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Cardinals get conservative with red zone calls in loss to Ravens

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury, right, speaks with quarterback Kyler Murray in the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Take your pick about where to direct criticism regarding the Arizona Cardinals’ missed offensive opportunities Sunday in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

The run game was non-existent.

Three times in the first three quarters, Arizona got inside the Ravens 5-yard line and failed to punch a touchdown in the end zone. They opted settling for chip-shot field goals on fourth down each time.

Stats LLC told the Wall Street Journal that the Cardinals are the first team in more than three decades to drive inside the 5-yard line three times while trailing and opt for the field goal each possession.

“We have a system and have analytics involved and all sorts of things that we all go through,” Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Monday, adding that he didn’t think twice about settling for field goals. “At those points in the game, that was the decision I made.”

Not only did Kingsbury appear unwilling to run the football before taking the three points, but he instead watched rookie quarterback Kyler Murray attempt low-percentage fade passes on more than one play.

With Week 2’s Monday Night Football game pending, Murray has thrown the third-most passes inside the 20-yard line and leads the NFL with nine inside the 10. He’s 7-of-16 inside the 20 and just 2-of-9 when passing inside the 10-yard line with one touchdown.

Meanwhile, Cardinals running back David Johnson has two rushes for eight yards and a touchdown inside the 10-yard line.

All that said, Kingsbury remains open-minded about how to attack teams in the red zone after his Cardinals have shown more than a few flashes of offensive juice to get deep into enemy territory.

Multiple times on Sunday in a 23-17 road loss, Murray threw fades to receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who was in man coverage. The balls weren’t necessarily catchable.

“I’m going to get adjusted to the NFL game the entire season as well,” said Kingsbury, admitting his lack of NFL experience. “I have to wrap my mind around that — finding matchups and finding concepts that work and we can be efficient at. I obviously haven’t done a great job at that so far.

“I have to do a good job of not wasting plays when you’re in the red zone or score zone. You got to make every play count, have a purpose for every play — can’t just throw it up to somebody.”

More generally, one could gripe about Arizona’s lopsided run-pass ratio.

But this is, after all, an offense born out of the Air Raid, and that plus the team’s early deficits against both the Detroit Lions and Ravens can explain away why Murray has thrown the ball 92 times to just 34 rushing attempts for Arizona.

The red-zone issues, however, can’t be overlooked, even for Kingsbury. He knows there’s a learning curve for him as a play-caller.

But until he proves otherwise, don’t expect him to deviate from his M.O. too much.

“I think we’re going to make those decisions based on what we think is best for our team in that moment,” he said. “In the first two weeks, very good front-sevens (facing Arizona).

“We felt like we had a chance to hit some things in the passing game. Unfortunately, we didn’t.”

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