that the RBs continue through the hole to run circle or out routes, the way the 49ers do so successfully.

Alex Rollins’ questions warrant a great deal of merit.

If few changes are made this off-season, then the same troubling patterns are likely to persist.

The Cardinals’ ability to sustain a high-powered offense this year is apt to depend on how willing Kyler Murray is to diversify the offense in ways that will put defenses more regularly on their heels.

This is one of the reasons why it is very important for Kyler to attend the team’s OTAs to take full advantage of on-the-field opportunities. Syncing up a diversified offense takes time and a inordinate number of reps.

In my opinion, there are clever ways in which Kyler can use his lack of height to his advantage, especially if and when he makes it more difficult for defenders to locate him. As they say, you can’t hit what you can’t see.

Thanks to Alex Rollins for creating such a quality and highly provocative video. Thank you, Dutch, for calling my attention to it.

What are your thoughts, ROTB? What do you think of the video?