I had the opportunity to watch the Cards Rookie Camp over the weekend. The Cards are transitioning from one system to another and my first glimpse of Bruce Arians’ offense filled me with cautious optimism.
Coach Arians likes to throw the ball but he knows in order to throw it better you have to run it better. Play action is going to be a big part of what the Cardinals are going to do and if you want to be effective with play-action you better be able to run the ball effectively.
The tackle zone was prevalent during the practice that I saw and it remains the best form of play-action in the game. Linebackers have to honor the deep mesh-point on the tackle zone action which allows receivers to get down field, behind linebackers, and gives quarterbacks better windows to throw in. But your protection better be solid, including the back making the fake.
Coach Arians told me his favorite drill to run in practice is back-on-backer blitz pickup. This drill is brutal and inherently unfair to the running back. Edge rushers line up on the LOS (line of scrimmage) and rush the back on the snap, 1-on-1, with no pocket or help to either side. As B.A. told me, “You learn a lot about a guy in that drill.”
And this is why the Cardinals brought in Rashard Mendenhall and drafted Stepfan Taylor. These two men will be relied on heavily to hold up in protection in order to use play-action the way Arians wants. They are every down backs that can run the ball and that element of the game should be much improved.
Coach Arians believes that it’s not how often you run it but how effectively you run it. B.A. knows his offense must be capable of running the ball well in the red zone, on short-yardage and goal line and during the four-minute drill, when you’re trying to close out a game when you have the lead.
This is one of the reasons why Big Red drafted two guards in the top four rounds. The Cardinals play in the NFC West and know they need to become more physical on the LOS in order to run the ball effectively enough to use play-action to the degree Arians would like.
Execution is the elixir of life for any scheme conceived and good players execute schemes but if what I saw on Saturday is any indication of what the Cards offense will look like this season, play-action might be the biggest component of that new scheme.