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Whose Offense Is This?

Arizona Cardinals v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

So, last Sunday as I was watching the Philadelphia Eagles rack up over 400 yards of total offense during their 24-8 victory over the Washington Commanders, in examining their play designs and offensive tempo, I quickly arrived at this conclusion:

Here’s a sampling (see for yourself):

Did you notice the 3rd play on the video was a classic Air Raid “mesh” (criss cross, rub and separate) pass?

Jalen Hurts: 22/35, 340 yards, 9.7 ave.,3 TDs, 0 int.

There was a good deal of talk on ESPN prior to the Cardinals vs. Rams game where Teddy Bruschi and Rex Ryan were making a case that what the Cardinals’ offense is with Kyler Murray at QB is “sandlot.”

Coming from two defensive minded NFL pundits, the “sandlot” depiction of the Cardinals’ offense in year 4 of Kliff Kingsbury as head coach and Kyler Murray as QB1, warrants attention and scrutiny.

Hmmm.... “sandlot”....perhaps the words “makeshift”, “impromptu”, “unstructured” and “ad-libbed” come to mind?

This week Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks of NFL Network posed this question about Kyler Murray and the kind of offense that might best suit his skills:

Wow, what a zinger of a last line by DJ, “everybody got paid, good for them, now let’s see if they can pay it off.”

DJ and BB are posing the same questions that I and many of us here on ROTB have been asking —- why in the world isn’t Kliff Kingsbury using Kyler Murray’s elite mobility more to his and the team’s advantage?

Why do we see Sean McVay move Matthew Stafford around more that Kingsbury moves Murray?

Why did Matthew Stafford have more yards rushing at the start of the 4th quarter than Kyler Murray?

Why did we see Sean McVay putting Matthew Stafford under center much more frequently than the occasional times that Kingsbury put Kyler under center?

Having Murray under center for opposing defenses creates nightmares because of how difficult it is to locate him. Plus, it gives the running game a more downhill attack the hole aggressiveness. And the constant threat of bootlegs and waggles would drive teams crazy.

Why has the Cardinals’ offense evolved into what I would call “Crawl Ball” or “Stall Ball” with Murray taking the entire play clock down to 2 or 1 seconds seemingly every play, often to make just a simple handoff or throw a 5 yard out pass?

After watching the Eagles run a Kliff Kingsbury type of offense vis-a-vis crisp tempo and well orchestrated mesh plays, RPOs, QB draws, screen passes, downfield shots, etc. and then watching the Cardinals’ current version of “Crawl Ball”, it became more and more apparent to me that the Cardinals, with Murray at QB are no longer even trying to run a Kingsbury style of offense.

As I asserted on this week’s Red Rain Podcast, did we Cardinals fans ever imagine that with Kliff Kingsbury as the play caller and with Kyler Murray at QB we would watch an offense this painfully and awkwardly deliberate —- an offense that actually looks like more of a “sandlot’ approach than a smoothly orchestrated series of well practiced Air Raid staples?

On the podcast, I described Kliff Kingsbury as a chameleon —- because of his penchant for adapting his offense to the strengths of his personnel. But, in this case, the irony is that Kingsbury is not tapping into the full potential of Kyler Murray’s strengths by not taking advantage of his elite mobility.

Furthermore, it appears very clear at this point that Kyler often hopes to succeed at beating teams from his designated spot in the shotgun, with the most minimal amount of exertion possible, as if he were sitting on his couch playing his favorite video game with the joystick in his hand.

By now the facts have made it clear that when Kyler Murray puts pressure on opposing defenses with his feet as much as with his arm, the odds of the Cardinals’ winning increase dramatically.

This was never more evident than in the 4th quarter of the Cardinals 29-23 comeback win in Las Vegas when Kyler Murray took matters into his own hands and, key point, into his own feet.

Yet, a week after lighting the NFL world on fire with his extraordinary running and passing performance, it becomes obvious right from the get-go versus the Rams that Kyler had no intention of using his legs to put pressure on a vulnerable Rams’ defense that had given up 58 points combined to the Bills and Falcons.

Both the Bills and Rams scored 3 TDs in the 2nd half of their games versus the Rams —- and yet, the Cardinals, with QB Kyler Murray, RB James Conner, WR Marquise Brown, TE Zach Ertz and WR Greg Dortch couldn't find the end zone even once?

Part of this was not only Kyler Murray’s reluctance to run, but his reluctance to throw into the end zone. During 4 trips into the red zone, Kyler threw repeatedly underneath the sticks.

The epitome was this key play in the red zone here, where the offensive line gave Kyler plenty of time and unfortunately Kyler missed that TE Trey McBride was wide open in the end zone:

Against very good teams like the Rams, you have to make them pay for blown coverages like this. It threatens their mojo.

The one end zone shot Kyler took was on a quick pass to Zach Ertz who was open, but Kyler overthrew him. It was on a similar TE route to Ertz last season at home early in the game that Aaron Donald tipped the pass into the arms of Ernest Jones,. This is likely why Kyler rushed his pass on this one.

As to the question of “whose offense is this?” —-it appears that this is the offense that makes Kyler most comfortable —- and the irony is, the Kliff Kingsbury style of offense and the crisp tempo that Kingsbury has always preferred, an offense that is designed to wear down defenses —- apparently does not make Kyler the most comfortable.

On Red Rain, I reiterated an observation I made last year while Colt McCoy was leading the Cardinals to two impressive NFC West road wins over the 49ers and Seahawks —- that in terms of crisp tempo, QB decisiveness and making “on schedule” throws on time, this was one of the best glimpses as to how Kliff Kingsbury’s offense is designed to work.

Go back yourself as I did and watch Kingsbury’s offenses at Houston, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. Then rewatch Colt McCoy’s games versus the 49ers and Seahawks and you will have a much clearer sense of what I mean.

The irony is that Kliff moved Colt McCoy around more than he ever moves Kyler —- he used McCoy under center more —- the pre-snap reads were quicker —- the tempo was noticeably more smooth and crisp —- the engagement of the tight ends and running backs (over the middle and on the perimeter) was more prevalent —- and screen passes were run to near perfection.

We saw another good glimpse of Kliff Kingsbury’s preferred tempo and style of offense with Trace McSorley at QB in the team’s impressive 36-23 pre-season win at Cincinnati.

Therefore, the only conclusion that makes sense as to why we are not seeing the same tempo and style of offense with Kyler at QB is that Kyler doesn’t prefer that tempo or style. Yet, why in the world wouldn’t he? I cannot understand it —- can you?

Ever since Kyler returned from his high ankle injury last season, the Cardinals are 3-7 and 0-5 at home. During those 10 games, the offense has averaged 21.1 points per game, while the defense has given up 28.5 points per game.

This season in 3 games the Cardinals are averaging 20.7 on offense (18.7 w/o Murphy TD) and are giving up 29.0 points per game. The average results have been very consistent.

Ultimately, Kliff Kingsbury will be given the blame and will accept the blame because that is what he does. This week he ascended into the top “hot seat” spot as the NFL head coach most likely to be fired.

Right now, Kliff Kingsbury is being rendered somewhat moot as the head coach in Arizona, because the team isn’t running his preferred tempo. It’s going to be up to Kliff to change it. The question is whether Kyler will be willing to take on a more aggressive and urgent approach.


Note; for those who are going to argue that the offense sucks because Hopkins and Moore aren’t playing and because the offensive line is awful —-

Having WR Marquise Brown, TE Zack Ertz, RB James Conner and WR Greg Dortch at the skill positions is pretty dang good for any QB, let alone for Kyler Murray. There’s solid depth too with RB Eno Benjamin, RB Darrel Williams, TE Maxx Williams and TE Trey McBride.

As for the offensive line, one of the main reasons why most coaches would want to move Kyler around more is to keep the defense uncertain as to where Kyler will be —- with Kyler taking 95% of the snaps in the shotgun and trying to pass from one designated spot has made it considerable more easy for defenses to pin their ears back and rush him, particularly knowing that he struggles mightily to throw screen passes and considering how reluctant Kyler is to try to escape the rush up the middle.

Furthermore, the offensive line this season has played better than some fans think —- look at the Cardinals Top 12 PFF grades on offense this season to date:

  1. LT D.J. Humphries —- 77.5
  2. QB Kyler Murray —- 71.6
  3. RT Kelvin Beachum —- 71.3
  4. WR Marquise Brown —- 70.7
  5. RB Eno Benjamin —- 69.1
  6. LG Justin Pugh —- 68.0
  7. RG Will Hernandez —- 66.2
  8. WR Greg Dortch —- 65.1
  9. RB Darrel Williams —- 64,8
  10. RB James Conner —- 64.3
  11. C Rodney Hudson —- 63.2
  12. T Josh Jones —- 63.0

Note: we have never seen PFF grades this consistently high for all of the Cardinals’ starters on the offensive line. Their pass blocking as unit (72.3 best in NFC West) is ranked 7th. What they need to improve is their run blocking (49.8) which currently is ranked 29th.

Thank you, epett, for your suggestion that I write an analysis of the offense this week. I appreciate you, dude!